• Something unpleasant lurks at the bottom of the garden… When Spiderwick Chronicles dropped through the letterbox, it couldn’t have been at a better time. With an unruly niece and nephew currently visiting, I seized the chance (after asking their mum’s permission of course) to co-write this review with Emily (8) and Adam (5) in order to see the game from their perspective.

    For those of you unfamiliar with The Spiderwick Chronicles, it’s an upcoming fantasy film tailored for younger viewers and based on a series of five bestselling children’s books. Sprites, Goblins and other mythical creatures are the order of the day here so expect strangeness.

    The film and game concern the relocation of a dysfunctional family to the family estate, a crumbling sinister house slap bang in the middle of vast woodland. The family are related to Arthur Spiderwick, an eccentric old man who spent years scripting tales of the “mythical” creatures dwelling around the estate.

    The Spiderwick Chronicles

    As twins Jared and Simon Grace, aided and abetted by their sister Mallory, you’re about to find out that Arthur’s world was more than fantasy.

    Handing the pad over to Adam first to let him play around with the character controls (after a bit of a squabble over who should take first go – only because I have a single pad but the game does allow co-op play with 2 pads), I asked Emily what she thought of the intro sequence:

    “It seemed a bit scary but good.” she said. I asked her if she’d want to see the film based on the snippet you get at the start of the game and she said yes.

    Adam has played games before, mostly on his DS so he found the 360 pad a bit chunky for his tiddly hands. Even so, he managed to get to grips with the rudimentary methods of controlling Jared, the first character you get to play as.

    “He keeps going wrong” said Adam. This was a comment on the first few objects in the house that Jared sees, and can’t seem to do much with. Frustration set in and so Emily wrestled the controls from her brother and continued.

    The house is easy enough to navigate around and Emily had no problem interacting with various objects via the B button, picking up or activating objects with the A button. When the game started to prompt for the players to use the journal things started to get a little trickier. In fact Spiderwick is definitely a game that parents should sit down with their kids and play until they get used to some of the more complex control issues.

    The game is a straightforward arcade adventure, and is relatively untaxing. A series of “quests” are detailed in your journal, and it’s a case of flitting back and forth between various locations to figure out what objects you need to perform certain tasks.

    The game started to get interesting when the first fantasy creature was encountered, a Boggart named Thimbletack who lives in the house’s dumb waiter, hidden behind a plastered up wall. Emily managed to smash down the wall with no problems at all (worryingly – perhaps not a great idea to encourage kids to smash bits of your house up with broken broom handles) but had difficulty manipulating the controls for the dumb waiter (which are sort of geared around rhythm action movements). Luckily Uncle Phil was on hand to do the tricky bits.

    Eventually you get to control Thimbletack in order to retrieve a mysterious stone which will finally allow you to see all of the mythical creatures inhabiting the game world. Adam took over at this point and found Thimbletack pretty tricky to control, with some of the more physical puzzles confronting the poor little Boggart being far too complex and frustrating for a younger player. Emily also had a go at taking Thimbletack around the nooks and crannies of the house but the control system is slightly trickier, Thimbletack a lot faster, so both kids gave up and handed the controller back to me. In games aimed at kids, consistency is the key. Though kids are more than capable of handling the vagaries of a dual-stick controller, Spiderwick Chronicles does contain a few really frustratingly complex control methods which can annoy and demotivate children so a little bit more tweaking would’ve benefitted the game no end.

    Back as Jared and Simon, things are a lot simpler and once again Emily grabbed the controller to help Simon make a monocle for Jared from the mysterious goblin stone. Again, the kids lapped up the story and the various cinematic interludes in the game.

    Later you get to capture sprites and faeries in order to enhance your in-game character. Both kids had no problems capturing the fantasy characters with the sprite net but found the additional dynamic of having to “paint in” sprites in order to use them a bit fiddly, with nowhere near enough time given to finish the painting. Once again this is where a handy adult comes in and perhaps this is where the game may be more successful on a system like the Wii or the DS, with more child-friendly controls for manipulating a paintbrush.

    Watching the kids play for a while gave me the chance to give it the once over, game reviewer style. Spiderwick Chronicles is lovingly presented with enough hooks and interesting presentation quirks to keep kids enthralled and even give adults plenty to admire. Graphically, the game’s very pleasing with good likenesses of the main cinematic cast and some neat gaming environments to mess around in (particularly when playing as Thimbletack, with the gameworld being scaled up to match his diminutive stature).

    There’s some great voice acting (if a little repetitive) and a nice mystery-laced soundtrack in there too.

    Now and again the in-game camera system goes a bit mental when your character strays a little too close to a confined space, but I could list about ten “grown up” games that have far worse graphical glitches than this (and there’s no V-Synch tearing in it, amazingly!)

    Reviewing games aimed squarely at a younger audience is always tough, so with the luxury of having two little co-consultants on this one I thought I’d leave the final word to them, asking them what they both thought of the game.

    Emily: “I liked it, some bits are scary and some bits are hard to make work”

    Adam: “I liked the funny mouse man (Thimbletack!)”

    From the bits I played, it’s fair to say that Spiderwick Chronicles is a nice little adventure game that I’d have no problems letting my own kids play, perhaps with the warning that some parents might not like the idea of their little darlings smashing the heck out of goblins with a baseball bat (the game is currently rated PG). There’s no real inventory system which can get really annoying, as can the lack of map (sometimes the kids got confused as to where they were supposed to go next, as the game doesn’t always make this clear).

    Fans of the books and the film will find lots to love here. Cold hearted cynical gamers will need to look elsewhere for their thrills as the game’s relatively easy to skim through despite a few control niggles. All in all, Sierra / Stormfront Studios know their audience and with a bit more attention paid to the control systems and making them consistent, the game would be nigh on perfect for your little ones.

    Score: 7/10

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