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The Spiderwick Chronicles

Score: 85%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: Stormfront Studios
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Family

Graphics & Sound:

Every lush movie deserves an equally lush game. The Spiderwick Chronicles certainly gets its due in this jaunt from developer Stormfront Studios. The ordinary-turns-to-fantasy concept is carried off nicely in the game, including a neat effect where you peer into a special device to see elements from the fantasy world mingling with the real world. Eventually each of the characters gets a chance to see this world of sprites and goblins, but you play through the first bits of the game without special sight. Early scenes that involve exploring the strange house that these three kids move into are fun because everything feels so dreary and ordinary. Slowly you'll uncover new items and areas within the house and ultimately find Arthur Spiderwick's field journal. Opening this journal is the Pandora's Box of The Spiderwick Chronicles and unleashes a malevolent force that threatens the family.

The high-quality graphics are matched by some nice cut-scene animation and video from the film mixed in at special points. The voice talent in the game is excellent and is persistent throughout as you interact with characters and explore. The musical treatment is very appropriate to each scene and feels perfectly matched to events as they unfold in the game. It's so surprising and pleasant to hear something other than techno, hard rock, or bubblegum pop in a game these days. The Spiderwick Chronicles uses orchestral sounds and atmospheric, acoustic music to set the tone.

The only complaints would be a camera that sometimes ends up in the wrong place. This is mostly true for all third person action games but it never gets less annoying as the years pass... Lining up jumps and avoiding enemies just isn't as easy as it should be and robs some of the fun from the game when you can't see what you're doing. The free-look feature is hindered by being a function of ranged attacks. It's great that each character has the capability to launch a missile, rock, or other projectile, but staring through a reticule isn't the greatest way to get the lay of the land. These are small gripes in an otherwise satisfying world that you explore through the eyes of these three kids.


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.


As one of my favorite Prince songs - possibly the only good tune from Graffiti Bridge - proclaims, there's joy in repetition. Another time tested adage is that practice makes perfect. This is true in gaming as well as any other place in life, but... Playing the same sequence over and over again is just not fun; The Spiderwick Chronicles falls prey to this syndrome through some poor planning and some over-amped difficulty. The first really noticeable sequence that goes on for too long is the battle between the twins' sister Mallory and the goblins' leader, Redcap. The battle runs long because you have to swing your sword at the goblin indefinitely until Mallory performs a disarming move. The key is to catch Redcap before he gets to his sword, but the events that unfold always involve Mallory kicking him far away from you, where he promptly springs up and runs fast in the opposite direction from you to get his sword. Then it's back to the sword battle and repeat all over again. Because Redcap is pretty good with a sword and Mallory has the constitution of a gnat, you end up kicking the bucket a bit and getting frustrated. The run-of-the-mill battles aren't like this but the boss battles lack proper balance. Otherwise the developers tried to do some interesting things with game mechanics that worked, at least for reasonably experienced gamers. There are good hint systems in case you need them, scattered through the world in the form of chalk arrows and comments from characters about what you should be doing in case you get turned around.

Game Mechanics:

The implementation of one well-formed character is difficult enough. Trying to establish multiple playable characters with different abilities and control mechanics is verging on suicidal. For the most part, it works in The Spiderwick Chronicles to have three characters with unique aspects. Mallory is most like Jared in that she fights in close with physical moves. The sword is not unlike Jared's bat. Mallory has a ranged attack that you access (like all the other characters) by pressing (B) on the Wii-mote, but her abilities in this department aren't as powerful as the twins'. Jared's slingshot and Simon's splattergun are more formidable if the goal is to stay far away from enemies. The problem with The Spiderwick Chronicles game is that you aren't choosing characters on the fly, but working through sequences in a character that is chosen for you. The good in this is that you don't have to guess which character can accomplish specific tasks; the one you're playing is always the correct one for the task at hand. The downside of having so much variety is a steeper learning curve for the controls. The developers made a smart decision to offer alternatives to the motion controls. I don't mind swinging the Wii-mote back and forth, but pressing the (A) button a few times seemed easier over the long haul. Especially when you get into big battles, swinging the Wii-mote wildly and constantly feels a bit overdone.

The quest system in the game that is tied to riddles, puzzles, and item collection is managed intuitively. You'll see on-screen prompts when a portion of the quest is completed, and you can drill down into several menus to learn what needs to be done next. This is great for younger gamers and anyone that plays a bit and then puts the game down for too long. Coming back to some games mid-quest is incredibly frustrating because you've lost your cues. The Spiderwick Chronicles doesn't let this happen by offering breadcrumbs in its menu system. The other neat elements in the game include an item collection system that is integrated with health and other power-ups. Once you can see the spirit-world, you can use a special net to bag sprites that flutter around. Once a sprite is caught, you have to "paint" its picture in your notebook to harness its energy. This is all very easy in practice, but it adds a nice dimension to the game and prevents less experienced gamers from losing out on needed items.

The production values on The Spiderwick Chronicles are high and fans of the movie will definitely want to check this out. For others that may not care about the movie or the books but just want an entertaining action/adventure game, there is a lot of entertainment in this package. The little details were thought out well in advance and there are strong design touches in everything from the controls to the characters to the visuals and music. Recommended.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Microsoft Xbox 360 Commanders: Attack of the Genos Windows Ghost in the Sheet

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