I will admit that when I sat down to write this review I had absolutely no idea what The Secret Saturdays was. In my usual repertoire of research I discovered that this is actually a fairly popular show airing on Cartoon Network and that it was developed by the faithful Wii developer High Voltage Software. Funny thing is even if you don’t know what the show is about Beasts of the 5th Sun is actually a fairly decent 2.5D adventure that manages to nail things such as play mechanics and controls and wrap them around an adventure that is sure to please fans and perhaps even some non-watchers as well. In the realm of licensed drivel this is yet another one that doesn’t entirely disappoint.
In the game you get to control several characters but the main protagonist is Zak Saturday. The concept behind the game is actually quite interesting as Zak and the rest of the Saturday are a group of crypto zoologists that study mythical creatures called Cryptids. The idea is that you are protecting these creatures from harm, and in return they lend you a hand throughout the game. It is a very interesting and mature concept that the developers have done a nice job of interpreting into a game. The story will feel familiar to anyone who has seen the series and should even interesting some of those who have not.
At its core Secret Saturdays is a side-scrolling adventure with a bit of grappling hook mixed in for good measure. Players can use the hook to ascend platforms and cross areas. One of the things that stood out the entire time though was just how intuitive and responsive the controls are. Simple mechanics that are usually flawed one way or another in licensed games work really well here. Combat is equally simple and intuitive by offering the traditional weak and strong attacks as well as implementing the grappling hook into the equation. What we end up with is a solid action title that does the things we take mostly for granted well.
You can also scan various Cryptids throughout each level similar to Metroid Prime and add them to your encyclopedia. This is the basis of the collection aspect and actually comes across not feeling forced. The descriptions of each creature will intrigue fans of the show and collecting them all is definitely a fun challenge. Cryptids also play a role in the gameplay. In addition to being able to control multiple characters in the game, you can also utilize these creatures for various puzzles and combat scenarios. When you enter a combat area you can bring in some help in the form of the Cryptids or even your other family members.
Cryptids all have various abilities that can aid you with the game’s puzzles as well. Certain things can only be performed by specific creatures making the puzzles a little more dynamic in their approach. It is refreshing to play a game aimed at a younger crowd that doesn’t feel the need to hold your hand every second, and actually offers some challenging puzzles for you to solve. Cryptid involvement can range from something as simple as clearing a path for young Zak to opening doors to just clearing out some enemies. This is where the motion control also plays a big role as you must target the Cryptid you intend to use and select it by holding down the C button. Amazingly this is much more complex and convoluted than selecting a family member, which is in turn my only real complaint about the controls.
There are two areas where the game manages to slip up though that truly could hinder enjoyment. The first is length. The game is entirely too short for its own good, and feels almost like a fleshed out episode more than a substantial experience. It has become commonplace for licensed games to fall in under the five hour mark, and this is one trend I would like to see eliminated. The other major concern is the shaky camera. When switching between the two angles there are oftentimes problems with the camera not giving you the best, or even a slightly good view of the action. This is even more of a pain when facing off against some of the boss battles that switch between the two often. If you can come to terms with these two gripes there is only one other thing that could hold you back.
The visuals are simply not that impressive. Sure the simplified look tends to lean more towards the cartoon, but some of the character models just do not look good at all. Levels are often bland and the animations really needed to be tweaked a bit before release. Thankfully the voice acting is performed by the cast of the show, so if you enjoy the dialogue there, this will be familiar. The rest of the presentation simply glides by and offers nothing special to set it apart from the herd.
The Secret Saturdays: Beasts of the 5th Sun is a good licensed game with some minor problems that keep it from reaching must-own status. Fans of the show should definitely check it out, but if you are as clueless as I was, no one will blame you for passing this one up. The Wii is chock full of titles sitting on store shelves that serve as nothing more than space wasters. Thankfully this is not one of them. If you enjoy the show, check out the game; otherwise this likely won’t be your cup of tea.