The Spiderwick Chronicles
The Spiderwick Chronicles is the latest Hollywood offering tapping into the revival in children's fantasy novels - following in the footsteps of Harry Potter and Narnia, bringing these tales to the big-screen. And of course, the gaming tie-in comes soon afterwards.
Not too many here will have heard of the book, but our friends across the pond apparently consider it a classic. So, does it translate as well to the HD screen as it does to the silver?
The gameplay is, at its core, a strange mixture of Resident Evil and Grand Theft Auto all mixed up in a relatively child-friendly package. You start out controlling Jared, the main protagonist, who hears strange noises upon moving into a new mansion owned by their late Uncle Spiderwick. These turn out to be various mystical creatures, and our hero goes on to discover that there is a horde of goblins attempting to get hold of a book that is inside the house.
In order to advance through the game, you need to complete the main task in a given level. Reminiscent of Resident Evil, this mostly consists of identifying an item you need, locating it, and taking it to where it is needed. For example, one of the first things Jared comes across is a locked treasure chest - obviously he spends some time locating a key to open it, and the object inside moves the story forward.
Over the next few levels, you will switch to controlling Jared's twin brother Simon, and their older sister Mallory. Where Jared is the athlete of the group, Simon is the scientist, and their missions when being controlled reflect this. Simon, for example, spends some time collecting household items to manufacture a monocle of sorts to hold a magic "seeing stone" up to his eye. Mallory is a top fencer, so her missions largely involve beating up the goblins with her sword, and she only really comes into play half-way through the game.
Although you might imagine that Simon is the weak link in the chain, he soon becomes involved in a mission that allows him to build a water-pistol style weapon that allows him to spray the goblins with some sort of tomato-juice concoction (apparently goblins are allergic to tomatoes or something). This means that each character can take care of themselves in a fight, so the only real differences are stylistic.
There are also some levels where you control Thimbletack, the children's hobgoblin friend. This little fellow (a few inches tall) runs through the walls to collect other items that the children can't reach. These sections are mostly about platforming - jumping over gaps, or dodging traps. They add a bit of variety to the game, and are quite good fun.
Other than the collecting side of things, combat makes up the majority of the game. The goblins don't necessarily want you to take that item to where it is needed, so you will need to knock them out of the way. Each character gets goblin teeth from dispatching an enemy, and collecting enough of these unlocks an extra combo in their attack repertoire. However, each character only needs 50 teeth to reach the top of their tree, and so it is easy to "farm" the teeth early on and get your characters all the moves. However, it is also perfectly feasible to button-mash your way through the hordes, particularly with Jared's baseball bat.
The third aspect of gameplay is all about collectibles, Grand Theft Auto-style - you can collect "sprites", which are the game's power-ups. Using a net, you attack a sprite you see floating around. Then, there is a short mini-game which involves painting the sprite - effectively mashing upon 'A' all over the pad until the painting is uncovered. Once this is done, the sprite is yours to use when you want - it can replenish your health, give a quick speed boost, or distract enemies, amongst others, depending on which sprite you have. Also, as you catch more of each sprite, their effect increases in potency or duration. Once you have caught up to the top level of each sprite, you no longer have to "paint" it to catch another one.
You can also find ammo lying around for Jared's slingshot, or little figurines which eventually lead to further secrets and extras in the game. You can also find items to decorate Thimbletack's house. Of course, on the Xbox 360 these add up to a nice set of Achievements if you have the patience. The majority are easy enough to pick up on your first run through.
Overall, this game will hit the mark for its target audience, so if you know someone who is a fan it will be perfect. It might be a pleasant diversion for the older gamer, if slightly simplistic. The graphics aren't exactly cutting-edge, and the gameplay is a bit repetitive after a while, but this is better than most movie tie-ins. Definitely recommended for our younger friends.