It's a platform game. It's a racing game. It's a minigame collection. In actuality, Tak: The Great Juju Challenge is all of the above. Players have to work through expansive 3D worlds, alternating control between Tak and Lok, and tackle the various puzzles, minigames, and bosses scattered along the way. If that weren't enough, a go-cart race marks the end of one world and the beginning of the next. This wealth of variety makes Tak: The Great Juju Challenge a good pick for young players and experienced gamers alike, but buyer beware: Once you finish the main quest, how long the game card will remain in your DS will depend primarily on how much you like the included minigames.
The 3D platforming levels are some of the best the Nintendo DS has to offer. In all, Tak and Lok's quest spans 15 large levels spread throughout four worlds. There's a healthy mix of platform jumping, enemy bashing, and puzzle-solving. Often, you'll have to jump and climb your way to a switch in one part of a level to raise some platforms in another part of the level. A few of the game's puzzles are downright comical, too. In one level, there's a rhino guarding a large wooden fence. In order to destroy the fence, you have to attack the rhino and make him chase you, and then lead him crashing into the fence.
In the platforming levels, you can swap characters any time you like just by tapping the touch screen. Tak and Lok each have their own uses. Tak can swim in shallow water and attack distant enemies with his Juju magic, and he can use spells to heal himself or petrify enemies. Lok, meanwhile, can't swim, but he can climb vine-covered surfaces and put on a lobster suit that lets him breathe and walk deep underwater. Lok's spells also let him boost his own attack power or make him invincible for short periods.
You can upgrade Tak and Lok's spells, health, attack power, and defense by purchasing blessing gems from the sellers located between each world. The currency used to buy these gems comes in the form of the fruits, crystals, and insects you collect within each level. The switches and paths through each level tend to be painfully obvious and straightforward, so it's nice that there's this extra incentive to explore and hunt around.
To top things off, the graphics in these levels are downright impressive. The characters, trees, rocks, and other decorations in each level are well defined, thanks to crisp textures and a high polygon count. Gratuitous details, such as transparent waterfalls, rivers, and lakes, are evident all over the place, as are the accompanying splash effects that happen when Tak and Lok jump into said rivers and lakes. If you stand atop a hill, you'll be able to look out over a fair portion of the entire level. Draw distance and frame rate don't seem to be a problem with the game's graphics engine, which is somewhat of a surprise, considering that many 3D platformers on the DS have such short sight distances and choppy animation.
Going through the quest mode is fun, but the real payoff is all of the minigames that you can play and unlock during the journey. There are 10 different minigames in all, and they take full advantage of the system's touch screen and microphone capabilities. One such game is called Jumping Feather. It works like air hockey, in that you use the stylus to hurl and bounce Tak off the sides of the two screens and into torches located on the upper screen. Another minigame, Chicken Suit Tak, tasks you to blow into the microphone in order to help Tak fly to the end of the stage. Some minigames are simple and some are complex, such as in the case of Rhino Race. On the lower screen, Tak and Lok are riding atop a running rhino. On the top screen, the Black Mist team is hurling magic attacks down on Tak and Lok. To beat the game, you have to flick away the rocks, rub away the puddles that get in the rhino's way, and tap the rhino to block the Black Mist's magic attacks. Other minigames involve such tasks as shooting at birds, balancing sheep, and catching falling eggs. Once you complete a minigame in the quest mode, you can play it anytime you want from the main menu.
Aside from the minigames, there are also go-cart competitions that take place between each world. They're the game's least interesting and least enjoyable aspect. It's a bit of a letdown that each race is merely a one-lap rush to the finish. There also aren't any turbo boosters or weapons on the go-carts, and the tracks don't offer any shortcuts, either. They do offer plenty of surprise drop-offs, though, which are often impossible to avoid because of unresponsive controls and poor camera angles. Thankfully, there are only four total races in the entire game, and you can reattempt a race as many times as you need to until you pass it--so it's not like this one aspect ruins the whole game.
Indeed, the variety and fun offered by the rest of the game makes the crummy racing competitions almost a nonissue. As does the game's presentation, which is impressive not just in the technical sense, but also in that sort of endearing, emotional sense that makes certain games memorable while others fall flat. Sometimes it's nice to walk around in puddles or streams just to hear the splish-splash of Tak's footsteps in the water. The levels in which you lead around a rhino, ride atop an elephant, and tote around sheep are all unforgettable. If there is any drawback to the game's presentation, it's that the dialogue during the between-level cinemas is displayed only in text and not spoken by voice actors. Tak and Lok are funny characters, and some of their dim-witted expressions and jokes are priceless, but that kind of stuff doesn't come across as well in stills and text as it would with full-motion cinematics and prerecorded voice acting. The DS is fully capable of voice acting, as a few recent games have shown. On the upside, the soundtrack is packed with happy, bongo-filled tunes, and there are plenty of sound effects for the various enemies, animals, and environmental features you'll encounter.
Ultimately, how much time you spend with the game will likely come down to how much you enjoy the included minigames. The main quest is fun, but it's also a rather speedy romp that can be finished in just under three hours. After that, it's the minigames that provide the most replay value. Each minigame can be played with a timer or without, and the points you accrue will eventually unlock extra levels in the game's Shaman Games play mode, which is basically a knockoff of the popular Shockwave and cell phone game Bejeweled. In turn, completing levels in the Shaman Games mode will unlock artwork that you can view in a picture gallery and rare blessing gems that you can immediately put to use in the quest mode.
All told, Tak: The Great Juju Challenge is a fun, varied, and graphically impressive platformer, but its longevity comes primarily from its minigames. If you don't like minigame collections, you'll probably only squeeze a few hours out of the game before you're done with it. Conversely, if you do like minigames, especially ones that take advantage of the Nintendo DS's touch screen and microphone capabilities, the sky is the limit.