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The Spiderwick Chronicles
Review By: Andrew Joy
Developer: Stormfront Studios
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Genre: Action Adventure
ESRB: Everyone 10+
# Of Players: 1-2
Online Play: No
Accessories: Nunchuk, Classic Controller
Buy Now: Buy The Spiderwick Chronicles at Amazon.com!

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"Go away/close the book/put it down/do not look." Scrawled into an autumn-hued leaf, those words adorn the back cover of the very first book in The Spiderwick Chronicles, and I was very much afraid I’d have to start off this review with a similar warning. After all, it is a movie-licensed video game we’re talking about here, and those don’t exactly have the most glowing reputation among our collective group (and, often times, rightfully so). Even despite that lingering fear, I still had high hopes for this title, most likely because, just like Harry Potter, I am an admitted fan of the books. So, when something like this, something based off of a work I know and love, is announced, I am filled with equal parts dread and anticipation. The dread is, of course, because the source material is often butchered long before it ever comes to the game developers just so the movie studios can cut it down to that magical the-earth-will-be-in-more-danger -than-if-we-had-divided-by-zero-if-this-movie-goes-beyond-two-hours time slot, and also because there’s no real impetus for the developers to go much beyond that themselves when this is just a quick cash-in. The anticipation on the other hand is because, if they do it right, there is a richly-detailed world just waiting to be tapped into. When it comes to The Spiderwick Chronicles video game for the Nintendo Wii, there is much to find to make the both of them, the equal parts dread and anticipation, seem equally deserved.

As I’ve said, The Spiderwick Chronicles video game is based off of the movie, which in turn is based off of the original book series (which has expanded, including a set of three books called Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles). Some of you may be surprised to hear they crammed five books into one game (and movie), but that is actually a little misleading since the first series was unfortunately a bit of a sham: the first book covers the field guide’s initial discovery over the course of a whopping seven chapters. Of course, it is also misleading thanks to the fact that quite a bit was either rewritten or omitted completely, including what appears to the entirety of the fourth book’s main plot. Sometimes you come across a story that has been so mutilated and only vaguely represents what it once was that you tell the people responsible to pray your paths don’t cross. You won’t hear me say that here. No, thankfully that’s not hardly the case and, even though I may disapprove of some of the smaller changes – like making the field guide somehow magical – frankly, I can deal with it. (Oh, except for the removal of the Phooka. Whoever was responsible for that...pray our paths don’t cross.) Still, even with the re-workings, however unnecessary or extraneous they may appear, the story is still essentially the same and it held the game together well enough to keep me playing until the end, though that could have also been a bit of morbid curiosity to see what else had changed.

For those who don’t know, The Spiderwick Chronicles starts out following the divorce of the three Grace children’s parents, when their mother takes them to live in an old and derelict New England mansion owned by their not-as-senile-as-people-think great Aunt Lucinda, and before that her father Arthur Spiderwick, who went missing some eighty years ago, when she was still just a child. While his older sister, Mallory, has dedicated herself to her fencing and his twin brother, Simon, occupies himself with the wildlife teeming around their new home, Jared Grace has tended to act out in the wake of recent events and finds the others reluctant to trust him when he stumbles upon, and tries to show them, Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. However, they are soon forced to believe when the kindly mansion-dwelling brownie, Thimbletack, makes itself known and warns the siblings of the danger they are in now that the book has been opened and its existence made known. Soon, the aging mansion comes under siege by the gnashing teeth and waving spears of goblins working for the fearsome Mulgarath, a shape-shifting ogre that would not only use the entire magical world, but also humanity. In order to avoid his terrible clutches, the children look for aid from Lucinda, Arthur and any magical creatures that would help in their quest to keep the book safe while avoiding the trappings of those who would not.

The Spiderwick Chronicles

For the most part, the gameplay in The Spiderwick Chronicles seems to consist of two main things: catching fairies and killing goblins. However, the game isn’t straight action and it is, more than anything (I feel, anyway) an adventure title, leaning heavily on exploration, discovery and interaction. Still, when you are sticking to those two main events, the gameplay remains very similar. Every time you catch a new sprite (and there are several for each variety), you’ll have to quickly paint it with the Wii Remote in order to log it in the field guide and gain the power-up it is offering, such as restoring health, a boost in power or speed, etc. Sometimes those abilities – which can only be used once, though you can catch the fairy again for another – are essential to solving a puzzle, but, more often than not, you’ll need them for nothing more than gaining an advantage in combat. When fighting, the goblins will hit and occasionally jump on you (requiring you to shake them off), but all it takes is a few attacks to kill a goblin, though each sibling (which also have their own, unique levels) has their own style: Jared uses a bat (and a slingshot for ranged attacks), Simon uses a squirt gun (and tosses enchanted stones and tomato sauce-filled balloons for ranged attacks) and Mallory uses her sword. Depending on the kind of goblin you are facing, it’ll take a different number of hits to defeat them, but doing so will reward you a number of goblin teeth, which will eventually unlock new, more powerful moves for each character.

Among those things that help break-up the monotony, the game occasionally allows you to take control of Thimbletack. Truly traditional platforming, the brownie’s levels take place inside the very walls of the mansion, usually on a mission to locate an item essential for children’s own quest (like the Seeing Stone). Sending Thimbletack hopping, swinging and shimmying across gaps, these levels are fairly casual, with the only real danger – apart from the environmental hazards – being the cockroaches, which he can take out by chucking a well-aimed needle like a spear. In addition to being a rather pleasant diversion from the main story, I also found his levels to be, frankly, among the most enjoyable (though that’s not to take away from the rest of the game) and I wish there had been more. The Spiderwick Chronicles also features a couple of head-on races, which I abhor almost as much as QTE. Of course, it’s hard to knock a single event or two for having a forced awkward camera when the rest of the game features one unintentionally. In most parts of the game, it is something you can manage and it only really became a problem in areas that required a lot of jumping, since the characters automatically do so when you come to an edge, leading to a lot of really cheap deaths. Now a bad camera is nothing new, but what made it particularly maddening in this game was the difficulty of control when using the standard Wii Remote and Nunchuk configuration.

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Posted: 2008-04-28 07:06:09 PST