|System: X360, Wii, PS2, PC, 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|
The game's combat system is one of its high points, but it can be a little unforgiving for novice players. Encountering foes on the adventure map will trigger a turn-based battle. The combat screen is shown from a side view, and it's arranged with the kids on the left side and whichever nasty creatures they're up against on the right. Typically, players will get a chance to take action before their opponents.
Each child has their own method of attack and a unique mini-game that pops-up for bonus damage: Jared swings a baseball bat which requires players to trace a circular pattern; Simon uses his fists with players tapping out randomly appearing Xs in sequential order; and Mallory wields a fencing sword which has players swiping across the screen. Initiating an attack is as simple a tapping the action and selecting the opponent to fight. They'll jump forward to battle, the mini-game then pops-up, and they'll make their attack. Players can also throw rocks, use items, and release accumulated sprites for healing, defense, and magical attacks. Characters positioned in the back can only use ranged attacks or items, but if they're attacked, their front-line companions each get an extra attack to exact revenge. The same goes for enemies, so players must consider their options accordingly. The high level of player interaction in combat makes it engaging and fun.
When it comes to defense, players can tap their character right as they're being attacked to initiate a parry maneuver that reduces the amount of damage they'll take. Enemy attacks come quickly, and often do substantial damage, so it's imperative to attempt to defend against every single attack with precision. This soon becomes a chore, and a frustrating one at that, because it eventually gets to the point when fighting tougher enemies where missing even a single defensive maneuver can be catastrophic. When defeated, players are sent back to the last checkpoint, which means they'll often be forced to play the same grueling areas repeatedly.
Sprite collecting is integral to the gameplay, and it's actually quite rewarding. A range of different sprites can be found in all kinds of places: under rocks, hiding in bushes, in beams of sunlight, in trees, and elsewhere. Some sprites can be collected and used in battle while others are helpful for moving boulders, cutting through brambles, unlocking doors, and crossing streams. Certain sprites will also give player experience which can be used each time to increase health, sprite affinity or damage stats for one of the three kids. Hunting for new sprites and figuring out what they require to be lured out of hiding is a fun pursuit players will spend significant time on.
The game's hand-drawn graphical style is initially pleasing to look at, particularly in the opening scene, the Spiderwick house, the early forest settings, and in a few of the game's other areas of interest. The animated characters themselves are a little disappointing in comparison. Unfortunately, the game features lengthy maze-like sections with areas that begin to all look the same after a time. Getting lost is an irritating hazard since players will soon tire of the tedium of fighting the same creatures over and over again as they try to re-trace their steps only to realize they were going in the right direction in the first place. There's no quick solution to these doleful areas other than to suck it up and plow through them.
Aside from some tough combat situations and a propensity for sending players around in circles a little too often, The Spiderwick Chronicles actually offers a reasonable level of fun for your troubles. It's certainly put together a little better than some of its brethren. Younger players will probably nab this one up as a direct result of having seen the movie or read the books, but they may find the aforementioned issues tough to swallow.
CCC Staff Contributor