Mediocrity must be lurking nearby. My spideywick sense is tingling.
In The Spiderwick Chronicles, expect to catch lots of fairies and wallop goblins endlessly. If the idea of hunting “fairies” rings of homophobia, so too might the idea of hitting little pink creatures with a baseball bat. If this sounds at all appealing to you, perhaps its time for some cultural sensitivity training from Cho Aniki.
[image1]Chances are, though, that The Spiderwick Chronicles was never meant for you, anyway. If you’re over the age of thirteen, there’s really nothing much of worth in this game. And if you’re reading this review, odds are you’re over thirteen. But if you happen to be under thirteen and you’re reading this, you’re probably used to adults telling you not to do things that you do anyway. If I tell you not to play this game, you’ll do it just to spite me. So try this one out: don’t read this review, and do play this game.
For the rest of you, think “licensed game” and you’ll know exactly what to expect. The Spiderwick Chronicles is the latest in the long and time-honored tradition of churning out mediocre games based on movies. While not as disastrous as some licensed titles, don’t expect anything radically different from the norm.
You play as one of three siblings wandering a house previously owned by a guy with a doofy last name – the eponymous Spiderwick – who has a hankering for hiding things throughout his estate. If you haven’t watched the movie or read the books, the story will be confusing to you. But, then again, why would you play this game if you haven’t already seen the movie?
And if you did see the movie, I hope you really liked it, because you’ll be seeing many clips from the movie scattered throughout. You won’t just get a chance to play through scenes from the movie, but you’ll also have to sit through scenes from the movie. I’m of the strong opinion that film footage belongs in games just as much as sharp glass belongs in my cup of coffee. Leave the film footage to the movies, and leave the sharp glass to the John McClanes of the world. I’ll take my games black, thank you very much.
This game combines basic hack-‘n-slash gameplay with item collection. Each of the three children uses a different weapon and earns stronger attack combos as he or she kills more critters. However, there’s nothing to the combat mechanics other than simple button-mashing, and since most enemies are smaller and weaker than you are, they don’t put up much of a fight.
[image2]When you’re not fighting little goblins, you’ll be spending most of the rest of the time collecting items. Often, you’ll have to collect a handful of items scattered around the estate and its wild environs and either build something out of them or take them to someone. As cool as it is to see old-school adventure gaming making a minor comeback, these item collection quests can be unnecessarily frustrating. From the very beginning, you can see almost all of the items you’ll ever need. So when it comes time to get a certain thing, you just have to remember where you saw it last. Mostly this is easy. But there are a few item hunts that feel like a maddening quest to find a lost set of car keys. No one, no matter how masochistic, enjoys looking for their lost keys.
The game also depends on a simple gameplay crutch. Instead of making your goals obvious or, god forbid, logical, you have to keep opening your field guide to see what to do next. It lists all the various tasks required of you, but the clues vary from ridiculously clear (“get your toothbrush from underneath the rock next to the front door”) to the hopelessly obscure (“take the huildighty to the ytyeislsh”). Worse, the relevant page in the field guide is two pages in, so in order to get to the actual guide, you have to skip past the game options screen every time.
One element that actually is fun and, dare I say, innovative is the fairy collection mechanic. First, you need to use a special net to catch one of the many fairies flying or hopping around the environment. Once you capture the fairy in your net, you quickly have to reveal a picture of that fairy by running a paint brush over a piece of blank paper. Once you successfully reveal the picture, you will then be able to use the fairy’s unique ability. Each fairy has its own distinct powers such as health regeneration, protection, strength, and so on. Each child can carry up to three fairies, so managing which fairies you have on hand requires some strategic thinking. Having to paint the fairies after each capture does get a little tedious, but on the whole it’s an unexpectedly interesting addition.
[image3]With the game’s surprising highs also come the less surprising lows. The lowest points of this game by far are the two sections where you play as Brownie Thimbletack, a little critter that spends half his life looking like a stodgy Oxford literature professor and the other half of his life looking like Yoda’s loser brother. He runs around in the walls, shoots cockroaches, and has to do some of the lamest platforming this side of Dawn of Mana. It’s an ill-conceived bit of variety that was obviously meant to break up the item hunts and goblin slaughter, but it ends up just deadening the whole experience. Not just that, but Brownie is freakishly ugly and insists on speaking in obnoxious rhymes.
It goes without saying that the 360 and PC versions look better than the Wii and PS2 versions, but not much better. I was also surprised to run into more than a few frame-rate hiccups in the higher end versions, particularly since the graphics are obviously not very demanding. The controls are basically identical across all platforms, except that the Wii version liberally sprinkles its waggle around. Each version also includes a simple fairy collection multiplayer game that’s about as much fun as collecting runaway pennies.
Regardless of what my girlfriend says, I’m not actually a pre-adolescent boy. And though this game is obviously targeted at the pre-teen set, my inner ten-year old remains uninspired. I was surprised at how simple and fun the fairy collection was, but the combat mechanics are a dull affair. Traipsing around in the walls isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and the game’s reliance on the field guide is a lazy design trick. I’m also not a fan of being made to feel like an old man who can’t find his keys. Save yourself the six hours it takes to play through The Spiderwick Chronicles, and go relive a much more interesting part of your pre-adolescence before senility truly does kick in.