The Spiderwick Chronicles (PC, Wii, PS2, Xbox 360, DS) - Wii, PS2 version reviewed

Thanks to Sierra for sending us the Wii and PS2 versions for review.

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a movie based game which is basically a retelling of the recently released movie of the same name. Jared and his twin Simon, as well as their older sister Mallory, endured a tragic parental split up. Their mom has inherited a large, old house where they go to live. Their mother\'s uncle Arthur Spiderwick used to live there and disappeared long ago. Jared, being the restless one, decides to explore this old, mysterious house. After exploring and finding some secret rooms, he discovers the Field Guide. Once opened, the magical world around them comes to life, as they are now being hunted by the ogre Mulgarath, who wants the Field Guide for himself, so he can rule the world. He\'s willing to stop at nothing, including killing Jared and his family.

In the early part of your adventure, you play as Jared for the most part, with only occasional changes to his brother or sister. The player has a 3D, third person view of the game world, with a manually adjustable camera. At this point, it\'s rather non-violent and is of the classic adventure style, where you collect a broom to make a weapon to break open a loose wall to discover a dumbwaiter which leads to a secret area with a workbench and so on as you piece together puzzle after puzzle which helps progress the story. The Field Guide, which you can access with the press of a button, helps a lot as it lists all of your current quests, your character\'s capabilities, what sprites you have, and more. If you are stuck on a quest, often times the guide will have a helpful hint to get you through, though sometimes too helpful if you like to figure things out on your own.

After a certain event, things take a turn for the worse and get violent. A newly found friend Thimbletack, who is roughly the size of a mouse, helps you gain the ability to see the magical world around you, after which you have to engage the enemy. You can also control Thimbletack in a few unique missions inside the walls of the house. Jared is the first character you control, and he whacks the many goblins you will face with a baseball bat. Later on, you control Simon with a tomato juice squirting contraption that he creates, and Mallory who is a trained fencer, so you utilize her sword. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses, with Jared being the most well rounded, though several quests require each character in turn.

As you defeat enemies, they leave behind goblin teeth. Each one is similar to an experience point, and as you collect them as each character, you unlock more attack abilities. Basically, each character has a few different attack motions, as well as a charge attack. After collecting fifty teeth, you have every move available for that character, and after one hundred and fifty you can attack with the charge move in an unlimited fashion; otherwise you are forced to stop after a time.

A major part of this game is sprites. During the early part of your quest, you will find a sprite net. As you explore the world around you, you find many small flying, hopping, or walking sprites. As you try to capture each one, you perform a small mini-game to complete it. You are given a paintbrush, and you have to paint onto a canvas within the time given to reveal the sprite on the canvas. This task is not very difficult, but it does serve to help you remember what you capture, and also takes time, so that if there are goblins in the area, your capture may be canceled by their attack. I found this task to be much easier and quicker with the Wii remote than with the PS2 analog stick. Each sprite has a unique name, and there are quite a few to collect as you go on your adventure.

Each sprite has one of several abilities depending on the type of sprite they are. The more of each type you have recorded in the Field Guide, the more effect it has. One type heals you, another makes you run faster, while another increases your damage, and so on. You can also hold only three at a time, so you do have to be selective when heading out for battle. I often found that one or two of them would be the healing ones, with the third spot being open, since you cannot collect new sprites, even ones you have not caught before, without a free slot.

Most of the action is pretty much button mashing. A few of the character moves require timing, but it\'s mostly mashing. The Wii controls do offer a freestyle mode where you swing the Wii remote to activate each different style of attack, and it is interesting that way, but I found the button much more effective. I played the game on hard difficulty and found it pretty manageable for the most part. When goblins are nearby, they make one of a few distinctive noises to give you a clue where they are coming from and how close they are. For the most part it works pretty well. If you rush into an area, enemies can swarm you, and come from several directions, but I rarely found it too overbearing. The only thing I found tricky is that in certain places you will find enemies throwing rocks at you, and if you are a character that cannot retaliate like Mallory, or one who does very little ranged damage like Jared, it can get rather hairy quickly. And annoying if you are trying to catch a sprite. This is also one area where the camera control is a little annoying. On Wii, camera control is done by holding the C button and tilting the nunchuck. This works okay, but at times it can be a little slow when you are trying to find your opponent, especially when those rocks are whacking you. The PS2 version is slightly better with camera controls as the second analog stick is arguably easier to use than tilting the nunchuck, but for painting and aiming it is much, much worse without the remote, so I would say overall the Wii controls are much better.

Having undoubtedly good source material, the mood and atmosphere are well set and enjoyable, especially early on in the adventure. The voice acting is absolutely excellent, and really improves the feel a whole lot. I also found myself really starting to like the characters as well. I will most likely look into the movie when it is out on DVD. In my opinion, the biggest disturbances to the flow and storyline are ironically the movie cut scenes. They most likely come right from the movie, but they just don\'t fit. Their main purpose is to explain what happens between where you just were and where you are right after the scene, and some scenes work adequately well, while others barely do so. For those familiar with the story anyhow it\'s probably not a big deal, but for someone who has not seen the movie or read the books may find it a little jarring like I did.

The graphics are decent, though not spectacular. The frame rate is a little hit or miss at times, but nothing that makes the game frustrating to me. Both the Wii and PS2 versions support 480p and 16:9 widescreen, which is nice, and not always common for PS2 games. The Wii seems to have slightly more detail and texture quality than the PS2, but not strikingly so. There is a decent amount of variety in the environment, with quite a few trees visible, as well as grass and other bits of business around. An overhead map would have been nice, as there are a couple of areas with somewhat confusing or repetitive terrain, but it\'s not that bad overall. Inside the house, you have a very good feeling you are in an old house with a lot of history, with old style lamp stands, curtains, furniture, and a large piano adorning various rooms. I wasn\'t really wowed from what I saw, though I wasn\'t too disappointed either.

The music score is very atmospheric. I enjoyed that it contributed to the experience and did not take away from it, though I don\'t think I\'ll be ordering the soundtrack. The sound effects are very good and appropriate, and the voice acting is fantastic, as it\'s from the same folks who were in the movie. I always enjoyed hearing each character as they described the world around them in their own words. It helped give the game a higher quality feel that I appreciated.

For a game targeted for children, it is rather violent in the latter half. Fortunately, you are always attacking goblins, and there is no blood or remains, as bodies disappear immediately. You never fight because of revenge or anger; it is always because of defense or rescuing those you care about. There is some magic, mostly in the form of the sprites. Your characters never use any other kind of magic themselves. In my opinion, it\'s pretty harmless fairy-tale style magic that is no worse than Narnia or similar children\'s stories. In my opinion, the ESRB rating of 10+ fits just fine.

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a fun game with a good atmosphere, though the main adventure is a bit short. I got almost everything (only two sprites left to find before completing this game), and I have clocked in around eleven and one half hours according to the in game clock. To complete just the main quest is a bit less than that; if you skipped all side quests or were just really efficient you could probably do it in six to eight hours without too much trouble. It\'s too bad, because more of this game would have been fun. There are simple multiplayer options, where you and a friend can compete to catch sprites, with or without the interference of goblins, but I doubt most would spend a whole lot of time playing them since it is fairly shallow. Sadly, there is no co-op, which would have been fun considering there is more than one family member available much of the time. But with all that said, for fans of the movie, or someone looking for something a bit different, I found it to be fun, and if the price is right, you probably will too.

Appropriateness Score:

Violence 7.5/10
Language 10/10
Sexual Content/Nudity 10/10
Occult/Supernatural 8/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10

Appropriateness Total: 45.5/50

Game Score:

Game Play 15/20
Graphics 8/10
Sound/Music 10/10
Stability/Polish 4/5
Controls/Interface 5/5

Game Score Total: 42/50

Overall: 87.5/100


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