The normal gameplay does manage to entertain if you can endure the persistent scavenger hunt, but the uneven flow is occasionally brought to a screeching halt by Thimbletack’s missions. The mouse-like brownie is the only character small enough to explore tight nooks and crannies, so he spends almost all of his in-game time exploring the insides of the mansion’s walls. As Thimbletack, you must scurry about in the house’s wooden framework, killing roaches and finding the current arbitrary item needed to progress the story.
These levels are tedious in the extreme; the environment consists entirely of dusty wooden paneling, rusted pipes and screws. It’s easy to get lost in the maze of identical corridors and ledges, and each level is started from Thimbletack’s house, which means you have to re-tread the same territory every time. Worst of all, Thimbletack speaks every sentence in rhyme, which is indescribably irritating. After wandering around under floorboards for an hour, listening to him quip his little lines, I wanted to strangle the guy. Once you get to a Thimbletack mission, you can’t continue the main game until you complete it—this was a strong deterrent for me, and made playing something else ( like Halo 3 or Mass Effect) all the more attractive.
Spiderwick Chronicles isn’t all fetch quests and floorboards. There are occasional boss fights, like fencing with the lead goblin, or running away from a rampaging troll. You’ll get the chance to bash up enemies and solve environmental puzzles, but this gameplay is pretty run of the mill for the adventure genre. The combat is hack and slash, so if you know how to button mash you’re set. There are a few multiplayer minigames you’ll unlock along the way, but they don’t use Xbox Live and only two people can play.
Developer Stormfront Studios chose an interesting art style for the game. Most of the fairies and environments are faithful to their movie counterparts, but the three main human characters are slightly stylized. This difference is more apparent when you compare the in-game cutscenes to the ones taken from movie footage. Whether this was done as a style choice or a way to save development time is anyone’s guess, but it does give the game a peculiar visual presentation. Technically speaking, Spiderwick Chronicles isn’t anything special. The 360 port’s graphics could have been pulled off on the Wii without much trouble, and I suspect that the game looks about the same across all platforms. The game does look suitably nice, the tech is just a little dated, with flat textures, particle effects and no pixel shaders to speak of.
The music borrows thematically heavily from the Harry Potter series, but it has a distinct style that feels more reclusive and mysterious. You’ll be hearing a lot of twinkling chimes and bells, and pieces that fit the secluded, magical theme of the game. It’s all orchestral, which I found impressive for a movie game. Spiderwick’s soundtrack was one of the game’s most thought-out and enjoyable aspects, giving the experience a feeling of authenticity. Kudos to Robb Mills for scoring another original soundtrack that keeps in theme with the movie.
I had trouble coming up with a final grade for Spiderwick Chronicles. It isn’t really a bad game by any definition—it’s well assembled, playable and has strong ties to its accompanying movie. It’s just not a very good game either. You’ll be questing for trinkets most of the time, experiencing the tedium of Thimbletack, or engaging in some boring combat without much variety. In short, if you’ve played an adventure game before, you’ve seen most everything Spiderwick Chronicles has to offer. Kids who liked the movie will enjoy the game, for the time it takes to beat it, but after finishing the story, there isn’t much to hold anyone’s interest or to warrant another playthrough.
Young kids will have a lot of fun with Spiderwick Chronicles, especially if they liked the books or movie. It’s suitably attractive and has tried-and-true gameplay mechanics, but it ultimately amounts to a series of fetch-quests and shallow combat.
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