Release Date: November 10, 2004
These days, when a marketing machine says it will be releasing an IP-based game multi-platform, they mean every single major platform. Along with this understanding comes a grim stipulation: the Gameboy Advance version will probably be a little pile of stink not worthy of the level of quality of the games produced for the “big three” (Playstation 2, Gamecube, Xbox). And if the “big three” games are of questionable quality… well, then we’ve got one of those releases more apt to coverage by “schtick” journalists like Seanbaby than anybody else in the industry.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of these games. While the production values are obviously high, the amount of money put towards mindshare is appalling. This is one of those games that was made simply to look good on the back of the box, but not to actually be anything, well, Worth Playing. Boneheaded fetch quests coupled with redundant character swapping coupled with bonehead fetch quests – that’s A Series of Unfortunate Events for Gameboy Advance for ya.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is the story of the Baudelaire orphans trek through a series of unfortunate events. The original books are a grim set of tales, almost anti-children’s stories, but not so iconoclastic as to make them adult in any way. After the death of the orphans’ parents (how’s that for pointing out the obvious), the children are sent to live with their distant uncle Olaf, a psychotic actor who hates children and wants nothing more than to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune. The children must deal with a long string of horrible outcomes until they finally manage to deal with old Olaf.
In Series of Unfortunate Events for Gameboy Advance terms, this means going around collecting parts to build things with the Inventor Baudelaire, lobbing apples at enemies with an unnecessarily complex projectile engine, and wasting the time to turn into the Infant Baudelaire to crawl into tight spaces that seem to be placed only for the sake of giving a reason to turn into an infant. And then there’s the Smart Baudelaire, who is rarely used because frankly, there is nothing smart about this game.
Early on in the “adventure”, uncle Olaf forces the orphans to fix a window that he broke. They balk at the chore. And so does the player, because an irritating task is at hand. Ah, work. So demanding, yet so rewarding… except this is a videogame, and most people probably have to work just to obtain these darn things, so why should we be working during a serene bus ride, or on a long car trip, or even when we’re on the john? This is not what the Gameboy was invented for.
This is not to say that working in games is a novel idea. For example, almost every Rare-developed adventure game to date has been a massive exercise in fetch “quests”… but at least those were kind of fun for a good enough portion of the time to be called videogames. Shenmue, a cinematic half-game of sorts, had fetch quests and even actual work, but the presentation and constant exciting events made that game an experience like no other, and entertaining for many who played it. Animal Crossing, the anti-game, is filled with menial tasks like fishing and catching bugs, but they are simple and easy, collecting is fun, and none of it is required in the open-ended nature of the game. You don’t want to make any money? That’s fine. You can just run around, talk to animals, sell items for other items, and borrow money from friends if things get tight. But A Series of Unfortunate Events is a side-scroller. With a defined beginning and end. With little cinematic substance to speak of, outside of the introductory sequence and load of boring text to sift through that does not do the books or film any semblance of justice. Work does not belong in this game. Yet the entire game feels like a gigantic chore, and one that most children – the only true audience for this game sales-wise, surely – would never want to pull themselves through.
What ever happened to the days when six year olds would memorize exactly how to beat ridiculously tough games like Contra and Gradius? Why is the market overloaded with milquetoast releases that shouldn’t be fun for any age group at any time? The presence of A Series of Unfortunate Events only makes this situation worse.
Strangely, the game panders to children in so many ways, yet its projectile system would have you believe otherwise. The apple flinger weapon that works as the attack device for the majority of the game works kind of like something out of Worms, except you cannot control how powerful the shots are… meaning you have to perfectly align your character in order to connect with the smaller villains. And there are more small villains than any other type in the game. Bad match-up, eh?
What this game definitely does have going for it is graphics… which is a little sad, because a few guys put in a lot of work making this game look good, and for little in return when it comes to the quality of the finished product.
Let’s have a moment of silence for the art team on A Series of Unfortunate Events. Thank you.
Anywho, graphics. The animation of the characters is extremely smooth, which is both a positive and a negative. Mostly this is good, because smooth is good. However, it makes the sprites stick out strangely from the backgrounds, since they are extremely static in nature. Those could have a bit more life to them, or at least a little less shading work could have been done on the characters. Either way, good artists were at work here – the art style presented by the movie is nicely emulated here. While many of the locales are little too far off the deep end, such as basements with floating platforms, these issues are more the fault of the designers than the artists.
Sound is a strong point also, as with most movie tie-in games. There aren’t masses of voice clips like in the “big three” versions of the game, but music is taken from the film and translates nicely to handheld form. While a bit repetitive, it is of high quality, and sets a mood very much like that of the film.
A Series of Unfortunate Events is not a game to buy for your children. Likewise, it is not a game you should buy for anyone, especially not yourself. Lacking in everything that makes a game enjoyable, this one should have spent more time on the drawing board before hitting the shelves.
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