In Rise of the Guardians: The Video Game you take command of a small army of characters, each of whom is designed around a childhood legend. You have characters based on Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sand Man, and Jack Frost. They are coming together to fight a common evil: the sinister Pitch, who wants the children of the world to stop believing in our heroes so that they will fade away, leaving him free to torment the Earth with nightmares.
Whether you've seen the film or not, take a moment to think about the potential inherent in that idea. The Tooth Fairy, the Sand Man and Jack Frost are pairing up to take down evil. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are fighting back to back against hordes of dark enemies. It sounds almost like a sure thing. How could that not be fun?
Rise of the Guardians: The Video Game shows us exactly how that can not be fun.
First, the good. The soundtrack is fantastic, and the cut scenes — which are handled with a South Park-like construction paper approach — are great as well. Artistically, those sequences work perfectly. They don't attempt to recreate the appearance of the film; they simply take that film as the source material, and build a unique visual experience around it. It's one of very few things that the game gets exactly right.
It gets a lot more exactly wrong. While the idea of these five fantastical characters teaming up against the underworld sounds great, in execution the game's developers couldn't think of any way for them to go about it other than repeatedly slapping their way through hordes of identical, mindless enemies. The entire game plays out like this: you walk a bit, a swarm of enemies appears, you press the attack buttons over and over again until the enemies are gone, you walk a bit more, another swarm of enemies appears, and so on. For a game based on such varied characters, the concept of "variety" seems like a totally foreign concept.
Your goal is to mindlessly bash your way through anonymous nobodies in five separate regions of the world. Each region that you complete restores a certain amount of "belief" to our heroes, and once they've restored belief across all regions they can go and mindlessly bash Pitch around as well. It may sound dull, but believe us, playing it is even worse.
The tedium simply never ends. It's a relatively short game, but if you take the time to finish it you'll feel as though you've aged 20 years. And what makes it worse is that even if you wanted to strategise, there's really no room to do so.
For instance, defeating enough enemies earns you stat points, which you can then use to increase a character's health, power, defence, and so on. You'd think it'd be important to decide how to distribute these points, but you can change anything you like on the fly, adding them all to one category for one fight, then taking them away and applying them somewhere else for the next. There's no need for foresight or consideration, because you can change it as much as you like.
Also your characters have relatively small health bars, and if you're not careful they can die. You do have a small number of items that will allow you to reincarnate, which sounds like you'd better be careful not to use them all up. For whatever reason, though, our characters reincarnated automatically, without any input from us at all. We played through the entire game and we're still not sure if that's a glitch or a feature we just don't understand, but either way, without death holding you back there's no reason not to just mindlessly smash your way through everything in the hopes that the fight will end sooner. It's easy to lose your character's whereabouts in the scuffle, but trust us...it doesn't matter.
The controls are fine in single-player mode, but once up to three friends join in to control other Guardians, they'll have to make do with the absolutely terrible waggle attacks mapped to the Wii Remotes. Whoever gets the GamePad here is in luck, because all they have to do there is press buttons, and are exempt from the humiliation of being seen swinging their arms around in service of a game this lousy.
The GamePad actually might make this version of the game the best of them all...backhanded compliment as that is. After all, the game is littered with pickups and chests to find, which sound great, but when the game decides to make the items so dark and tiny, and hide them away in dark and cramped places that the camera can barely see — and sometimes can't see — there's no way to find them without using the map. On the GamePad you can at least look down at the map displayed there and navigate that way, as the icons are much clearer and easier to see than anything on the television screen. We can't imagine how tedious it might be to have to keep opening the map separately.
Those optional pickups might sound like a nice bonus to those who do like the game, but Rise of the Guardians: The Video Game takes special care to abuse those unfortunate fans as well, as glitches often prevent certain things from spawning, meaning there will be an icon on your map and a directional indicator on your screen telling you where to go to find something, such as a chest or an optional boss, but it never shows up. This happened to us multiple times throughout the game, and every time it felt like we were being punished for making an attempt to enjoy ourselves.
You might be a fan of the film. You might not be. But if you're reading this site we can only hope that you're a fan of great games. Rise of the Guardians: The Video Game is not one of those. This is one of those legends best forgotten.
Rise of the Guardians: The Video Game is simply not very good. The action becomes repetitive almost immediately and it only gets worse from there, with collectibles almost impossible to see against the environment, glitches preventing important things from spawning, and a complete and total lack of challenge. Done right, a mindless button-masher can be a lot of fun; this game seems to exist only to remind us how easy it is to do them wrong.