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 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 brought to life on Xbox 360 that compliments the simultaneously released feature film.
In The Spiderwick Chronicles, twin brothers Jared, Simon and their sister Mallory inherit a home once owned by their distance relative Arthur Spiderwick. Through an accidental discovery of a secret room made by Jared through a dumbwaiter in the home’s 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 closely, beginning with discovering the dumbwaiter in the kitchen and moving through several additional plot elements. Never does Spiderwick stray far from its source material, evoking a desire for players who have not seen the film, such as myself, to check it out.
Having followed the dumbwaiter to Arthur’s hidden office, a series of clues lead to the first mystical encounter with Thimbletack; a small brownie creature with valuable insight on how to navigate the hidden world on the Spiderwick Estate grounds. 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.
Exploring the ins and outs of the Spiderwick estate grounds is accomplished by playing as any one of the three children at predetermined points in the linear story, and even as Thimbletack 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 will serve their purpose, but remain 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 jumping by falling off an edge as opposed to hitting a button is not simple to become accustomed to.
The kids are responsible for arming themselves with a variety of weapons ranging from spells to slingshots if they’re going to survive an encounter with a troll or other creature. Control during combat is much tighter than maneuvering Thimbletack through his trials 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. small fairy creature with a net is relatively simple, yielding a mini-game allowing you to reveal an image on a blank page from the Field Guide with a paintbrush. Completing the image will grant you that particular Sprite’s magical powers that can be used against the trolls, goblins and other creatures determined to relinquish you of the Field Guide. Unfortunately, after a short time the same Sprites require repainting which grows more redundant than the combat this exercise is designed to compliment.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is a relatively rare example of a video game based on a film that manages to operate with in the confines of the film’s structure, all the while providing a moderately entertaining gameplay experience not far removed from a game benefiting from a longer production schedule to complete. There’s definitely a worthwhile rental in Spiderwick’s gameplay, especially if playing with a child or spouse who loves to armchair quarterback every move you make.
– Dan Bradley