The Spiderwick Chronicles Review
Written : Sunday, April 13, 2008
By: Lee Abrahams (GT: jackanape)
Video game tie-ins of movies never work and yet companies keep persisting in the vain hope that they will eventually strike gold, while poor gamers like myself continue to play such games while praying that they might actually provide a crumb of enjoyment this time around. A more cynical mind than mine might suggest that developers know such games will piggyback onto the success of the films they are based upon and thus sell a bucket load regardless (or in most cases despite) the lack of effort that has gone into making the game itself. This game is therefore surely doomed to failure from the start seeing as it is based on the film of the book of the same name, as the quality surely can’t be sustained after being diluted through three different mediums. Let’s dig deeper then and see if it can finally break the tie-in curse.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is a series of books based around the adventures of the Grace children; Jared, Simon and Mallory, who discover a hidden world of fairies when they move into the Spiderwick estate and discover the former owner’s field manual to all things magical. With this book in hand however they are in more danger than they realise when they discover that the ogre Mulgarath wants the book for himself in order to rule over the fairies and will go to any lengths to get it. In fairness the plot is pretty familiar to anyone who is even remotely familiar with fantasy fiction or RPG’s in general, as it has a bunch of plucky children facing off against the forces of evil. Throw in villains with unpronounceable names and you’re dead set for high adventure, if not originality. Developer Stormfront Studios' only previous 360 experience comes in the form of similar book/film tie-in Eragon so we are already on rocky ground.
It’s a badly animated goblin, LEG IT!
The game follows the plot of the film pretty closely which, in turn, is based on the books. You take control of each of the three siblings, along with their brownie helper Thimbletack, in a bid to solve a variety of puzzles and uncover the secrets of the book. You start by searching in and around the mansion itself before heading off into the nearby woods and quarry. The game is fairly linear as each new chapter of the story will unlock different locations for you to visit and search, though each area isn’t too large so there is little chance to wander from the beaten track and get lost. While the main aim of the game is to complete each chapter in a bid to fulfil the ultimate goal of thwarting Mulgarath there are also a number of optional quests and goals that you can accomplish in a bid to get 100% completion; such as catching fairies, restoring the gardens and grabbing gobstones.
Each of the main characters has their own attacks and abilities; Jared has his trusty baseball bat and slingshot, Simon his tomato gun (seriously) and gobstones, Mallory her fencing sword and Thimbletack his pins. Most of your time will be spent wandering throughout the various areas in a bid to find objects required to fulfil whatever tasks are at hand, either for the main missions or one of the many sub-quests on offer. Throughout each area you will find an array of helpful sprites and some rather less friendly goblins that will attack on sight. In keeping with the spirit of the book your characters can only see sprites and goblins with the help of an eyeglass (unless a hobgoblin has spit in their eye – I couldn’t make this up, I really couldn’t) which is a novel touch. Unfortunately it means that unless you are directly facing a creature they will be invisible, not really an ideal state of affairs when surrounded by enemies.
Never fear, I have a baseball bat that’s bigger than I am.
Combat is pretty much a case of button bashing simplicity, though as you kill goblins you will collect teeth to unlock new moves which aren’t really that helpful or necessary really. The enemies on offer only come in three varieties which are all pretty much the same just with a bit more health, considering the variety of sprites and such in the game it seems strange that enemies come in so few forms. A nice twist comes in the fact you can capture various sprites and use their powers to help you out; some of them increase your speed, improve your damage or even provide a helpful doppelganger. Though again these creatures are more of a novelty than a necessity as the game is so easy that you don’t really require any help fighting off the feeble hordes. The Thimbletack sections seem oddly out of place too as they are a peculiar platform/bug collection hybrid that is a chore to play due to the clunky camera and controls.
A novice player could breeze through the main story in a matter of hours but it’s the side quests that will really take up your time. For completionists and achievement hunters alike there are a number of minor tasks to take your fancy, most notably finding a certain number of each fairy and sprite, grabbing a number of hidden items and maxing out your ammo reserves. Catching a fairy will result in a bizarre painting mini game which is fun at first but that feeling soon wears off when you realise each fairy strikes the same pose every time and you have ten more of the bloody things to doodle. These tasks soon become more of a chore than a joy as you seem to be trudging through the same few locations time and again in a bid to find that ONE blasted fairy that you missed as you were there the last time. The never ending supply of goblins soon becomes an annoyance when you are just trying to grab everything as fast as you possibly can. The only addition to the main story is a bizarre collection of multiplayer mini-games that you unlock as you proceed through the game, though these only involve collecting a certain number of sprites or killing so many goblins and are a very trivial distraction at best.
Our heroic (and irritating) trio.
Considering the amount of CGI on display in the film you’d be fooled into thinking the game was due to be a visual treat as well, which is far from the truth. It doesn’t look awful but when you see CGI sprites in the cut scenes and then look at their poor relations throughout the game you’d be forgiven for wondering what happened. The Thimbletack sections in particular look and play like a ten year old game with boring graphics, poor cameras and linear paths. Making enemies invisible if you aren’t looking at them might be true to the book but is stupid in practice and the lack of variety amongst your foes is pretty poor. The sound effects and voice over work is at least true to the film and help speed things along, though the quality of the cut scenes (taken directly from the film) only serves to highlight the problems elsewhere.
All of the achievements on offer are of the typically easy variety which is to be expected from a kids game that is also a movie tie-in, though at first glance they may seem deceptively tricky. Completing the game will net you most of what is on offer, then you’ll need to collect all of the sprites and items that are hidden throughout the game in order to get both the individual collection achievements and the 100% complete one too. While it can be an annoyance to keep on scouring the locations for the few things you are missing nothing is that well hidden that it should take you too long. There are also a few easy achievements on offer from the mini-games you unlock. The list does reward you for diligently searching every nook in the game and it’s hard to see what else they could have done to spice the list up a bit really.
Good use of voices and effects from the film give it an authentic feel, but the script and plot is so generic and, well, cheesy that it does make you cringe in places.
Compared to the CGI on offer in the film this is a major disappointment, as surely games should have better graphics than the film equivalent? The Thimbletack sections are especially poor.
Kind of fun as you run around catching fairies and fending off the goblin hordes but it soon loses its lustre and you’ll get bored fairly quickly. Not to mention the fact the game offers zero replay-ability other than some pathetic mini-games.
Sticks close to the source material though whether that is of any benefit is up for question, the story is nothing you haven’t seen before and the fetch and carry game-play is the lowest common denominator for movie games it would seem.
What seems like a diverse list soon reveals itself as an easy series of game completion and collection missions that can all be polished off with the bare minimum of effort.
Exactly what the world has come to expect from a movie tie-in game and the fact it has been aimed squarely at kids makes matters worse as the difficulty level never rises above sleepwalking. Play it for points if you must or to distract an errant sibling but there is really no other reason to recommend this game.