Chronicles of Narnia first look

With over 85 million books sold worldwide it was only a matter of time before CS Lewis' staggeringly successful Chronicles of Narnia novels were adapted with a princely Hollywood budget for the big screen.

This Christmas, Lewis' fantastical world of Narnia will be magically conjured to cinemas courtesy of Disney's movie of the first book, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Disney is touting Chronicles as its biggest ever movie release and, to complement its planned aggressive merchandising push, a videogame is also on its way.

We visited Traveller's Tales, the UK-based developer at the helm of the Chronicles game licence, to ask company director, Jon Burton, how the game is shaping up.

Anyone familiar with Traveller's Tales will know that this isn't the first time Disney (now publishing as Buena Vista Games) has drafted the company in to produce a movie tie-in: Toy Story, A Bug's Life and Finding Nemo all feature in its portfolio of games.

And while Burton himself admits that these might not have been the greatest games in the world, he assures us that Chronicles will be a very different story.

"Chronicles is actually a lot more ambitious than normal," explains Burton. "Usually you have seven months to make a platformer that looks like the film but with Narnia we've had more time, which has allowed us more scope, and we've been able to add some unique gameplay features."

What Burton is referring to is the welcome addition of the same drop-in and drop-out mechanic that was employed by Lego Star Wars - a feature that allowed a second player to enter and exit the action at any point - and proved hugely popular.

Chronicles follows the adventures of four children - Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy - as they enter the world of Narnia and are drawn into a quest to free the land from a curse that has kept it frozen in eternal winter, in an adventure that combines fighting, action and puzzles.

Although not all four characters are involved for the entire duration of the game, swapping between the heroes can be executed effortlessly and is required to overcome a variety of obstacles.

And with each child having their own strengths to give them the advantage in certain scenarios, the option for a side-by-side two-player partnership is offered throughout.

While the older children Peter and Susan are the best choice in battle situations, younger brother Edmund is an accomplished tree climber and Lucy, the baby of the bunch, can squeeze through small crawl spaces.

The ability for the kids to team up during fights, such as the older children being able to swing their younger siblings around by the arms, effectively creating a 360 degree attack, ensures that there's an even greater emphasis on working together and builds on the system used in Lego Star Wars.

As well as providing a natty little feature, the ability to drop-in and drop-out also allows the developer to make the game more challenging than it might otherwise be able to do, as Burton keenly points out.

"It helps to bridge age groups incredibly well. You can make the game pretty hard and allow dad to join in and help. You don't have to naturally make the whole game accessible to a six or seven year old."

In addition to their various strengths, each child possesses powers that could, quite conceivably, be seen as more accustomed to an RPG, the reason for which becomes clear when Burton describes Disney's initial plan for the game.

"They wanted a lot of role-playing elements where you powered up your character, but there are four characters and there would be a danger that kids would get lost in the RPG world."

Burton was adamant that if they wanted an RPG then Disney should "go to Square or who ever". But there are, undeniably, still aspects that bear the hallmarks of a traditional RPG, albeit very watered down to avoid complexity.

Lucy acts as a healer, for example, and is able to restore health to the team, and players can purchase skills and upgrades at the end of each level.

The environments and denizens that inhabit Narnia would also be perfectly suited to an RPG and provide a wealth of rich source material for the game to exploit. There are over 60 species of creatures - including centaurs, minotaurs, wraiths and werewolves - and a multitude of enchanting locations.

With much tweaking still to be done, it's difficult to judge just how good Chronicles will ultimately be.

However, if Burton's team can successfully tie together all the core elements, not only will Chronicles delight fans of the film, but will also offer sustenance to gamers hungry for another enjoyable cooperative adventure.

And with the ubiquitous buzz that the unstoppable Disney hype machine will be generating leading up to the launch of the movie, it's unthinkable that Chronicles will be anything other than a big hit for Traveller's Tales.

Thankfully, for this trick, Burton and his team are intent on creating real magic rather than relying on smoke and mirrors.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe will be released for Gamecube, PC, PS2 and Xbox in November 2005

GBA and DS versions are being developed by Griptonite Games and are also scheduled for a November 2005 release