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The Spiderwick Chronicles

For: DS   Also on: Mobile

Gives a new definition to trolling

Product: The Spiderwick Chronicles | Publisher: Sierra Entertainment | Format: DS | Genre: Action, Film/ TV tie- in | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
The Spiderwick Chronicles DS, thumbnail 1
Kids being either sent off to live in big spooky houses or finding alternative worlds in weird places is effectively the core staple of children's stories. Take away those two narratives then challenge the likes of Pullman and Rowling to come up with a million-selling book and you'd probably find them a few weeks later slumped over their desks with a slew of balled up paper as a pillow and their fingernails bitten down to the quick.

The Spiderwick Chronicles (which is a children's book and now a film), then, treads a fairly tried-and-tested path, except instead of transporting its three child stars off to a magical faraway land, it brings the inhabitants of such a world to theirs. So their new home – a creepy mansion once lived in by a man called Arthur Spiderwick – is suddenly deluged by murderous trolls, boggarts and pixies when the trio discovers a field guide Arthur's written about them in the attic.

It's been noted a few million times before, but film licence games have a bad rep for the good reason that more often than not they're rushed out rubbish. Worse still are film licenses aimed at children, which often mistake youth for a condition that means its bearer is unable to spot a shoddy control system, cheap visuals and a tenuous or lame story. (Check out The Golden Compass on PSP if you need a recent example.)

So The Spiderwick Chronicles could have easily been just another member of that infamous family of games, thereby saving us the need for immediate treatment for shock as a result of our surprise. But it's not. Some 20 minutes or so in you come to the undeniable conclusion that quite a thoughtful and successful translation of film to game has occurred.

The biggest praise goes to its combat system, which is turn-based like an RPG, but more like that of Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time than anything too beardy and stat-based. You take turns to strike enemies using a range of attacks with items you've found, such as bats and rocks, or by using magical sprites with a range of uses as healers, shields and HP-zapping flurries of fire.

Like in a standard RPG, your character's skills and the effectiveness of your items is upgraded throughout the game. So by winning goblin teeth in fights you can buy new special attacks, and by upgrading the different skills of each child they become stronger or equipped to deal out ever-increasingly powerful magical attacks.

Quite importantly too, combat isn't purely about selecting attacks and defences �" it also calls for a bit of quick-reaction stylus tapping. The effectiveness of an offensive is determined by whether you manage to replicate a sequence of crosses onscreen or react appropriately to an icon that pops up within a few seconds. Meanwhile, to defend your characters from attacks you need to tap them as the enemy strikes. It's a system that keeps you on your toes despite the strategic core nature of the battling system and will no doubt help hold the attention of younger gamers.

That said, it's not perfect and is certainly too easy for the more experienced. We didn't win every battle first time but as sprites are hidden under practically every rock or bush in the game we hardly ever ran out of them. Once techniques are developed and weaknesses for different enemies discovered, the random battles do become more a formality than a challenge. And they're fairly frequently dotted about the game's forests and caves so do get repetitive.

Another of the game's weaknesses lies in its visuals. While the battle system and the game's controls – which use either the stylus like Zelda: Phantom Hourglass or the D-pad – are neatly done, the environments are a bit more bland.

The game just about gets away with authenticity thanks to having an atmospheric score (presumably from the film) that helps set a magical scene. But screen after screen of forests, glades, swamps and caves look identical and, as a result, it's easy to get lost. True, as the environments aren't that big, back-tracking doesn't take long but it's frustrating to find there's no detailed map – possibly because such an item would make the game almost too easy.

The Spiderwick Chronicles
isn't comprehensive or clever enough to be a game anyone will enjoy but younger gamers should find plenty to like. Discovering new faeries and trolls to then tick off on a list is a satisfying addition, as are little touches like being able to blow fog out of the way using the microphone to reveal secrets, lift rocks to find hidden sprites then use these to move boulders and clear brambles for you. It's simple find-this-then-you-can-move-that stuff, but the story and the way the game executes everything so well makes it all perfectly agreeable.

As an RPG-lite for the young, then, The Spiderwick Chronicles is one to be recommended – and there aren't that many games based on children's films that we can say that for. This is one of the few because, despite a lack of complexity and a few cut corners, it creates a magical world that's genuinely a pleasure to explore. And what child wouldn't want to spend a few hours duffing up warty trolls and wrestling underground moles?
The Spiderwick Chronicles
Reviewer photo
Kath Brice | 29 February 2008
Charming children's game with a decent turn-based battle system and some neat ideas. It's a little short-lived and environments aren't too large-scale but nothing that should trouble younger players or stop them enjoying the faerie fighting fun
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