Exploring spooky old mansions isn't my idea of fun, but I suppose if my family moved to one I might feel compelled to check things out. This is the beginning phase of The Spiderwick Chronicles
, where the rough-and-tumble twin Jared goes off on his own to explore the house. He quickly realizes that the family isn't alone in the place and that Arthur Spiderwick had some secrets he wasn't sharing. Discovering a secret room upstairs and the field journal of all of Arthur's spirit-world ramblings sets a chain of events in motion that threatens to overwhelm the boys. When one twin is seized by malicious goblins, it falls on the other to help out, and before long their sword-wielding sister is involved. You can easily see how this story lends itself to a game, but it's notable that the developers avoided the temptation of doing anything that departed radically from the movie's storyline. The Spiderwick Chronicles
is literally the game of the movie. If you enjoyed watching it, you'll enjoy playing it even more. The previews of the movie show scenes that are literally pulled right from the game, or vice versa...
There are some familiar themes in the game that we can't deny spring from a long tradition of similar titles. Hunting down items, finding keys or objects that fit into other objects, fighting bosses and a multitude of smaller enemies for pick-ups or special items... We've seen this stuff before but that doesn't prevent it from fitting nicely into this package. The item collection goes along with battles and exploration and there are even some nice puzzles you'll need to solve in certain areas to move forward. The use of three fairly different characters that are switched out automatically in a scripted fashion means you'll have a varied experience moving between them and mastering their various moves. Jared and Mallory rely mostly on brute force, although Mallory is notable for her sword-fighting ability. The other twin, Simon, uses gadgets to battle the dark forces and relies on brains over brawn. After you've played as Simon in his initial panic-mode incarnation, with nothing to defend himself other than his twin brother, you'll gradually build up Simon's character and armament to the point where he can defend himself against attacks.
The greatest disappointment in this category is that the multiplayer is somewhat thin and doesn't offer the same level of challenge or excitement. Playing through the story cooperatively or in a way that is more interactive for the second player would be ideal, but nothing like this exists. Instead we have the multiplayer developed as a top-down, action oriented, treasure-hunt activity. The player with the most items collected at the end wins so you'll have to use all means available to outdo the competition. The multiplayer wouldn't be a huge issue if it weren't for the fact that playing through the story doesn't take much time. As a rental, you would have no problem knocking this out over a long weekend, if you played it hard enough. The really young kids may be scared by some of the characters and scenes in The Spiderwick Chronicles, which is why we get that E-10+ rating.