More children’s games. I will withold my vitriol, perhaps.
Originally posted over at Ace Gamez
Full Text below the Cut:
Stormfront Studios aren’t what you’d call strangers to making games based on blockbuster movies, having previously made the classic Lord of the Rings tie-in, The Two Towers, and the slightly more ignoble, if still enjoyable, Eragon. While both of those games were hack and slash adventures aimed at the mid-teen and older age range, The Spiderwick Chronicles is definitely geared towards younger players. Similarly to the two previous movie adaptations, the scope and storyline of the film has been expanded upon greatly to turn the game into a plausible piece of entertainment that will last for more than a couple of hours.
The tale is a simple, enjoyable tale of fairies, gnomes, trolls and goblins infesting the woods and gardens around an old country estate in the middle of the New England countryside. Three plucky young siblings are drawn into a world of magic and daring-do when they discover a Brian Froud-esque guidebook detailing the types of strange life and the mystery surrounding them. However, they soon come up against the obligatory evil ogre, Mulgarath, and they must keep the book from falling into his hands while thwarting his evil schemes.
The game begins with you exploring the creaky old mansion during the middle of the night – and it’s shocking quite how closely the atmosphere of this early part of the game resembles the mansion from the quite fantastic Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. The potential to create a palpable atmosphere is certainly here and a sense of magical mystery is largely maintained in this opening section. All three of the children are playable characters, each with their own different skills; Jared is the rough and tumble meathead with a slingshot and baseball bat, able to plough through swarms of goblins easily, while his twin brother, Simon, carries a water pistol filled with anti-goblin potion and is better used to collect and combine unusual objects. Finally there’s Mallory with her sword, which brings a faster method of combat into play. However, other than the weapons they wield, there is little difference in the way each character plays. Furthermore, each character is frustratingly imposed upon you arbitrarily, as much of the game involves rushing around from pillar to post trying to locate quest items, which can only be collected by the character they relate to, despite the fact that these items are plainly obvious from the outset.
In addition to the combat and item searching, a number of power-ups are presented in a quaint way; each comes in the form of fairies, which need to be first captured with a butterfly net and then sketched onto a pad. This starts off being fun, as there are several of each type, and all can be collected to gain bonuses, but the sketching becomes soon tedious and at worse causes problems, as you are open to attack from the constantly respawning goblins while sketching. As a side mission you can also control the gnome Thimbletack and race through the rafters and wall spaces of the mansion, skewering cockroaches and collecting hidden items, which actually proves to be the most fun part of the game, in a classic platformer style. Sadly there are too few sections like this and the meat of the game follows the children as they chase around the grounds of the mansion, struggling to complete their quests.
Unfortunately, the quest-like nature of the majority of the game is also its downfall. Whereas in games like Canis Canem Edit and Grand Theft Auto this form of freeform side mission works, in The Spiderwick Chronicles the implementation is too vague and doesn’t really fit with the story. For example, it seems counter-intuitive to be running races round the house when faced with the impending threat of a horde of unfriendly beasts just around the corner. Equally, the story-driven action suffers from either being too obvious, with objectives spelled out in the guide, including locations to find objects, to the inherently vague and unhelpful. During later sections you might find yourself wondering whether it’d be easier to finish some missions if you’d seen the film first, as then you’d know what on Earth was expected of you.
Spiderwick is a pretty game, although it hardly stretches the power of the Xbox 360 and the full motion cut scenes from the movie only highlight the difference between the luscious CGI beasts of the film and their threadbare game counterparts. However, there are plenty of grand vistas to enjoy and some work has gone into making the characters resemble the actors involved. One part of the game that is pulled off very well is the sound; the rich score, which is an entirely original composition, backs every event with a range of jolly and mischievous tunes, building an immersing atmosphere. As far as I could tell, most of the film’s actors voice their game counterparts, which provides a nice continuity between the cut scenes and the rest of the action, keeping the characters from becoming stale or flat. There is also an unlockable multiplayer option that involves the characters racing around a segment of the mansion’s grounds, trying to net as many fairies as possible before the time runs out – but this grows old quite fast.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is a harmless piece of entertainment that might amuse those who are fans of the film and too young to really steep themselves in something complicated, but it’s too obtuse and repetitive for older players. If you want a game that’s inoffensive and suited for a child who is beyond basic puzzles but too young to be let loose in a fully-fledged action game, then this probably fits the bill. For the more experienced gamers out there, it might prove to be an interesting distraction for a weekend, but only if you are a fan of the books and/or film.