Tak 2: The Staff of Dreams Impressions

THQ stops by with the next installment in the adventures of the Pupanunu people's hero.

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Tak 2: The Staff of Dreams is the next installment in THQ's fledgling franchise, which started with last year's Tak and the Power of Juju for the PlayStation 2 and the GameCube. The original game introduced us to the pudgy, bulbous-nosed hero as he became the default savior for his people after the actual Pupanunu hero was transformed into a sheep along with the rest of the tribe.

Tak returns, sardonic humor and all, in his new sequel, The Staff of Dreams.
Tak returns, sardonic humor and all, in his new sequel, The Staff of Dreams.

The next installment in the series finds our boy pitted against the foul-minded Tlaloc, who returns from defeat with an unpleasant array of tricks up his sleeve. You'll see a mix of returning characters from the original game, such as Flora, Jibulba, and Lok, as well as newcomers like Flora's sister--wait for it...Fauna. THQ brought us a work-in-progress version of the game, once again developed by Avalanche, and we were taken on a tour of the game's new features.

The first level we checked out was Tak's Dream, the surrealistic level of the game that introduces you to one of the new mechanics, the dreamworld. Your time will be divvied up between the dreamworld levels and the real-world levels, which will make use of the look and style established by the first game. The trippy sequence features a psychedelic background and a liberal dose of platformer mechanics that show off some of the enhancements made to Tak's moves, which includes a floating jump, enhanced projectile firing, and a more fleshed-out fighting system.

The "level" itself is reminiscent of the platformers of old that were set against simple monocolor backgrounds. Of course, thanks to the PlayStation 2 hardware, you can expect more than a simple flat-shaded background. For example, the dreamworld level we saw featured a lava lamp-ish border that undulated slowly. What was nice about this effect was that it changed during a boss fight, as did the immediate area around you, to look like it was a dark-colored ooze dripping down.

You can expect lots of pretty environments in which to ply your platforming trade.
You can expect lots of pretty environments in which to ply your platforming trade.

The other key aspect of the game is its humor, which returns with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Tak is still an acerbic little dude not afraid of being a little punchy, which is nice to see. From a graphical perspective, you can expect to see a new Tak for 2004. We won't cast aspersions on what he has been doing since the first game, but it looks as though he might have had some "work done," as they say in Los Angeles. The young hero is slimmer, including the reduction of his once-enormous schnoz, and he is better proportioned all around.

We're not saying Tak's had plastic surgery since becoming famous, mind you; we're just noting that he looks different. His cosmetic makeover aside, Tak is entering his next adventure with a slew of new abilities, including new juju powers, such as animal transformation and possession. He'll also have new spirit animal powers that will give him unique attributes based on whether he chooses a piranha, jaguar, eagle, or dragon. If all that isn't enough, Tak can now take a more do-it-yourself approach and mix up potions to enhance his abilities.

The next level we saw was Wetstone Lake, which features a more conventional layout more along the lines of the previous game. Tak has to navigate your basic series of ledges and grass-covered hills in order to access a tiki that is needed to communicate with the Belly Juju. On the way to collect the tiki, we were able to see a new animal for Tak to interact with: a honey-loving bear. The surly woodland critter isn't very friendly when approached, but if he is left alone to suck down dripping honey from a hanging beehive, he can serve as a trampoline to get Tak to new heights.

Perilous danger will await at every turn.
Perilous danger will await at every turn.

In addition, the mighty Jibulba from the previous game is now a flea. Rather than just hanging out, the old boy turns out to be pretty useful. You can toss him onto animals and he will bite them, which elicits a variety of often useful reactions, or one reaction that is not useful, which is sleep. The little guy can even learn karate, although we're not very clear on how deadly a karate-kicking flea can be--but time will tell.

As for the Belly Juju, well let's say that Avalanche isn't running out of amusing ideas. The Juju is actually two entities in one. He has a large bulbous body (he also doesn't look like the sharpest tool in the shed) and an enormous belly that talks, which is apparently where the brains of the outfit are located. Besides looking funny, the Juju is a witty guy, thanks to the fact that he requires his hands to scrunch his lips, which are on his belly, into motion so he can talk.

The Bedlam Falls level offers a complete change of pace from the third-person adventuring and sends Tak careening through white-water rapids in a barrel--admittedly, not the wisest vehicle to choose, but what are you going to do? The fast-paced level requires you to avoid all manner of obstacles by jumping, ducking, or simply shimmying from side to side. The style of gameplay will pop up throughout your adventure, as the various levels in the real world will be connected by waterways.

We got a brief look at two other levels that show off some of the other mechanics in the game. Pandemonium Gates features Tak piloting a catapult that can be used to destroy obstacles. Skyrock Crater, set in a planetarium-like building, presents timed runs across platforms that are triggered by Tak.

Every platformer needs at least one breed of flying mammal.
Every platformer needs at least one breed of flying mammal.

Besides the new gameplay elements being implemented in Tak 2, the levels we saw were also more linear in their design and flow. While this helps keep the action focused and the game's pace moving at a steady clip, it doesn't compromise the levels' size. You can plan on making your way through locales that are as large, if not bigger, than those seen in the original game. To add to this already meaty package, there will be no less than 15 two-player minigames that you can access once they are unlocked.

Based on what we've seen so far, Tak 2: The Staff of Dreams promises to offer a richer experience than its predecessor, with a robust single-player game and some intriguing multiplayer options. Tak 2: The Staff of Dreams is currently slated to ship this fall for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox.

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