Tak: The Great Juju Challenge is a platform/puzzle game, rated ‘E’ for Everyone. In this third installment of THQ’s Tak videogame franchise, Tak teams up with Lok to represent the Pupanunu tribe in The Great Juju Challenge, a contest that occurs every 60 years where competitors battle to win the favor of the Moon Juju goddess. The contestants must demonstrate feats of strength, skill, daring, and, most importantly, teamwork to overcome the various challenges that await them. Even with Tak’s brains and Lok’s brawn, our mismatched, heroic duo faces some tough opposition with representatives from the JibbaJabba, Grammazon, and Black Mist Tribes.
Even at my age, I am an avid fan of animation, and make no mistake, this game is very cartoony. The shapes and proportions of the characters are exaggerated to the degree where faces appear more like caricatures. This works very well in the game’s favor though, as it allows characters to display a staggering array of emotion and facial expressions. Every character’s design is intriguing, from the voluptuous Grammazons (for the love of juju, don’t let their good looks fool you!) to the Master-Blaster ala Mad Max pairing of the JibbaJabbas. Every character has a compelling charm to them that really adds to the interactions between them during the prerendered cutscenes, and made them a joy to watch (see my thoughts on the voices below).
The environments offer a wide variety of flavors as well, and each one adds its own touch to the expansive world of the game. For example, one of the places the player will see the most, the mystical Juju Challenge nexus, is colored mostly in blues and grays, but the oddly shaped structures, rolling clouds, and flying sparkly bits sets a mood that does well in conveying the mystery and awe that such a place should inspire. Many of the stages impacted me in similar ways, with good use of color and wildly distorted shapes and objects. With the cartoon stylings of the game, things expectedly have an unnatural appearance about them, and the designers did well to take advantage of the medium to present us with a fantastical, almost alien world.
I did have minor problems in at least two levels where I had to manually adjust the contrast settings on my television so that I could discern the paths and platforms from the pits of doom that surrounded them. There were sections, such as the level where the lights were supposed to be out and the underwater sequences, where something like this was expected, but there were a couple of other areas where the dark colors just blended together and impacted my ability to remain immersed in the game.
There was also the infrequent occurance of the camera getting caught behind an obstacle, which effectively blinded me for a couple of seconds at a time. I’m generally forgiving of camera quirks, but for a platform game, this can, and often did in my case, lead to the character’s demise.
The one aspect that most endeared me to this game was the voice acting. Everything about it just seemed right–from the vocal talents of all the actors, to the dialogue, to the beatboxing rhythms of the JibbaJabbas. The writers liberally peppered the dialogue with word play and alliteration (“Pupanunu people’s pig poo-poo” immediately comes to mind), which the voice actors deliver with such aplomb that I often found myself listening intently to the characters speaking through cutscenes. I even let the game sit for several minutes once to catch the idle chatter between Lok and Tak. The voices matched wonderfully with the characters and their expressions.
I found some of the music quite catchy as well. The use of modern instruments to play out what reminds me of tribal rhythms with a couple of songs did well to capture the overall feel of the game world. The rest of the music isn’t particularly memorable, but it all blended well with the game so as to not be distracting in any way. There was no point where I felt the music was so overplayed and repetitive that I wanted to shut it off.
The sound effects were the usual fare consisting of sounds such as spring boxes and chimes; somewhat typical of a cartoony game where sillier effects are appropos. They fit in well with the game and the environment, and never detracted from the other things in the game.
Though I consider myself a barely-above-amateur level platform gamer at best, there was rarely a time that I felt frustrated by the controls. The game is very forgiving of jumping errors by giving the characters a slow glide after a double-jump, which gives the player a second or two to recover from an missed leap, having the character grab onto a ledge if they fall barely short, and by allowing single-players to the chance to quickly switch characters should the first one topple into the abyss. This last feature can be a real time-saver, which is vital to scoring high points, as the second character can pretty much instantly take over where the first one leapt off… uhh, I mean left off… if follow mode is active.
In many platform games, shadows are a helpful feature when attempting to judge the timing of a jump, but there were times in the game when it seemed like the shadow did not appear. This occassionally necessitated a leap of faith (which invariably led to doom).
I was quite happy with much of the gameplay. There was plenty of variety in the types of puzzles and levels to keep things fresh. Most of the puzzles in the game could be solved using either of the characters, but a number of them required that both characters be used, and a few could only be solved by one specific character. Though I did not have the opportunity to test it out, The Great Juju Challenge also offers the option for a second player to control the other character for cooperative gameplay.
As a little bonus, there’s also a demolition derby type mini-game that occurs after the completion of each world. It provides a welcome distraction from the monotony of leaping across bottomless pits, as it gives the player a chance to drive mindlessly around an arena, crashing into anything and everything. I’m sure I managed to hit my partner as many times as I rammed into my opponents.
There is one particular aspect to the game that I have to give kudos to the developers for. In the latter half of the intro cutscene, there is a amusing exchange between Tak and Lok as Lok repeatedly leaps off a cliff to demonstrate his “new juju powers.” He lands with a sickening splat, but reappears seconds later back at the top of the plateau. With this short clip, the writers managed to work in an excellent in-game reason for why the characters can fall off a mountain, and come back unscathed moments later during the regular course of the game.
As a minus, the game isn’t without bugs. At one point, Tak was knocked off a rhino and got wedged in between a rock and a cliff-face, where he got caught in a never-ending loop. It was amusing watching him continue to tumble in midair for a few seconds, but when I realized that I could not switch characters or get out of the predicament without restarting the entire level over again, the amusement value quickly plummeted.I had to dock some points in this area since I simply could not find any real incentive to play the game beyond the initial playthrough. The main game doesn’t take terribly long by itself. For the most part (with notable exceptions of the last couple of stages), it took me two tries on each level to find all the items and to get the high score. The first attempt was for exploration and item gathering, and the second run was for time and points. Most of the unlockable extras in the main menu simply did not appeal to me, though had the demolition derby been an unlockable feature, you can bet that I would have attempted to get that.