A large home nestled deep in the woods is no place for children to take up residence. The home is guaranteed to be haunted, or some fantastical element is surely poised to turn life upside down, inside out and every which way in between. Such luck is the case for a trio of siblings in The Spiderwick Chronicles, the latest in a storied string of children’s adventures whose narrative virtually guaranteed a video game counterpart. No surprise here, then, with The Spiderwick Chronicles sprang to life on Xbox 360 to complement the simultaneously released feature film.
In The Spiderwick Chronicles, twin brothers Jared and Simon, along with their sister Mallory, inherit a home once owned by their distant relative Arthur Spiderwick. After Jared accidentally discovers a secret room through a dumbwaiter in the kitchen, the children learn of a book, “Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You,” and begin to experience magical encounters with mysterious creatures.
Developer Stormfront Studios has designed the game’s story nearly identical to the film, utilizing actual film footage instead of pre-rendered CGI to move the story along. This allows the game’s events to parallel those of the film, beginning with discovering the dumbwaiter and moving through several additional plot elements. Never does Spiderwick stray far from its source material, and it succeeds beautifully at evoking a desire for players who have not seen the film (myself included) to check it out.
Having followed the dumbwaiter to Arthur’s hidden office, a series of clues leads to the first mystical encounter with Thimbletack, a small brownie creature with valuable insight about navigating the hidden world on the Spiderwick Estate. Thimbletack’s rhymes are highly annoying, but his presence is necessary to turn a corner and discover what’s really living in and around the house with an optical aid.
Gamers explore the ins and outs of the Spiderwick Estate by playing as any of the three children — at predetermined points in the linear story. Gamers can even play as Thimbletack at times, who is capable of accessing small hidden areas the kids cannot. Various identifiable but not always obtainable objects are scattered around the grounds, waiting for their intended use to reveal itself as the story progresses. In this sense, the objects represent the pieces to a smaller puzzle, such as building a device to “see” the fantasy world, or the much larger story puzzle. Each serves its purpose but remains useless until that time.
While Thimbletack doesn’t need to bother with objects, he is required to navigate some fairly tight obstacle courses within the home’s guts. These missions are where Spiderwick’s controls falter somewhat, as Thimbletack is incapable of maneuvering on a dime, and it’s hard to get accustomed to “jumping” by simply falling off an edge as opposed to hitting a button.
The kids are responsible for arming themselves with a variety of weapons, ranging from spells to slingshots, all of which are necessary if they hope to survive an encounter with a troll or other creature. Fortunately, the combat controls are much tighter than maneuvering Thimbletack, mostly thanks to an auto-targeting system that locks onto the nearest enemy. Even as the quantity and difficulty of enemies ratchets up, the targeting system allows the situation to never spiral out of control.
Combat by itself can grow redundant as gameplay wears on, which is where Sprites help inject some diversity — at least initially. Catching a Sprite (i.e. a small fairy creature) with a net is relatively simple, yielding a mini-game allowing you to reveal an image on a blank Field Guide page using a paintbrush. Completing the image will grant you that particular Sprite’s magical powers, which in turn can be used against the trolls, goblins and other creatures that are determined to capture the Field Guide. Unfortunately, these same Sprites require repainting after a short time, which grows more redundant than the combat this exercise is designed to complement.
Still, The Spiderwick Chronicles is a rare example of a video game based on a film that manages to operate within the confines of the film’s structure while still providing a moderately entertaining gameplay experience. There’s definitely a worthwhile rental in The Spiderwick Chronicles, especially if you plan to play with a child or spouse who loves to “armchair quarterback” every move you make.
- Score: 7.4
- An entertaining movie tie-in that should keep kids and fans of the film engrossed throughout the duration of your game-rental period.