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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Score: 88%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Buena Vista
Developer: Griptonite Games
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Arcade/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:

Between "The Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter", we’ve seen a slew of video games based on movies based on books. Not only that, but they’ve been, on the whole, good video games based on movies based on books. While spurned by the upcoming release of the movie, it was only a matter of time before we saw a video game adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ cherished series. Thankfully, the work is good, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe for the DS proves to be a very enjoyable experience, and should the series continue, I hope we can only see things get better in the next six installments.

Portable 3D has quickly become a graphics standard. Chronicles of Narnia upholds the high standards we are coming to expect from top dollar DS titles. It doesn’t necessarily push the envelope in any way, but certainly holds up to its current peers. Odd as it is to say, the menu graphics are far more attractive than much of the in-game fare. Normally, the graphical quality of menus isn’t exactly paramount. However, since with the DS, this menu system is ever present to the eye and is used very frequently, it is certainly a nice thing that the art pleases the eye.

One question that arises is what source material does the game ultimately derive itself from? Is it more accurate to say it is based on the book or the movie? While I have not been able to see the movie in its entirety, I am intimately familiar with the book and have viewed quite a bit of preview material from the movie. I would say that the game ultimately comes primarily from the movie version (the four feature characters look like their movie counterparts) but likely takes some unique textures from the original book as well.

Musically, the game tends more towards the minimalistic, especially at the beginning. This feels appropriate as there is a greater sense of mystery and oppression, while later, as the game shifts into a more out in the open battle feel, the scores shift appropriately. While there is no voice acting, the sound effects balance the realistic and fantastic extremely well. Swords sound like swords and dying goblins sound appropriately distressed, but even the more magical elements contain a sense of viability that really draws you in.


Gameplay:

For the few who are not familiar with the back story to "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe", it goes as follows. After four British children are evacuated out of London (it's being bombed by the Nazis), they go to stay at the large country estate of a professor. Eventually, they discover that a wardrobe in the house functions as a gateway into another world called Narnia. They soon learn that a witch has cursed the land to be forever in winter, but never Christmas. They eventually team up with the Lion Aslan to free Narnia from her grip. The interesting thing is that the game actually extrapolates its own new information not found in the book, nor I’m assuming, in the movie.

The Chronicles of Narnia, at its core, functions as an action/RPG. Each of the children have their own equipment, skills, and statistics that increase from experience, but unlike the turn-based combat of many RPGs, the combat here is real time.

As you explore the frozen land of Narnia, you’ll fight off the nasty creatures while befriending the nice ones. Some will teach you important skills, and you’ll purchase more and more impressive weapons and armor. While single combat is fairly typical, the real interesting thing about this game is the team nature of combat. Most of the game has you controlling 3-4 of the children at once. You only control a single character directly while you give the others general orders. All of the children have standard options like attack the nearest enemy or defend yourself, but each has some more unique options like stay back and heal, assist the player's character, or stand on the sidelines and increase everyone’s battle power.


Difficulty:

While this team mechanic is a great idea, the execution is a little flawed. Firstly, it is all too easy to suddenly find yourself completely overwhelmed by the enemy. While you can pause the game, you cannot issue orders while the game is paused, which can be frustrating to the more strategic player. Also, you can only manipulate the menu system with the stylus, while actual gameplay is done with the D-pad and buttons. Since you are usually using the menu pretty actively during combat, this requires you to keep the stylus out at all times, which can be cumbersome. One day DS developers will learn we only have two hands, and not the three required to comfortably use both sides of the DS traditional controls and a stylus at the same time.

Game Mechanics:

While Chronicles of Narnia could have been more action-oriented, it seems the developers went in a more RPG centric direction, which fits very well with the medieval children’s fantasy nature of the story.

In typical fashion, each character can increase their statistics by raising their level, and your level goes up when you get enough experience points from killing baddies. On top of this is an element of customization available to the player. Whenever an animal teaches you a new skill, you get to choose which child will learn it (though, sadly, little Lucy is exempt from most of these skills. I suppose it would look silly for an 8 year old to be demolishing boulders). This can later affect their roles in combat. Also, whenever you level up, you choose which of a character’s four secondary statistics you want to raise. Each of these secondary stats affects two or more of the primary stats. This all sounds complicated, but it’s really not and it should be easy for most kids to pick up on without even reading the manual.

Conversations with Narnian inhabitants also play a major role. Say the right things and you’ll be given bonus points towards a secondary stat. The really interesting thing is it is not always clear what the right choice is. Sometimes you even have to be nasty. It would appear the trick is to “role play” these conversations correctly. As examples, little Lucy is generally very respectful and compassionate, while Edmund tends to be more pompous. You’ll know when you’ve gotten a bonus point because you will hear a chime after you select a response. While there’s nothing that requires you to know the book exactly, these conversations can play like something of a trivia mini-game. If you’re familiar with the characters, you can get an extra edge in combat.

It's movie-based art, traditional RPG elements, and trivia-like conversations make Chronicles of Narnia an excellent adaptation of a classic work of fantasy. If you like RPG's or are a fan of Narnia, you’re bound to like this game.


-Alucard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Stephen Triche

Sony PlayStation Portable Need for Speed: Most Wanted 5-1-0 Sony PlayStation 2 Need For Speed: Most Wanted

 
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