Once you've scratched the face off one bat, you've scratched them all.
Imagine this: a series of children's books centered about the adventures of a clan of mystical owls is translated to a motion picture. The motion picture is in turn translated to a video game for the Xbox 360 and PS3. This video game is then altered to accommodate the Wii platform with motion controls and lesser visuals. Have I gotten your hopes up yet? Perhaps it is best that I don't, because experiencing Legend of the Guardians with low expectations led to quite the pleasant surprise.
The folks that are immediately attracted to this game are, of course, those that are familiar with the Guardians of Ga'Hoole storyline. Not being familiar with this series of novels, I can only note, based on some online synopses, that the plot of the game is a sort of mash-up from the first few books. Fans of the original plot may be upset with the liberties that were taken with the story. I found the entire plot and cast to be lesser versions of the fantasy novels the author was clearly inspired by, such as Lord of the Rings, Redwall, or Harry Potter.
Whether or not the story in Legends of the Guardians is canonical, or even good, it is certainly presented poorly. Cutscenes are often ripped straight from the HD versions of the title, and the game is rife with terrible voice acting. The voice acting even permeates into gameplay sections, where you will have owls yelling the same repeated lines at you in various terrible accents. At times, you can hear the actors slip up and revert to their normal way of speech instead of the accent they are supposed to be using.
Fortunately, Legend of the Guardians allows players to skip through most of the story and get to the meat of the game: flight. The simple act of flying around by tilting the Wii Remote works remarkably well, and the developers even implemented a lock-on system to help make the 3D world more navigable during a fight. I found that I was more comfortable with the motion controls in the Wii version than I was with the traditional controls on the Xbox 360.
While flying about the game's beautiful environments, it is not uncommon to have to engage in air-to-air combat. This is handled by a timing and combo-based melee system. As the game escalates, and enemies become stronger and more diverse, the combat becomes increasingly fun. Some missions have you juggling two simultaneous objectives, forcing you to use your combat experience to time your engagements perfectly.
Combat becomes increasingly complex with the addition of earnable armor and weapon upgrades, which can dramatically change your style of fighting. The gameplay reminds me of games such as Crimson Skies and Rogue Squadron, and for the most part, the game's mechanics can go toe to toe with these two great flight combat games.
Entertaining combat is almost enough to distract players from the uninspired mission structure. Many missions will focus on an initially fun and lengthy task, and then ask players to repeat this task twice more. One gets the feeling that the developers were simply trying to stretch the game out, because the whole package consists of a fairly short campaign with no multiplayer options. There are upgrades and bonuses for repeating missions, but the content just doesn't warrant the replays.
Legend of the Guardians took me by surprise, because it isn't often that Wii ports of movie games can present an altogether entertaining experience. I imagine that fans of the books will get even more out of the game than me, and I suspect that even kids that have yet to read the books will still have a fun time with the story. Older fantasy fans will struggle putting up with the game's cliché riddled plot, but find solace in the game's unique combat system.