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The Spiderwick Chronicles

Score: 75%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: Stormfront Studios
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a surprising game, not because it is a particularly good, but because it goes above and beyond what typically passes for a movie tie-in game. Unfortunately, it goes a little too beyond its target group at times.

The game's visuals have an almost pop-up book quality that immediately gives a sense that The Spiderwick Chronicles isn't a typical movie tie-in. Rather than going for more traditional modeled characters or sprites, the visual style takes a cue from the illustrations seen in the book series. Everything looks like it was hand-drawn in black ink then touched up with watercolors. This not only makes it one of the more artistically beautiful games available on the system, but it helps it build a unique visual identity. Although the effect doesn't always carry through (some areas look sparse and there are bouts of repetition), it is still nice to see a licensed game break out of the norm.

Sound is kept low-key for the most part. The score is nice and complements the game's look and feel nicely, though it can sometimes drone on a little too long. Still, it has that magic quality most good game soundtracks exhibit - it stays out of the way and doesn't compete for your attention.


The Spiderwick Chronicles is based on the movie version of the book series of the same name. Years ago, Arthur Spiderwick discovered a secret, unseen world and decided to detail his findings in a field guide. Years later, three kids discover the book, awakening some of the unseen world's not-so-friendly inhabitants.

Gameplay follows the three kids - Jared, Simon and Mallory - as they venture through the unseen world. Like its console counterpart, the hand-held version focuses on exploration and combat, though in a more structured, guided manner.

Movement is controlled either with the D-pad or by dragging the stylus along the bottom screen similar to Phantom Hourglass. There's no major benefit to using either method, though I personally found the stylus method more comfortable. The stylus is also used to interact with the world around you, such as shaking bushes to scare out sprites, or during combat. You can also blow into the microphone to uncover certain sprites, though the feature feels like it was added just to use the microphone.

As you move through each area, you'll uncover secrets about the hidden world and help protect the field guide from goblins. Enemies are always visible on screen, though some will pop out of bushes if you shake them. Once you come in contact with an enemy, you'll enter a turn-based combat mode.

However, bushes can also produce spites, which are the game's form of magic. There are a number of fairies around to collect, including healing and attack sprites. There are also a few sprites that are unique to each game, meaning you'll have to trade with other players in order to "catch 'em all". Since bushes can produce either sprites or goblins, there's always a bit of risk-reward when it comes to exploration. However, sometimes it can feel like you'll encounter more goblins than sprites, which helps boost the game's already high difficultly level.


As a license, The Spiderwick Chronicles is aimed clearly at a younger group. As a game, it goes right for the more battle-tested and patient group - two things the younger group isn't. Enemies usually outnumber you and do enough damage to take your character out with a few hits. Granted, you can always use healing sprites, but it is possible to use all of your sprites in one battle. Boss battles are particularly tough; the very first battle places your small three-kid party against a goblin force of at least eight, including a high-level boss character.

The deeper you get into the game, the harder enemies become. Although characters also gain power, the leveling system doesn't help much. The system isn't bad in theory; after collecting a level-up sprite, you'll earn a point to spend on upgrading a character's stats. While the concept is simple, you can only upgrade one child's stat at a time. As a result, stats tend to be lopsided; especially if you follow the game's leveling suggestions.

Game Mechanics:

Combat is turn-based, but with more of an action twist. Rather than choosing an attack and watching things play out, you instead touch a character, then the enemy to attack. After a battle is initiated, tapping on an enemy causes your character to attack. Attacks also open up a small mini-game where you must match a pattern on screen. Although this adds a little pep to combat step, the scheme is overly complicated and requires ninja-like reflexes - especially on defense.

When a character is attacked, you can attempt to half the damage by tapping that character. Unlike the attack bonus, this is a little more helpful though it can be easily exploited if you just keep tapping on a character the minute an enemy moves. If you'd rather not fight, you can attempt to run, though this is usually pointless; enemy always reappear right next to you, most of the time initiating yet another battle.

You can also set up formations by dragging kids to the front or back line. Kids on the back line take less damage, but can't use their main attack. They can, however, use ranged items. I can understand some sort of penalty for being on the back line, but not allowing the character to attack is a bit stiff - especially when enemies greatly outnumber you in battle and have more health. One bonus to having a kid on the back line is that kids in the front can counterattack if the back line character is attacked, but this doesn't make up for the handicap placed on the back line character.

Design-wise, The Spiderwick Chronicles is a fun, solid experience. However, the higher-than-you'd-think difficulty level will lose a lot of younger gamers - the exact group that makes up the game's primary audience. If your child is the type that loves a challenge, The Spiderwick Chronicles is a great addition to their DS collection. If not, you're better off looking somewhere else.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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