Maybe you love The Spiderwick Chronicles book series or know someone who does. Or, perhaps you saw the recent movie and wanted to stomp the goblins yourself. Regardless of the reasons you have for taking an interest in the video game based on the movie, we're here to give you a big old Thimbletack style warning: The Spiderwick Chronicles game is the kind of dull, tedious 3D adventure that gives movie cash-ins a bad name.
There's nothing wrong on the technical front. The 3D renditions of the house, grounds, forest, and quarry from the movie are beautiful. We especially loved the individual blades of grass in the PC and Xbox 360 versions. Jared, Simon, Mallory, and the other characters in the game look and sound just right. Actual video clips taken from the movie help advance the story along. Tying everything together is a whimsical soundtrack that strikes a bizarre cross between Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf" and modern new-age musician Yanni.
What's busted is the game's design, or, more specifically, how excessively protracted most tasks are. On a basic level, you're supposed to alternate control between the four different characters and freely explore the in-game world to beat up goblins, catch fairy sprites, and track down the items you need to access locked areas. Jared's bat, Simon's squirt gun, and Mallory's sword all function similarly, and you're constantly running into the same green and red goblins, which means combat gets old fast. So, the developers put in some chase scenes and platform jumping sections to spice things up. OK, that actually isn't a bad idea.
However, it is a bad idea to force players to "draw" fairy sprites as a condition of catching them. Fairy sprites are fun to use. They let you recover health, throw whirlwinds, and unleash other spells on nearby goblins. When you swing your net to catch one, a painting minigame comes up. If you move the brush around and uncover enough of the image before time runs out, you get to keep the fairy. If not, it'll fly away. It's the sort of quick minigame that's fine on an occasional basis, but here you have to do it for each of the 60 or so fairies you come across.
The movie briskly drags the characters through six or seven tiny set locations. In order to stretch the experience and make these areas seem bigger, the game's designers decided to make players fetch multiple objects just to get past every obstacle. Need an acorn? You'll need to get a toy jack from Aunt Lucy, navigate the ducts of the house as Thimbletack to retrieve the combination to Arthur's safe, and then open the safe to collect the acorn. Need to put together Simon's squirt gun? Get ready to kill 30 minutes searching the house, grounds, and garden for the parts you need.
Wandering back and forth through the same areas to collect one silly object after another will drive you "This is Sparta" raving mad, especially when you realize that you have to collect every fairy sprite and finish every last side quest just to see how the story ends. Yes, the story is heartwarming, and it is engaging, but it's also mainly delivered through the video scenes that were taken from the movie. You could just watch that in its entirety in a quarter of the time it'd take you to play this game (and you'd have more fun).
Feb 27, 2008