STAFF REVIEW of Spiderwick Chronicles, The (Xbox 360)

Thursday, February 28, 2008.
by Tony Ingrassia

Spiderwick Chronicles, The Box art Once again we find ourselves in the all too familiar category of movie licensed games. On top of that the added sub category of sorts that target younger gamers. But having children of my own, I try not to take my pre-conceived ideas and notions about this particular genre too seriously. The Spiderwick Chronicles by Sierra is targeted to the younger gamer, and is based on the popular books which have recently made the jump to the silver screen, all these elements are usually a sure recipe for disaster but after playing for a bit I have to admit that The Spiderwick Chronicles (TSC) showed some unexpected promises.

The game is structured around a boy who discovers ?Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You? that goes on to explain the magical fantasy filled world lurking right under your nose. Like most adventure games TSC is filled with area to explore, items to discover, puzzles to solve, and my personal favorite? goblins to fight. While overall a sound experience it does have some minor flaws.

Not to harp on the bad things, I just wanted to get them out of the way before we delve into the positive things, which, yes there are. The first unavoidable thing that you?ll undoubtedly notice is how dark the game is, you are prompted right from the beginning to adjust your screen, now on mine, it took a few tries back and forth because once in the game you realize what you thought was acceptable is still to dark to see items in corners let alone staircases and corridors in the house. Needless to say, it was a function that could be corrected. Looking at the game from the perspective of the audience it was intended for I also found the game a bit hard to navigate in terms of knowing where you are, of course you can consult your guide at any time, but more often than not, its wasn?t tremendously helpful. The game also has quite a few cut scenes that were lifted right from the movie, and while a very nice touch, it would have been nicer to be able to skip through them as an option. My one big complaint is the way the inventory system works out, you don?t really have one, and the major down side to that is as you find objects, you really can?t collect, you can investigate them, learn what they are, but until your in that mission/quest you can?t collect them, so there is a little bit of frustration in remembering where you saw certain objects earlier and now having to backtrack. Outside of a few the occasional clipping problems, and some random invisible objects you can pass through TSC was very well designed.

TSC does a great job keeping your interest by its many diverse playing schemes, the puzzle solving begins basic and grows in complexity as you progress through the game, the combat system while a button masher for the age group intended is still fun, and the collection of sprites unlocks new magical abilities such as healing, super speed and super strength, catching enough of them with your ?Sprite Net? will launch you into a ?Painting? mini-game, which seemed more added, than a part of the game. I thought the collecting aspect was interesting when piecing items like your initial monocle to view the mystical world around you. The aforementioned button mashing won?t go to waste either, after vanquishing a goblin you can collect its teeth which in turn unlock new moves for your characters melee attack as you collect enough of them, one attack in particular will bring a chuckle to any gamer, as goblins are launched into the ?cheap seats?. While the ?New? attacks are not overly complicated, more or less the addition of a new button, they are more than acceptable and challenging enough to keep to keep gamers collecting teeth. All these elements do a commendable job keeping to the adventure roots of the book, movie, and now game. In addition, gamers can also look forward to unlocking 2 player co-op modes which is sure to not only extend the life of the game, but add a new wrinkle to the adventure.

Visually TSC is above average, but lacks some of the ?Flare? we as gamers are getting used to, if not starting to expect in our games. Detailed shadows, particle effects, etc?TSC offers a straight forward visual style that is adequate but not fantastic. As mentioned earlier the game does have some minor visual glitches like be able to swing through your targets, and the flow is off at times. The character models on the other hand are very nicely rendered and if you?ve seen the movie will appreciate the likeness. Even the load screen seems a bit lack luster with animated leaves blowing by that really don?t match the rest of the look of the game, so overall, TSC looks fine, but could have been ?Polished? a bit more. The soundtrack in TSC does stand out quite a bit, from spooky creaking doors and other effects it does a great job of putting you in the Spiderwick world and sets the mood very well. The voice acting is above average, considering most of it is via cut scenes and your main character Jared.

Overall, The Spiderwick Chronicles accomplishes what it set out to deliver, a solid adventure game for younger gamers, and in that respect it actually delivers an above average experience that holds true to the adventure game genre, possibly getting those younger gamers to continue to enjoy the genre. While the game is very linear at times and walks you through the early levels a-la ?Tutorial? it should appeal to the gamer it set out to impress. The books were great, the movie was very entertaining also, the game?well, let me put it this way, a certain eyeglass wearing wizard may have to step up his game in the video game market. The Spiderwick Chronicles was enjoyable for both children and adults, kudos.

Overall a great adventure game, would like to see a bit more "polish" to the game and an inventory system to work around the item backtracking.

Overall: 7.8 / 10
Gameplay: 7.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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