The Spiderwick Chronicles

April 11, 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a game based on a movie based on a five-novel children’s fantasy series in which 3 kids discover a journal from a deceased relative that reveals the secrets to discovering the fantastic around us (goblins and fairies, etc.). Unlike the movie and perhaps the books, the game is best reserved for kids only. If your child is twelve or under, it’s okay to buy this game or rent it. If not, I recommend against it.

The game generally follows the movie, but that’s not a big deal as the movie cuts out much from the books. Cinematic cutscenes are included between levels. The most important question about this game is whether or not it captures the movie’s essence, and it basically does. The only exception is the voice acting by Freddie Highmore, who unfortunately plays the most frequently played character, Jared. He delivers in a deadpan voice: “A microwave is better.” “I’m not hungry right now.” “Better not wake mom up.” Still, the music and ambiance are appropriate and highly in character, though the chimes and xylophone may start to grate on your nerves.

The levels vary. The first one has slight RPG elements where Jared must discover the tiny character Thimbletack by figuring out what to do next. It’s not very hard; he discovers plaster and says “maybe I could break it with an object such as a broom.” Then, you must go and find a broom. And then break in the plaster. The Spiderwick Chronicles is filled with numerous such hand-holding mechanics. Other levels feature easy platforming and puzzles with obvious solutions. You even get a “quest book” that tells you exactly what to do next–ingenuity is not required here. You also get to play Thimbletack in some terrible levels that involved repeated rhymes by the Thimble-meister as he runs on boards and throws needles at cockroaches. The gameplay and the tacky level boundaries here are the quality of a bad Super Nintendo game. The combat in the other levels is simple jumping, whacking, shooting, and power-upping, but the mechanics and animations work better–more like a low-quality PS2 game.

Other presentational crimes include: The flowing leaves in the load screen. The captured fairies, who look like demons out of a Japanese RPG. Every single time you capture a fairy you must “paint” away some white to reveal the fairy on a card, not unlike scratching a lottery ticket. And every single powerup in this game is a fairy. Finally, with every single paint stroke (and you will be doing a lot of these), a synthesized flute toots a flowery, obnoxious chord.

There is nothing unpredictable here: the movie/book game is faithful to the presentation of the movie, but not so much to basic principles of good game design and presentation. If any kids want it, they should be fine with it–however, replay value is low and an unlockable minigame is the only available multiplayer mode, so be prepared for them to move on from it within a month.

For the rest of you: if you appreciate video games at any level, or are even allowed to play T-rated ones, skip The Spiderwick Chronicles.

Score: 1/5

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