The Spiderwick Chronicles
Kids will believe anything – that there’s an oversized man in red pyjamas who breaks into your house through your chimney to leave you gifts in exchange for food; that pulling your eyes to the back of your head could become permanent if the wind changes direction; to thinking that the dentist is Satan re-incarnate, hell bent on making your life as miserable as possible. Ok, that one isn’t necessarily a lie, but the fact remains that children are very suggestible – especially when it comes to videogames geared predominantly towards them.
The Spiderwick Chronicles closely follows the events of the official movie, which in turn follows the events of the books. Three siblings (Jared, Simon and Mallory) and their newly divorced mother have found themselves in a new home, once inhabited by their eccentric ancestor, Arthur Spiderwick. The children soon discover that the house’s overstock of honey and salt isn’t to do with some kind of incongruous fetish, but just a small part of something very, very big. It seems old Arthur wasn’t just a recluse (well, he probably was), but his time – and ultimately – his life was spent researching and documenting the activities of a mystical, unseen world. A world littered with creatures (good and evil), only visible through something called a Seeing Stone. Unsurprisingly (and another quality all children seem to share), Jared finds the book and despite the clear warning on the front, opens it; unknowingly signalling it’s existence to Mulgarath – an evil Ogre that dwells within the forest.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is as standard an adventure title as you’re ever going to find at its most basic – and not a whole lot more at its most complex, either. Taking control of one character at a time, players must complete a series of rudimentary tasks usually involving item fetching, puzzle solving and combat with a dabble of platforming here and there. This is all very much tweaked to be as child friendly as humanly possible; for instance, items can only be picked up when the game deems necessary, by which time you’ll know exactly where everything is. This works in tandem with the aforementioned puzzle solving because to progress past, say, a blocked off entrance to the city, players must first obtain a handful of sprites that can be found in the forest and garden.
“The children soon discover that the house’s overstock of honey and salt isn’t to do with some kind of incongruous fetish, but just a small part of something very, very big.”Actually catching the blighters is a game in itself; once you’ve managed to trap them in your net the game asks you to paint the creature within a specific time limit in order to reap the special powers they grant. Because even children grow tired of pointless repetition, successfully catching and painting a sprite’s portrait enough times allows players to net them as much as they want from thereon in without the need for the mini game.
The game’s downfall comes when Jared – for want of a better phrase – grows some balls and decides to find weapons to bludgeon the game’s enemies with. You’ve got a standard combo system in place, and by standard, I mean slapping the same button over and over again until everything hostile around you has stopped breathing. The level of brutality in attacks’ impact is very surprising, there’s a quiet sense of satisfaction in smashing a small ogres head in – but the game soon falls foul of the dreaded re-spawning enemy syndrome, and all the visceral head cracking in the world can’t save it from becoming terribly mundane.
“The Spiderwick Chronicles is as standard an adventure title as you’re ever going to find at its most basic – and not a whole lot more at its most complex, either.”Exploration plays a big part in The Spiderwick Chronicles, and for the most part the visuals in the game are acceptable. They certainly don’t ever meet the heights of the actual movie in terms of production value and sheer colour, but everything is clean, sharp and the frame rate is remarkably consistent throughout. The forest and woodland sections tend to look a little bland and because it all looks so familiar, a few wrong turns later and players will find themselves hopelessly lost. The exploration can also become very stop-start as constant load times litter the game whenever you enter and exit different areas. As with most movie to game tie-ins, all the actors from the film lend their voice talents for that authentic feel, but the monotonous way in which the lines are delivered somewhat detracts from the believability and immersion the game’s excellent soundtrack trys so hard to create.
For what it’s worth, you could do a hell of a lot worse than The Spiderwick Chronicles. It seems perfectly happy to get through the six or so hours of game time merely meeting criteria to an acceptable standard and never anything more. For the retail price it’s going for in shops, it’s probably best to give this a rental and save your hard earned money for something that offers more bang for your buck. But you wouldn’t be at all foolish for believing that The Spiderwick Chronicles was a decent game – child or not.