|System: X360, Wii, PC, PS2, DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Stormfront Studios||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Sierra||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Feb. 5, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
When word spreads that a bestselling children's book series is about to make the big jump to a movie adaptation, it tends to be a harbinger of bad multi-platform video game tie-ins to come. The Spiderwick Chronicles is just the latest in a long tradition of games pulled together to coincide with the launch of a corresponding kids movie.
The DS version certainly isn't the flashiest edition of the game, but the inclusion of an interesting battle system and a few basic RPG elements make it a cut above your average licensed spinoff on the handheld. Like many other titles of its ilk, the Spiderwick Chronicles is destined for the hands of kids who loved the movie and bugged their folks incessantly to hook them up with the game. The problem is it may be a bit too much to handle for the younger audience it's geared towards.
As can be expected, the game's story largely sticks to a pared-down version of the movie plot. Siblings Jared, Simon, and Mallory Grace inadvertently stumble into a world of fantasy when they relocate with their mother to the secluded house once owned by their great uncle Arthur Spiderwick. After discovering a brownie named Thimbletak in the deep recesses of the house, Jared finds Spiderwick's personal tome which contains extensive knowledge on goblins, pixies, trolls, sprites, dwarves, and other fairy creatures that dwell invisibly in the human realm. Unfortunately, the book attracts the attention of the ogre Mulgarath who covets it for his own twisted aims. The kids are faced with fending off repeated attacks from Mulgarath's minions, exploring the mystical world they've encountered, locating Spiderwick, and keeping themselves and their family from harm.
One thing the game does quite well is keep up a genuine fairytale vibe throughout the adventure that's refreshingly youthful yet heavily entrenched in the fantastic. The storytelling itself is somewhat sparse, and players will have to rely on a familiarity with the source material to truly follow all the plot details, but the overall atmosphere is enchanting. The musical score plays a big part in this. The music box style bells of the introduction sets the fantasy tone nicely, and the way the music changes throughout the game is more than mere happenstance. When traversing the brighter, autumnal section of the forest, the score is slightly eerie and playful; it turns darker and more ominous as you move deeper into the goblin-filled woods. Other vibrant sound effects, both environmental and those worked into the gameplay itself, are equally strong.
Most actions are handled with the stylus, whether it's moving around, picking up items, shaking bushes, pummeling goblins or moving boulders. Tapping a location on the screen will make your character to move to that position (players can also move around using the d-pad if they prefer), and tracing a path will cause them to follow it. The microphone also comes into play since blowing into it will reveal a certain type of fairy at different points in the game. For younger gamers who may be far less jaded with the unique features of the DS, the stylus-heavy controls should be downright exciting. Otherwise, they're still solid enough for the rest of us.