Release Date: November 10, 2004
Multimedia is the name of the game for Hollywood promoters. With their movies at the center of their media assaults, they usually release with many other products at their sides – or, in the case of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, at their front, since the game released long before the movie met with theater audiences around the country. Game tie-ins are more important than ever, since they help generate hype. People think they are getting a “sneak preview” of sorts for the movie, and the publishers make off with loads of cash because of this. The problem with this sort of plan lies in whether or not a certain story should be rendered in videogame form in the first place; and A Series of Unfortunate Events is definitely one that should have been left in books and the big screen.
It must first be pointed out that A Series of Unfortunate Events was not a game crafted for, well, gamers. It is for children, and was not conceived nor executed for the purposes of any other audience. It is completely lacking in many of the complexities that have snowballed to make up the modern videogame for the hardcore crowd; it is devoid of almost any of the baffling puzzles and troubling encounters that many gamers thirst for. But most players like that would not be playing this game in the first place, now would they? Still, while A Series of Unfortunate Events is a good piece of storytelling, even in videogame form, its entry into the electronic entertainment realm is still lacking, even for a young child who is simply a fan of the original triumvirate of novels from which its story is taken. A spotty movement engine and no-brainer puzzles for any child who has made it through the first few dungeons in any given Zelda title make A Series of Unfortunate Events a stale rendition of the books in terms of gameplay.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is the first of three novels detailing the unfortunate lives of the three Baudelaire orphans. Not a tale for the light of heart, the aptly titled story brings the children through moment after moment of heartache and horror. The game focuses on trying to get the three children, Violet the Inventor, Klaus the Bookworm, and Sunny the Baby, to make it through the maddening torments of their uncle, Count Olaf. Players can switch between the former two characters with the press of a button. Sunny, however, is relegated to certain puzzles which require the sort of approach only a small child could take.
The game’s most basic controls are where its biggest flaws are. Namely, the basic movement engine is extremely flawed. For such a simple game, good control should have been number one on the developers list of things to perfect, yet somehow characters with oddly slow reaction time from the stick to the screen have made it through. This shows its worst side during battles. Many attacks cannot be dodged, and when enemies are coming from multiple sides, it is extremely difficult to deal with everything. Most of the time when you are hurt, it feels like it is honestly more the fault of the game than the slow reactions of the player. A little bit more work on this aspect of the game would have made it much more enjoyable for the younger children who will play it, as they are a crowd that is very easily frustrated.
The most important character is Violet. She makes her way through the crazed world of Count Olaf by creating incredibly amusing devices out of items in her surroundings. As with most adventure games, players will spend a good deal of time collecting items all over, though usually with not much of a reward besides either unlocking a level, or little more than a hearty sense of completion (*ahem*, Mario 64). Collecting items to build useful creations with Violet actually feels like true progression, and it is one of the strongest points in this game. After all, if one has to poke about trying to find something, it may as well be of some interesting use, correct? And that is exactly what A Series of Unfortunate Events does best. Interestingly, many of the items needed to create Violet’s tools are visible in earlier segments of the game, when they are nothing more than bits and pieces to adorn the surroundings. Players with good memories will be rewarded kindly by having an easier time getting what they need to progress.
Many of the items Violet Builds are actually unique to the game, yet they sit within the boundaries of the Lemony Snicket universe quite well. While this game is lacking in many qualities, the developers clearly kept their audience – non-gamer Lemony Snicket fans –- in mind. And while this is a big no-no for the purposes of this review, as it is being written from the gamer’s perspective, at least I can, for once, mostly understand why this game is presented in the way it is. Yet I still feel that this game would have been better off not existing, leaving its story to the books and film(s).
In a move somewhat understandable in the boundaries of a videogame, the bookish Klaus is now more of a boy of action in this telling of the story. When it comes to taking down the hordes of hideous creatures that Count Olaf throws at the orphans, Klaus is always the first choice. But for readers of the books and fans of the film – the only true audience for this game – this will feel mostly awkward. Klaus is all about being the smartest kid in the bunch, so why is he relegated to beating up rats for the entirety of this game? Since most of the level design is extremely brain-dead even for a young child, players will never really see the Klaus they know and love from the books.
Sonny’s stages are actually some of the best in the game. 2d sidescrolling gameplay with nice, three-dimensional graphics. These are the only slightly challenging portions of the game, since the twitch platforming might be difficult for younger children not weaned on the ruthless difficulty of the old 2d games that many of us grew up with.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of the simplest, easiest, and shortest games around, clocking in at about under four hours. So is it at least a joy to look at for that short time? Well, yes and no. The art style is clearly representative of the film, and the storytelling, communicated through a series of sketches, is very well done. But as a videogame, the graphics are somewhat blocky and thrown together; though they do the film enough justice, they could have been much better. And some players might find those sketchbook segments to be a bit boring, although they are good enough that most of us will probably take a liking to them. But bouts of slowdown and bits of random pop-up make this game look like a lot less than it should, especially considering its length. When there is so little to work with, developers should spend more time perfecting things like graphical errors and slowdown. Get the game to its best shape yet!
Sound is, oddly, the worst aspect of this game, though only in some regards (massively important ones, but still only some). The sound effects are just fine; the problems lie in the voice acting. While the same actors from the film reprise their roles, they seem to have sleepwalked through the videogame. Jim Carrey sounds as if he is tired of his role as the evil Count, and mouths his way out of the recording room to get away from this game. It’s an odd turn of events, as sound is usually the best part of any licensed game.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is a game meant for children and fans of the books and movies; it is not for gamers. Hardly any thinking is needed. The level designs are somewhat inventive, especially where Violet is involved, but mostly they feel like the developers talking down to their audence. The gameplay feels almost condescending to the youth of today. Fans of the movie will love this, however, as long as they can get past some of the more glaring inconsistencies.
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