Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Developer: Stormfront Studios
Release Date: February 5, 2008
I enjoyed "The Spiderwick Chronicles" film enough that I was willing to review not one, but two versions of the video game. I previously covered the DS game and thought that it was mostly decent, and this time, I'm reviewing the PS2 version, which is definitely different enough to make it worth checking out twice. It has some interesting adventure game mechanics to it that keep it enjoyable throughout the main quest, which will last about six hours or so.
Like the film, Spiderwick Chronicles revolves around three children who move into an old, mostly abandoned mansion after inheriting it. Their mother doesn't even show up in the game aside from the beginning cut scene, but the title closely follows the plot of the film, and fans of the movie will see plenty of recognizable characters over the course of the game. It plays like an action/adventure hybrid, with a lot of early exploration throughout the mansion to find various items and tools in your quest to uncover the secrets of Arthur Spiderwick's home and field guide.
As the game begins, you're put into control of Jared, who's the headstrong and somewhat rebellious one of the twin boys. You're plopped into your room inside the sprawling mansion, and you'll quickly notice that the game looks pretty decent for a PS2 title. There's even a progressive scan option in the menu for players who are using their PS2s on HDTVs, along with a widescreen option that defaults to the "on" position. For my gameplay session, I went with an SDTV, but I did hook up the component to see what the upgrade looked like, and while it wasn't a considerable jump, a lot of the jagged edges get a bit of smoothing here and there, and it's worth checking out if you're going to pick up the game and you already have the proper setup.
From the beginning room, you get acclimated with the really easy-to-learn controls, which have you using the right and left shoulder buttons to cycle through your inventory on the fly. You move around with the left analog stick, control the camera with the right, and then use the X button to swing or use whatever weapon you have equipped. Jared can be equipped with baseball bats, allowing him some basic swings, along with combo attacks that you'll gain after defeating a few indigenous life forms surrounding the estate grounds. You start to explore the mansion, and it quickly tunnels you into finding the dumbwaiter that's been sealed up behind bricks in the kitchen. Jared then finds the key that opens up the field journal, and then the events of both the game and movie really kick off.
There's a lot of exploring in Spiderwick Chronicles, and I enjoyed that aspect of it. Most of the things you need to find are scattered about the mansion or the outside garage and shed areas. The locations you get to explore aren't exactly massive, and things are highlighted well enough so they're not too difficult to find, which makes this a good introductory adventure title for younger players. There are a few tasks later on, one in particular involving Simon, the other twin, that require you to get a hold of a ton of different parts, but you can always kick back to the start menu and view your current quests, what you need, and often get a hint at the direction in which you need to head to accomplish your goal. The initial area is all about this exploration mechanic, and once you get past that, you'll get to venture outside the grounds a bit, which brings you to the action.
This isn't nearly as interesting as the adventuring, though, because it's pretty basic and boring, even if you take on a fair variety of creatures. Your foes are mostly going to consist of goblins that are usually armed with little spears, and they'll gang up on you in small groups and attempt to knock away your small amount of health. Occasionally they'll jump on your back, and you'll need to frantically move the analog stick back and forth to get free, but otherwise, their attacks are easy to avoid, and they'll always walk right into you so you can knock them senseless without much trouble. As you defeat them, you'll get to pick up their teeth fragments, and as you gain more of these, you'll unlock more combat-specific moves, but it mostly consists of letting you tap the X button a few times in a row instead of the usual two-hit combo.
There's an inkling of possibility to the fighting, like being able to launch a goblin in the air, but you can't jump up with them or juggle them or anything like that, so it's pretty much a wasted opportunity. It's a shame that the combat doesn't come together very well because the game is pretty much split down the middle between the action and adventure segments, so you'll probably find half of the game to be pretty boring. The other kids don't fare much better than Jared; Mallory has the only truly interesting combat abilities with her fencing sword, but you don't get a lot of playtime to control her.
To break up these segments with the children, you can also control Thimbletack, their brownie friend who you come in contact with early on, and he'll lead you to neat little puzzle/adventure segments in between the walls of the house. The option to control the brownie doesn't come up more than a couple of times, but it serves as an interesting distraction from the core gameplay.
There are also a number of side-quests in Spiderwick Chronicles, some of which involve upgrading your weapons or abilities to help in the main quest. However, the game isn't particularly challenging with the initial set of tools that you get, so unless you're feeling like you need to do a complete run of the game, there's not much reason to seek them out. The side-quests tack on another hour to what is a pretty short experience, so at least there's a reason to check it out if you want your money's worth out of the game. I can't really say that I'd suggest picking up Spiderwick Chronicles unless you can find it for cheap; it really feels like it's suited for a rental more so than a purchase. If you're looking for a simple adventure game based on an enjoyable license, you'll probably enjoy this one.