If there is one comparison that can always be drawn from games intended for kids, it’s that they are usually of the same quality as movie-based games. You run through a hit or miss time period. Sometimes you might find a gem amidst the shoveled titles, while others will make you wish you never liked the particular show the game is based on. The Secret Saturdays: Beasts of the 5th Sun falls somewhere in the middle.
Based on the popular Cartoon Network show, The Secret Saturdays tells the story of a family of cryptozoologists; scientists that study creatures that are legendary or mythical – creatures that most people say can’t exist. Their main purpose is to protect the Cryptids from those that would do them harm. The Cryptids themselves are animals that could easily be considered monsters, ranging from massive birds as big as an 11 year old boy to the missing link, also known as Fiskerton. The game doesn’t stray too far from this premise, with the exception of the player needing to retrieve the Cryptopedia and of course saving the Cryptids before others can harm them.
You get to play as Zak Saturday, the 11 year old son of Solomon “Doc” and Drew Saturday. While Zak is the primary character in the game, you will also get to play as several other favorites, including Doyle, Zak’s uncle. Most of the character interactions come from the need to figure out a puzzle or through various combat situations. In fact, even though Beasts of the 5th Sun is mostly a 2.5-D side-scroller, the puzzle elements in the game provide rather nice challenges for younger audiences. Instead of dumbing down the puzzles to progress in the area, they actually get harder as you advance through the game. This was clearly acknowledging the age bracket of kids that watch The Secret Saturdays, and I have to commend the developers for keeping them in mind.
Probably the highlight of these puzzles is controlling the Cryptids themselves. While Fiskerton, with his climbing ability, or Komodo, with his invisibility and rock pushing abilities, will be your most frequented friends in time of need, there are more than a handful of times that you could be partnered up with other Cryptids. One example of this was while launching a Cryptid out of water to ricochet and defeat a snake-like Cryptid to clear the path for Zak. Another example of Cryptid partnering doesn’t involve the puzzle side of the game but deals with the battle arena mechanic of the game. When you approach these battle arenas, you will always be able to tell because the camera zooms out to give you a different visual representation, and hordes of enemies drop down from the sky to stop Zak. Fortunately, there is either a Cryptid or family member around to help lessen the chance of defeat. My only problem with this tag-team approach was the variances between the Cryptids and family members. To tag a Cryptid you have to highlight them as if you are scanning them, whereas the family members arrive with just the press of a button. While this is a minor complaint, it is confusing to muck up the controls over something so simple considering the target audience.
The controls don’t really hinder in any other instance; they are simplistic in their approach. As far as the combat goes, everything is kept rather simplistic. There are basic button presses for weak and strong attacks, as well as the traditional schematic for platform jumping is also there, with the inclusion of a stick that also works as a grappling gun. One feature I liked was the scanning of the different Cryptids in each level. It reminded me of Pokémon Snap, or the upcoming Invisibles video game. Now it doesn’t go to either of those extremes, but it does give the sense of completion if you do all of the Firefly challenges or “capture” all of the Cryptids in each level. So there’s plenty to do even after the relatively short playthrough.
Normally I would complain about the shortness of the game, but due to the story being as tight as one of the episodes, there’s really nothing to complain about. The story itself never seems to be drawn out as the case tends to be with most games based on cartoons. Of course, having the creators and writers of the show turn around the script and basis of the game earns them points for keeping things close to the chest. Also, having the entire cast from the show turn in voiceover work continues the authentic Secret Saturdays experience.
There are, however, frustrating things in the game that may turn its intended audience away from the game, or have their older siblings or parents do it for them. The major problem is the camera. This game tries desperately to be both a side-scrolling adventure and an arena battle game. As a result, the camera will confuse what is going on. Too often I experienced “jitters” on the screen. The constant jumping up and down of the camera can cause minor motion sickness as Zak traverses from the 2D to 2.5-D elements of the game. At times, these jitters will happen just because you may be going too fast through the levels. It becomes very disorienting when faced with multi-tiered boss battles. The biggest problem with this is that occasionally the camera will stop following Zak and stick to one location. So, for example, if you miss one of the swings and you fall, the camera loses you and then you have to restart the level – the entire level.
This brings me to another complaint; again stemming from the faulty camera. While the initial design of the game looks on par with the show, you can only look at the semi-repeated areas of a level so often. Having to basically do a power reset to the game only further hinders the experience. While the character animation and the backgrounds look good in comparison to the show, I don’t know many who can tolerate several repeats of a level just due to the fault of the camera.
The Secret Saturdays: Beasts of the 5th Sun will not revolutionize the cartoon to video game market. However, it does do something that tends to be rare with these games – it delivers on the experience fans have come to expect. Retaining the voice actors, the writers of the show participating in the game, and visuals that are on par with the show all help capture what fans have come to expect. Adding in the progressive puzzle elements and thirty, never before seen Cryptids should please those interested in the show. While it is not a rare gem of greatness, it does deliver on an experience fans of the show will love.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
Excellently rendered backgrounds really cause the less than adequate designs of the characters to stand out. 3.0 Control
Nothing is entirely broken. The one real concern centers on the camera, which decreases control ease of the characters. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The original cast of the show provides the voice work, which is always a good highlight. 2.7
After the third level, you’ll quickly realize you are doing the same tasks over and over.
2.7 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.