A sense of humor goes a long way, and Tak and the Power of JuJu is a pretty funny game. Of course, it is a Nickelodeon property so it brings with it the same kind of quirky, off-kilter humor as other Nick 'toons like Rocko's Modern Life and SpongeBob SquarePants. A big difference here though is that Tak doesn't have his own cartoon show (at least not yet). Anyway, it's a good thing that Tak is funny. The actual gameplay left me crying at times, and I really needed a good laugh or two.
The star of this game, Tak, is a fairly unattractive member of the Pupanunu tribe, with purple paint slathered around his eyes and a hair that's cut like a cereal bowl. He wears a loincloth around his waist and a feather on his head, and like all primitive, jungle tribe folk, Tak is just a little bit on the dim side. Slow as he is, it's up to Tak to save his tribe from an evil shaman who has stolen the Moon JuJu goddess' moonstones, and used the power of those moonstones to transform the Pupanunu people into a big flock of sheep.
The strong point about Tak and the Power of JuJu is that from the very beginning, this platformer has a clear idea of what it's supposed to be. Power of JuJu offers up tribal life on a very animated, tropical island environment, and with the exception of a snowboarding (and sandboarding) sequence, it really sticks to this theme. It even manages to playfully mix in the supernatural, using mummies and shamans and everything else mystical an island tribe might believe in. The game employs this aspect quite well in fact, with part of the game requiring Tak to take a jaunt into the spirit world to save Lok, a hero of the Pupanunu tribe. He'll also enter the Pupanunu burial grounds to summon the long dead mummies of his ancestors, one of which seemed to have a devil of a time keeping his head. And indignity of indignities (for the bad guys), Tak will later even gain the ability to absorb the spirits of his dead foes. Nothing like whacking an evil little bugger to death and snatching their floating spirit to replenish health and mana points.
Another great aspect about Power of JuJu was the local wildlife, which really helped to breathe life into the game's environments. The various animals living in Tak's island paradise—the different kinds of monkeys, the rams, rhinos, chickens and sheep, were all great character designs, managing to be both goofy and lovable at the same time. Just the look of some those creatures made chuckle occasionally. But the animals also played a bigger role than just decoration. It was also necessary to interact with the island's native fauna to get through the game. Tak could jump onto grazing rhinos and run through walls, get thrown onto high platforms by orangutans, or simply drape a live sheep over his head as a disguise. Sometimes ripe melons would be lying on the forest floor and Tak could use them to lure animals to particular locations in order to solve puzzles.
Tak himself has a nice repertoire of moves to keep things from getting boring. A neat little object that gets picked up early on is a bamboo pole with nice multi-tasking uses. It's a blowgun, it's a pole vault and, with the right JuJu magic, it's also telescope. Round things off with hidden JuJu magic discs that enable Tak to cast different spells, and this should have been a real fun game to play. But then again, the best laid plans
The biggest problem with Power of JuJu is the lack of direction it gives anyone playing this game. The lack of direction shows up in several areas, but the most annoying ones for me was the layout of many of the levels, and, of all things, the health meter.
Many of the levels were incredibly frustrating to navigate through as they were sprawling, dark, and otherwise looked similar all around. There were a few signs scattered here or there, but it was easy to get lost or run in circles. A lot of the time it was hard to make out an actual pathway in the environments. The sprawling areas also made item collection (which the game heavily relies on once it gets going) incredibly painful. Many levels really needed identifiable landmarks, or a map of some sort to follow. As well, in some of the darker environments especially, I had a hard time telling where the pits were. Clearly, in some areas, more texture variety or more contrasting colors were needed.
The health meter in this game was also badly conceived. Tak's health gauge is the feather sitting on his head: yellowish-orange if Tak is ok, and purple if he's near death. Unfortunately, the feather is difficult to keep track of since it bobs around all the time. The enemy hits also must have been quite powerful anyway, seeing as Tak ending up dying way before I could see the feather turned purple.
What's worst about this game is that it was clearly developed for Nickelodeon's young audience. The characters in this game are charming and while I found the humor in Power of JuJu enjoyable, I think kids would appreciate it even more. Other features, like unlimited lives, are probably there to make it easier for kids to play without frustration. Unfortunately, the game has poor layouts for the levels that even adults will have trouble navigating. The game certainly had a strong sense of personality and a well realized world. It's unfortunate that all players can do is run circles in such a nice environment.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the GameCube version of the game.