The Spiderwick Chronicles Review (Xbox360)

Spiderwick Chronicles is the latest videogame to arrive based on a film of the same name. Those unfamiliar with the series and that includes me; will not know that there have been five different best-selling books. It’s all a bit mystical with Goblins, Sprites and other mythical type creatures. It’s really not the type of game that I’d expect to go out and buy at the mature age of nineteen.

Firstly a bit of background regarding the story. A dysfunctional family has moved to a house in the middle of woodland which was left to them by the family. Arthur Spiderwick is the man who lived there and spent years scripting tales of the ‘mythical’ creatures that reside on the estate. Two twins Jared and Simon Grace have come to realise that Arthur’s world is more than just a fantasy.

This is aimed at older children and this is reflected by a PG certificate on the cover. Since I am slightly too old to give a decent judgment on the game, I enlisted the help of my six-year old brother, Matthew.

After pestering me to play on Burnout Paradise, I suggested that he pick up and play a new adventure game. It was his first foray into a game of the type. After loading it up for the first time I was impressed by the games tie-in with the film with cut scenes included from the big screen. Matthew wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about it and seemingly just watched in wonder, slightly confused by what was happening on screen. Perhaps therefore he is slightly out of the age range, but nevertheless is more in the bracket than myself!

Once the story opening had ended you are placed in the control of Adam and by pushing the control stick you can move around, like any typical platformer. You can move around the house and find items highlighted in purple and press the B button to hear dialogue. You can also press B and pick up items such as a broom handle and bat.

Despite the control being slightly on the large size for Matthews small hands he managed to grasp the stick and move Adam around the building fairly easily. His words were:

“This is wicked. I love this”. So far, so good then! One of the problems with having a six year old playing is that he can’t understand the brief given. So when the instructions tell him to find a birdhouse in the shed on-screen, I have to inform him of what to look out for. It’s a small oversight, but it would be perhaps easier if the brief was audio spoken and shown on screen, rather than accessible flicking through the start screen.

The sun beams through the woodland creating a nice graphical look
Looks like my Mum first thing in the morning!

The quests are detailed on the menu along with character information and the collectables you have. It certainly requires some parental input to give children the knowledge of how to access these screens and understand how they give you guidance in-game. Many of the in-game tasks though are straight forward and require little thought. However when you discover the first fantasy creature called Thimbletack and you take control of him, it soon gets a little bit tricky. The complex jumping (although automated, still requires some thought) combined with the pace of Thimbletack makes things difficult. As Matthew stated: “This is too hard, can you do it Rob?”

Over to the older and wiser gamer then to take over the reigns! Thimbletack has the addition of a spear that you can target some cockroaches with, again slightly trickier for the younger ones. The next section required a bit of thought and despite arrows chalked onto the wood directing you, it isn’t all that easy when you keep falling from the timber frames onto the bottom. Frustrating and reminded me of my early days playing Mario Brothers and dying all the time. Thankfully things have changed for gamers today and a handful of checkpoints if you really do die from lack of health, gives you generous opportunity to restart the game.

Once the action had returned to Adam, it was time to let Matthew delve in and have a run-around again. This is where I decided to take a look at how the camera works. You can look in a first-person style view from behind the character by pressing the right trigger but the camera itself pans around the character depending on which direction you run in. This is generally on the best of behaviour, but every now and again you get a frustrating moment where it gets ‘stuck’ and Matthew would be demanding me to help him get out. It’s no major issue, but one minor gripe especially for the smaller ones.

Later on in the game you can pick up fairies and sprites which you capture in a net to enhance your in-game character. Once you have you’ll need to ‘paint-in’ the sprites which are time-limited and fiddly. The time you are given is not enough for younger ones and an adult comes in handy for this. The DS and Wii versions are perhaps better suited for this with more child-friendly controls.

After a good hour or so playing, Matthew was getting restless. Proceeding to tell our Mum that the game is “wicked and I love it”, he had to go and do some reading (and one day he might be able to read the in-game text!).

Kill the goblins. Evil people
Like a scene out of the Goosebumps books!

That gave his brother some chance to sample the game and give an adults impression on it. Having watched for a good length of time I was able to get a good impression of how the game plays. The controls are simple and the tasks fairly straight forward too. There is a nice interlude with cut-scenes from the film and a soundtrack which gives a very mystical feeling and creates a nice atmosphere. The sound effects in game are generally decent and the voice acting in particular is very good.

When it comes to graphics, it won’t amaze older gamers like you and me, but for its audience it has a cute cartoony look about it but at the same time realism. There are no problems with slow-down and everything looks and runs smoothly. The game although too easy for adult gamers is in essence a nice title to sit down with and grab some achievements which tend to be slightly on the easy side.

Spiderwick Chronicles is one of the best titles aimed at children I’ve had the fortune to play, probably since Toy Story way back on the PlayStation. Thanks to having a younger reviewer alongside me, it gave me a good perspective of how easy/difficult the game can be. To strike the balance Sierra perhaps need to be careful with how the difficulty factor is applied and keep this consistent. I can thoroughly recommend this for older children and after playing wouldn’t mind checking out the film either. One final word from the little one: “It’s wicked”!

Top Game Moment: Smashing down the kitchen wall with a broom handle. Teaching kids how to do things properly ;-)