Spiderwick Chronicles «

I can’t be the only one who thought spiders would play a prominent role in The Spiderwick Chronicles, can I? Absent arachnids aside, the rest of the game played out exactly how I expected; licensed games have a knack for providing cool concepts marginalized by gameplay limitations, and Spiderwick is rife with such examples. The world looks lush and inviting, but whenever I tried to break from the confines of the well-worn path, I found my progress halted by obstinate trees and surly rocks. I just wanted to run in the vibrant forests and catch those delectable Fairies! With characters modeled after their movie likenesses and bits of the actual film used to move the plot forward, there’s a definite draw for fans of the franchise, but everyone else may find it a predictably uninventive adventure.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is set in a world where tiny Goblins gleefully slap the shins of anyone who crosses their path — it’s a rough world, to say the least. Three kids and one eager-to-please Brownie (a tiny creature who lives in a birdhouse and chooses to sleep on a deck of cards instead of something soft) set out to stop the forces of evil…who live just five minutes from their home. The three kids are virtually identical, and I’m not just saying that because two of them are twins. The combat, like the sense of exploration, promises some big ideas but only delivers a repetitive smash of the attack button (the Wii version lets you swing your cramping wrist or simply hit A — I chose the latter). When I first started killing Goblins and collecting their broken teeth to upgrade my attacks, I assumed that, if I exerted a little patience, some fancy moves would be mine. Didn’t happen. By upgrading, you simply unlock multihit combos and the ability to use your charge attack more often, but nothing that actually advances the combat. Even the weapons at your disposal — Jared’s baseball bat, Simon’s handcrafted tomato juice gun, and Mallory’s sword — are different in name only. (Although you do get to see the Goblins melt after soaking them with the tomato juicer, which is strangely satisfying)

[Click the image above to check out all Spiderwick Chronicles screens.]

The fourth playable character, the Brownie, provides the only change to the bash-the-Goblin gameplay. His two missions have you running through the walls of the children’s house, killing cockroaches with needles and using an old jack (you know, from jacks, a game people played before videogames existed) to swing to higher ledges. Brownie’s quest is an extremely simple 3D platformer, but it’s fast and focused. Plus, you get to hear the little guy narrate his action in rhyming couplets.

While most of the game is bland but still fun, one reoccurring action that made me sigh — loudly — with frustration. A big part of the game has you swinging a magic spirit net to catch Fairies. They are the power-ups of this world, providing health, diversions, and all sorts of helpful actions. But every time you catch a new sprite, you have to draw it — it’s another fun idea that turns out to be a drag. You simply move your brush across the screen a few times and watch the watercolors transform into a perfect representation of your hostage. It was kind of cute the first time around, but after hunting down dozens of Fairies, the sheer tedium was agitating.

[Click the image above to check out all Spiderwick Chronicles screens.]

For people who get sucked into this magical world (it really is magical — that isn’t hyperbole), it gives you a few reasons to come back after the five-hour adventure is over. The game presents a number of optional quests that unlock multiplayer modes and other trinkets. The quests are simple, such as capturing all of one breed of Fairy or killing that evil Alligator/Ogre in the swamp, but are at least varied enough to make them worthwhile. The unlockable multiplayer mode is nothing special — just a competitive battle to grab the most Fairies while Goblins try to foil your fun — so the act of unlocking turns out to be more satisfying than the actual extras. I’m not sure how a mode where kids run around with guns and swords could be so bland.

The Spiderwick Chronicles is a standard licensed game — it’s got just enough content to make a virtual reenactment of the Human/Goblin war worthwhile for fans of the franchise. For everyone else, you’re better off constructing a real spirit net and seeing how long your can run around your neighborhood before someone summons the cops.


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