Rise of the Guardians Review

December 6, 2012

/ by Tin Salamunic

Developer(s): Torus Games
Publisher(s): D3 Publisher
Platform(s): PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS
Review Platform: Xbox 360
Release Date: November 20, 2012

Rise of the Guardians is a game that shouldn’t work. With a development cycle that was a fraction of most games and a developer most have never heard of—not to mention that the game is based on a recently released movie, a death knell for most games—Rise of the Guardians should, on most accounts, be a terrible game. At least, that is what most would expect. But Rise of the Guardians is not a terrible game. It also isn’t a good game. In fact, more than any other game I’ve played this year, it just kind of is. Simplicity is the order of the day with Rise of the Guardians. Everything is easy to understand and access, and while this is a design philosophy that looks good on paper you will quickly find the streamlining and ease-of-access to be excessive.
  • Solid game mechanics and systems ease you into the experience
  • Drop-in drop-out multiplayer is a fun
  • Becomes repetitive too fast
  • Lack of variety
The game follows the story of the film, Rise of the Guardians. The Boogeyman, known as Pitch, is invading children’s dreams with nightmares. This is causing children all across the world to lose faith in the guardians themselves. So, it falls to you, playing as one of five guardians, to restore belief in the guardians and vanquish Pitch to the shadows. You have the ability to switch between all five of the guardians seamlessly; just a quick tap left or right on the D-pad will do the job. The goal is to accrue enough belief to reach the final showdown with Pitch. This is done by playing through the five worlds available to you in the game. You’ll go to North’s (Santa Claus) toy workshop in the North Pole, Bunnymund’s (the Easter Bunny) Bunny Warren in Australia, Jack Frost’s hometown in New England, Tooth’s (the Tooth Fairy) palace in the South Pacific, and Sandy’s (the Sandman) floating fortress of sand somewhere off the coast of Mexico. Each world is populated with a number of mission objectives. However, each world is populated by the exact same set of mission objectives. So, you’ll be spending a lot of time doing the exact same thing, just in a different setting.

You will reach 100% completion before you actually finish playing through the five worlds; so, if you want to experience them all you have the option of continuing after the final showdown with Pitch. Combat is simple. A single button controls your basic attack. As you level up you gain access to character-specific special moves that are mapped to the X, Y, and B buttons. Each special move uses between one and three bars of energy, with energy being earned by landing attacks on enemies. Weapons and characters level up as you slay Pitch’s ethereal baddies. You will funnel skill points into one of a handful of skills including strength, defense, speed, etc. Players will also be able to purchase gems for each of the characters that act as enhancements or power-ups, giving your guardian extra damage to all base attacks or allowing your guardian to regenerate health over time.

Mechanically, the game is sound and all of its systems work adequately. The drop-in drop-out multiplayer is also a nice touch and a good way to have a bit of short-burst fun with friends, your significant other or your children. Graphically, the game is barely competent. Textures are quite ugly, characters models appear bland, tile sets are painfully uninteresting, and you’ll be treated to some of the roughest edges in recent memory. After all, there is a reason the camera is pulled out most of the time. The music, however, is well done. It is charming, and festively so.

Rise of the Guardians is a game that proves a few things. It proves that you don’t need several years of development to design and have game mechanics and systems that work and work well. There are games like Assassin’s Creed III that spent years tweaking and playing with combat mechanics, leveling-up and crafting systems that don’t work and function within the game half as well as those found in Rise of the Guardians. It also proves that you don’t need tons of money in order to develop a game that is adequate in every way that matters. There is a corollary in the minds of most game publishers between how much money is spent on a project and how good the game will be. The more money you spend, the better the game will be and vice versa. Rise of the Guardians proves that that is a false corollary, a fallible logic. If games like these deserve any praise, it must be that they produce the opportunity to get back to basics in the development process. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how awesome your convoluted plotline is, how visceral your combat is or how beautiful your game is if your game isn’t mechanically and systematically sound. Rise of the Guardians is.

Yet, for everything Rise of the Guardians does adequately, it doesn’t hold your interest. This speaks to the other side of the argument: Good mechanics and systems will only get you so far. You can have the most solid mechanics and systems ever seen in video games, but what matters is what you do with them. How are you innovating with them? How are you changing how those mechanics are used and how do the systems evolve over the course of the game? In Rise of the Guardians, those mechanics and systems simply exist. They are solid in every way, but they don’t change or evolve over the course of the game. By the end of the game—which can easily be beaten if you have three or four hours on a weekend—you will have spent too much time doing the same things, with the same characters, attacking the same enemies but in different places, and that does not make for a very enjoyable experience.  

Final Score “Marginally Adequate” 5.5
Frankly, the game looks as if it is graphically stuck between the N64 and Gamecube.
This was hard to score. It actually saddens me a bit that I had to settle on a 6 instead of 7 or 8. The gameplay is solid and surprisingly so; but, they don’t hold up over the course of the game.
The publisher was smart enough to not charge the full $60 for this game. The horde mode unlocked after playing through the story portion of the game increases the playability, but the story can be beaten in three hours. At $40 for the Xbox 360 version and $30 for the Wii version, the length of the game doesn’t seem to justify the price, especially when you consider that there are Live Arcade games that are twice or three times the length for half as much money.
The festive charm of the score is what bumps this number up a bit. Otherwise, the voiceovers and the ambient sounds in the game are bland.

Review by Jon Hamlin

Jon Hamlin is a freelance game journalist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He plays too much Mass Effect 3 multiplayer and enjoys a good glass of wine. Occasionally, he can be found commanding his legion of doom on Xbox Live as GeniusPantsPhD. Follow him on Twitter @WordsmithJon, or email him at All Articles by Jon.             

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  1. I heard many positive reviews about this movie. I like the animation movies a lot. So, am very eager to watch this weekend.


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