Movie games are interesting, let’s put it that way. A game usually comes out for a movie if it is adventure oriented and at least some kid will be interested in it. However, it’s rarely ground breaking since it is usually left until the last minute and a rush project to meet demand. Once in a while, you get something that is a little different or at least interesting but more often than not it’s standard questing fare with dull objectives and a way to rehash most of the movie. Spiderwick Chronicles for the PC is unfortunately just that. There are a few spots where it performs above the norm but mostly it is your standard movie game aimed to draw in the kids. But at least this keeps them occupied for a few days.
The game recommends 256 megs of video ram. My card has 512. I should be fine and good to go. My processor speed fits right in the middle between minimum & recommended at a 2G. My main memory also sits in the middle at 768 megs. So perhaps this game won’t move at the speed of light but it should get a fairly decent frame rate. Inside scenes are delightful, you can run from room to room with little or no slowdown. Once outside, the frame rate drops rather harshly and suffers from poor lit conditions even when you turn the brightness way up. The colors are good and I liked the character depth, it just plays a little bit slow when you are doing anything out in the fantasy world.
The audio ramps up pretty nicely. Featuring your normal direct sound interface, the symphonics envelope you into a fantasy world. Sound effects are used nicely and the background music plays well when you fight. It’s nothing amazing, but what it does do is keep you involved in the game. The dialog is clear and discernable. The best sound effect: perhaps the crunch of a cockroach as Brownie Thimbletack shoots them with needles. YeeeeOuch.
The game starts you off as Jared Grace who has moved into the former house of one Arthur Spiderwick, a famous guy who wrote field books. (You want better descriptions, go watch the movie!). Incidentally after some cinematics, Jared starts sneaking around and finds the secret office. In the office he also finds Spiderwick’s book: Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. The book contains lore about the world you can’t see and faerie creatures. Lots of them, and many of them aren’t named Richard Simmons. This starts you on a journey with your two siblings, Simon & Mallory, along with Brownie Thimbletack to guide your way. Along the way, you will fight many Goblins and collect even more Sprites leading up to a final confrontation with Ogre Mulgarath.
The interface is typically every adventure game named after a movie you have ever played. Go here, collect this item. Then go here and collect this item. After you have fulfilled that quota, go here and with those items make some event happen. Oooo, now go do it again. Thankfully, it does bridge out of that scenario with some shooting mechanics and a little button mashing to fight the nasty goblins with. There is also the whole idea of capturing sprites with your net. Looks like they borrowed the concept from Ape Escape but I digress. Sprites do everything from healing to boosting damage or providing a whirlwind. This helps with the trolls and goblins you encounter.
Questing is my major issue. Maybe I have been playing World of Warcraft too long but I like clear quest objectives. I also like those objectives coming up in the drop of a hat. I don’t want to have to hit the pause screen, and then flip through several pages of my field guide to get to it. I appreciate the whole eye thing to let me know which items are usable but much of the background is just there and doesn’t have a real point. In the very beginning, you control only Jared which leads to rather pointless conversations with his siblings. In fact, they are just rather rude. “Don’t touch my stuff” or “Would you please leave me alone” are some of the things they speak. Shouldn’t they be a little friendlier in an E for Everyone game?
Then there is Brownie Timbletack. This washed up grapefruit in english business casual clothes & a weird accent is even a playable character. He shoots needles. He shoots them at cockroaches. He jumps 30 feet in the air and goes nowhere. Good thing you only play a couple of times in the game. The shooting mechanics in the normal game is much better as it becomes a friendly button masher for most of the time you end up outside the house. The difficulty is a mixed bag. The game is fairly easy, but the quest logs and just figuring out what to do is somewhat complicated. It seems like game design just got rushed at the last possible second. This game could have flowed so much better if they did things like put objectives transparently on a screen or turned the Brownie into Duke Nukem and give him a RPG. You know, the little things.
This is a linear adventure game, pure and simple. It will take people anywhere from 5-10 hours depending on their dedication and boredom level. After that, they will put it back in the tiny box it came in and give it to another kid or back up on the shelf. There isn’t much to keep you there or give you a reason to play it through again. They try to add some depth to this experience by giving you the option to switch characters when you do side quests. Or perhaps the multiplayer option that lets you play mini games that are unlocked during the course of the single player game. Unfortunately neither of these things adds to the experience and the time spent with the game will be over soon enough.
An average game, *sigh*. The Spiderwick Chronicles movie offers a lot of fantasy and a lot of story. The game does provide some of that feeling but mostly feels like a rushed effort. Sloppy game design in the questing interface and more bugs than what is found in the Spiderwick house floorboards. The sound is very good but the graphics are only so-so in this meager effort. The idea of catching sprites and using them against the Goblins and Trolls is fun, but hardly fleshed out enough. The replay is simply not there, and no matter if you have friends or not to play along with; it just won’t last that long for you. This is one of those games that are best if you are about 5-7 years old and have an adult to play with you. That way he or she can show you how to play and you can enjoy the quality time together. Then afterwards, they will take you for ice cream & buy you a real adventure game like Final Fantasy or Zelda. Recommended only for the very little kid with a few hours to burn.
Other Coverage & Reviews
- Ign.com: “I’m happy to report that The Spiderwick Chronicles sidesteps this pitfall and offers a surprisingly enjoyable adventure for the younger gamer”
- GameRevolution.com: “I was surprised at how simple and fun the fairy collection was, but the combat mechanics are a dull affair”
- Gamezone.com: “…sometimes you’ll never know what to do but randomly guess what the next step at completing the quest is”