Developer: Stormfront Studios
Release Date: February 5, 2008
I wasn't exactly a huge fan of the movie based on the "Spiderwick Chronicles" books, mainly because it just wasn't my cup of tea. I wasn't sure what to expect out of the DS title related to the film release, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent adventure title underneath the film plot.
Sure, Spiderwick Chronicles for the NDS has definitely been developed with the younger audience in mind, but it's easily a title that most adults will have no problem wasting away a few hours on. This is definitely helped by the engaging control interface, some wonderful soundtrack work, and the decent art style that shines through in the sprite work.
If you're unfamiliar with the story, I'll get you up to speed. Arthur Spiderwick had discovered a world beyond ours, in the sense that he can see and contact all of the mythical creatures we've all grown up with, such as faeries, trolls, brownies, and so on. He decided to learn all that he could, and he wrote down this information into a large tome. Years later, relatives come to reside at his old mansion, where one of the children discovers his long-lost book, which in turn gets these kids wrapped up in a pretty large adventure. It's definitely a basic children's adventure story, and while the plot of the film is well represented in the game, it was hardly the main draw for me. If you enjoyed the film, then you'll enjoy the story here, since it's largely the same.
For me, the main draw of Spiderwick Chronicles was definitely the gameplay. I wasn't sure what to expect from this, since most movie tie-ins go for some type of pseudo-action game attempt, like The Golden Compass or Prince Caspian. Instead, Spiderwick Chronicles on the DS takes on a role of an adventure-RPG hybrid of sorts, with a lot of exploring elements that are carried out via the touch-screen, mixed in with a combat style that's more reminiscent of classic Final Fantasy games than anything else.
As the game begins, you start off as one of the boys from the film, wherein you discover Spiderwick's book. In turn, another sibling is captured, and you march off into the strange forest around the mansion to bring him back. Before you go, you're bestowed with a special charm that gives you the "sight," or the ability to see the mythical creatures that surround you. Equipped with this, you're ready to start off on the quest proper, and march into the forest to save your brother.
Either the d-pad or the touch-screen can be used for basic movement controls. The game definitely emphasizes using the touch-screen more, but it's not absolutely necessary outside of combat and some exploration. However, it's pretty responsive and definitely akin to the controls of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, so if you're a fan of that style, then you'll fit in nicely here. As you start off in the forest, you're introduced to the knowledge of sprites, which are tiny pinpoints of light that you can find by shaking bushes, searching stumps, and blowing into the mic while under a ray of light. There are quite a few different varieties of these creatures, but your early encounters are mostly with healing sprites and ones used for attacks. As soon as you expose a sprite, you tap it on the screen to capture it, which automatically adds it to your inventory. Once it's there, you can either use it while walking around the screen or during combat. Certain sprites can only be used for particular circumstances as well, but the game does a fine job of explaining this to you.
Combat, on the other hand, is of a completely different nature. Similar to quite a few RPGs, you'll typically see your enemy on the screen, and then run into it (or it will run into you) to initiate combat. Your party will be displayed in a vertical row on the left, and the enemies on the right. There are back and front row formations as well, so again, this is all very much like a classic Final Fantasy setup. The bottom of the touch-screen displays your options, which allow you to perform a basic attack (done by simply tapping an enemy), your inventory, and also a run or wait ability.
However, instead of just being a standard turn-based event, there's a bit of touch-screen activity to perform. When you choose to attack, either with a normal attack or using a sprite, you'll gain a small bonus if you can perform the displayed action with the stylus. This bonus is often small, but you can build up your affinity with sprites as you level up, which will allow you to perform some pretty devastating attacks later on.
Also, your back row is only able to perform ranged attacks, never melee battles. However, if an enemy performs a melee attack on a back row character, then your front row gets an automatic counter-attack, which is pretty nice. It really pays to have your healer in the back row here, as he'll be pretty well protected. If you opt to have a back row person perform a melee attack, then he'll automatically be brought up to the front row. You can opt to switch lines back and forth during combat at will, so you can strategize as you see fit.
The adventure aspect of Spiderwick Chronicles is what I definitely enjoyed the most; searching through various objects to uncover hidden sprites was surprisingly addictive, and while the idea behind it is very simple and the puzzle aspect is never particularly grand, it's also a decent amount of fun while the game lasts. It'd be a great introductory title if your kids have never played games like Maniac Mansion, as it would help them get acquainted with the mechanics of an adventure tite. Also, the combat keeps itself from getting stale by introducing small mini-games that you can perform, and while there isn't a huge variety of them, it's enough to keep each encounter engaging.
Along with that, for those of you with more than one child, Spiderwick Chronicles allows you to trade sprites back and forth, and each cartridge comes with three unique sprites. There are a total of five unique sprites, so trading is absolutely mandatory if you want to complete your collection. It's not much of a multiplayer aspect, but it'll definitely appeal to your typical Pokémon audience.
I'm still not entirely sold on the story in Spiderwick Chronicles for the NDS, but I can't knock the game for staying true to the film. It'll definitely appeal to fans of the movie, but the gameplay can appeal to a much wider audience. It's definitely above average among the licensed movie games we get nowadays, and it's well worth checking out at its current reduced price.