The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
It's a classic novel by C.S Lewis, it's the film that every child wanted to see over the Christmas period, and it's one of many movie tie-ins that have jostled for the top spot in the Winter games charts. They always say that the film is worse than the book and more often than not that the game is, in turn, worse than the film, so does Chronicles of Narnia have the magic touch to buck the trend? Unfortunately, after just a short time playing the answer has to be an overriding no siree, to a game that won't ever be seen in such a favourable light as the legendary novel it is based upon.
If you're not familiar with the storyline, it goes a little bit like this. The Pervensie children, older brother Peter, older sister Susan, younger brother Edmund and younger sister Lucy are playing hide and seek one evening when Lucy decides that a clever place to evade capture is a wardrobe in an otherwise empty room. However, she soon realizes that through the back of her chosen piece of bedroom furniture is an entrance to the frozen world of Narnia ruled by the White Witch. Her siblings soon share in her amazing discovery and learn of a prophecy invoked by Aslan, a talking lion and true ruler of Narnia, (stick with me) that it is their destiny to save Narnia from the White Witch's clutches. The game is based heavily upon the recent blockbuster; in fact, the abundance of cut-scenes that include actual footage of the film may even save you a pretty penny if you weren't planning to see it in its entirety or otherwise totally ruin it if you were. On offer are fifteen playable levels, (some a lot bigger than others) that are set across the world of Narnia, providing a fairly uncomplicated mix of puzzle solving and enemy-bashing.
Players must combine the children's individual skills in order to progress. Peter, being the largest of the four is the main fighter. Susan's most useful feature is being able to attack from range by throwing fire or, bizarrely, tennis balls. Edmund's smaller size makes him perfect for climbing poles and entering pokey holes to collect items while Lucy has the ability to charm animals into assisting your plight and is also able to heal the group. Switching between the children is as simple as a touch of a button and although figuring out who you need to use and when is a little confusing to begin with, it soon becomes pretty formulaic and obvious. Like all good games that include multiple characters, the Pervensie's are able to join forces to perform more devastating maneuvers. Peter can pick Edmund up and swing him around to bash enemies in a fury never seen by such posh little children before, while Susan can throw Lucy, utilizing her bulk in order to break down barriers. These special abilities are essential in beating some of the game's bosses, where one child might need to disable your foe while another takes over to deliver more extensive blows. Watching these acts is slightly disturbing at first; in fact, it's just as well that Narnia doesn't seem to have an established Social Service otherwise the parents of the children would definitely be in for it.
In what seems a snide addition to extend the life of Narnia, extra abilities and health are only awarded to you after you have collected coins that pepper every level. Collecting them certainly seems like a chore that sees you running here, there and everywhere if you want to find them all. Perhaps the most ridiculous example of this appears on the second level where extra coins are acquired by punching and pushing furniture. You'll spend a great deal of time unnecessarily dragging dining and lamp tables around with Peter until they have expelled all of their hidden treasures while the other children look on in bemusement.
The developers have spent a noticeable amount of time getting Narnia to look just right, which might explain the lack of invention in other areas. Each of the children looks fairly similar to their onscreen selves, if a little buffed and shiny, and they are all animated well too. The environments themselves are also detailed and varied. Footsteps appear in the snow, broken ice on the top of frozen pools moves convincingly as Lucy transverses it with care and despite a lot of onscreen action there is only a mild hint of game-spoiling slowdown.
The game's soundtrack seems to be snatched directly from the film and the main theme scores highly on the videogame music scale of 'hummability.' Chances are you'll be emulating the soft classical sound as soon as the game is switched off. Unfortunately, bar the children's acting, the rest of the game's sound isn't quite as impressive. Sound effects in particular are repeated to the point of annoyance. It won't be long before the grunts and groans of both the children and Minotaur, Minoboar, Wolf and other enemies gets tiring.
In summary, The Chronicles of Narnia isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Children might not be too critical of the game's smaller blemishes such as the mind numbing collecting of coins and an often unfair camera that is completely fixed in position. And anyway, since the game is primarily aimed at children they probably don't really want to be worrying about readjusting the camera over and over or care that only six million more coins earns them another clip to spoil the enjoyment of the full film. Well, not as much as us cynical adults at any rate. Narnia entertains in parts, but just isn't anything you're likely to remember in gaming terms for longer than the time you spend playing it. Like the film's probable status, it's probably more something to rent rather than buy. For a better example of how to do co-op exploration, X-Men 2: Rise of the Apocalypse is probably a better bet, even if it doesn't have a talking lion and an adolescent girl whose armory consists of tennis balls.