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
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Even though it doesn’t go the whole nine yards and toss in additional GameCube controller support, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that The Spiderwick Chronicles not only allows you to play with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, but also the Classic Controller. Having played with both, I can say with complete confidence that, while each has its own benefits, neither setup is perfect either. As I stated earlier, when it comes to the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, the camera controls are the bane of this game’s existence, though events designed for the IR certainly benefit; this setup also includes the obligatory motion controls. However, obligatory as they seem to be for developers to include, they are not always mandatory for you to I say don’t, unless you have to. Apart from some minor latency issues, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the motion controls, just that (in this case) they make things more difficult than they need to be. When it comes to the Classic Controller, those once-required motion controls, used for such things as raising the dumbwaiter and throwing off goblins, are switched to a quick jostling of the analog sticks, which some people may find less distracting. With its second analog stick, this version also benefits from giving you control over the camera at all times. However, without the IR, you’ll also sacrifice speed when it matters most, such as painting a fairy’s picture or aiming your ranged weapon at a stone-throwing bull goblin.

In terms of graphics, The Spiderwick Chronicles is competent, but it never really wows on the Nintendo Wii. There are a few bits of noteworthy quality, such as the animations – like when the characters climb up onto things or make a jump and land – and the way certain surfaces – like pictures and bookshelves – shine, but others – such as the walls or books themselves – do not. It isn’t anything terribly spectacular, but one has to admire the effort and attention to detail on the part of the developers. Still, if there is any real difference between this version and that of the PlayStation 2, I’m sure it is negligible, at best. The environments are often too constrictive to offer too much to look at, and when they do open up, they are often cluttered with an absurd amount of grass and bushes (or feel strangely empty, like the interior of the mansion). A lot of the character designs seemed based right off of DiTerlizzi’s illustrations, so the goblins look appropriately toad-like while the fairies capture that "living garden" feel. And then there’s Mulgarath; I never did approve of Hollywood’s depiction of the ogre, which is markedly different from that of the book, but I digress. And, speaking of Hollywood, while there are a few instances where they’ll toss footage from the actual movie, a number of the cutscenes in the game just use the in-game graphics. And, so long as they don’t go on for too long, they look they sound, on the other hand, is a different matter altogether.

The Spiderwick Chronicles

In most respects, the audio in The Spiderwick Chronicles is an unquestionable success, with the one exception being the voice work. While I haven’t seen the movie, to me, the characters in the game didn’t much sound like their respective voice actors as I know them. Oddly enough, however, the credits seem to indicate that the children were all voiced by the same two actors (Freddie Highmore, as you may remember, played both Simon and Jared Grace, while Sarah Bolger took on the role of the twins’ sister, Mallory). On the other hand, some characters – like the mansion’s resident brownie (and sometimes boggart) Thimbletack – were indeed not voiced by their original actors...though that could be a blessing, depending on your tolerance level of Martin Short. Thankfully, David Strathairn reprised his role as Arthur Spiderwick and provided some quality, albeit vague, narration for the game. Apart from that, this game features a truly spectacular score and it seemed that with each new level I was finding that each new theme topped the last (in the end, I’d say the music for the tunnels underneath the Spiderwick Estate was probably my favorite). The sound effects were also great, from the simple sound of feet hitting the ground to the unsettling grunts of goblins laying in wait, but I was especially pleased with those of Thimbletack’s levels, which had a sort of musical quality about them that seemed to truly fit the rhyming conversationalist’s whimsical and extraordinary nature.

Playing fairly dedicated to just the story, The Spiderwick Chronicles took me about six to seven hours to complete. Now, by some standards that might be pretty paltry, even for a kid’s game, but thankfully things don’t end with the final cutscene. There are more than 50 quests in this game, less than half of which (though just barely) are actually part of the story mode. The rest of the game is spent completing the odd jobs that tend to crop-up over the course of the story – like finding the 13 decorations for Thimbletack’s new birdhouse home – and filling in the field guide. With the hours it takes to track down, capture and paint the numerous fairies and collect the scattered artifacts for various other unseen magical races, I imagine it would be quite possible to at least double the game’s playtime into a more acceptable 15 hour experience or so. Most of the special features in the game, with the exception of the cutscenes, are available right from the start, but playing the game will unlock some bonus content for the multiplayer aspect. Unfortunately, the multiplayer was a bit of a wash. Even putting aside the lack of co-op in a game about three children, there was a lot more they could have done. Why not have fairy-painting competitions, a roach-skewering game of darts or even a challenge to see who could feed the most goblins to the troll, circle the most stray sod or really anything other than just the single fairy catching event (with the option to toss goblins into the mix)?

Bottom Line:

Being a fan of the original work, I may not be a fan of all the changes that were made to The Spiderwick Chronicles in order to bring in to the big screen, but I am also willing to admit that it is still a decent adaptation. For those who know the movie, you’ll see a few cutscenes snatched right from it, though most use the in-game graphics which, while not awe-inspiring by any stretch, do their job enough to make the experience an enjoyable one. A handful of the actors lend their voices to their in-game roles in some strangely detached performances, but you likely won’t mind too much thanks to the fantastic music and sound effects. The gameplay is a tad simple, with the two main mechanics consisting of either catching a fairy or killing a goblin, but for a game aimed at children, the younger will certainly be drawn into this game regardless. The occasional vagueness notwithstanding, there may still be a few times when old mom and dad will have to step in despite the simplicity, thanks to a sometimes deadly camera and annoying head-on races (both of which suffer thanks to the auto-jump). If you’re looking to avoid that hassle altogether, it’s comforting to know that you can also use the Classic Controller; it’s slightly less comforting to know that it will find its own ways to kill you. The multiplayer is a bit disappointing, but the main game side quests, while not as deep as, say, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, make the experience a lengthy and worthwhile one.

Pros:Cons:Final Score:
  • Still an interesting story and rich world...
  • Filling the field guide will keep you playing...
  • Two decent control schemes...
  • ...But it’s not the one you may remember.
  • ...Even if the multiplayer mini-game won’t.
  • ...Each with their own problems.

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