Based on a series of beloved books that I’d never heard of, The Spiderwick Chronicles is an adventure game for the pre-teen Nicklelodeon set. You play the key characters from the story: siblings Jared, Mallory and Simon and brownie/confidant Thimbletack, exploring a spooky Olde house with guidance from a spooky Olde book.
Knock me down with a feather if each of the characters you play doesn’t have their own set of unique skills and abilities! Roughly speaking Mallory is the brawn, Simon the brains, Jared is somewhere in the middle and tiny Thimbletack allows you to get to places that larger folk can’t.
Accessing the book (the outrageously titled — Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You) opens up the games’ options page, active quests and the character pages which show your current player’s attacks, sprite powers and power ups. It’s a useful tool and keeps confusion to a minimum, particularly in the latter stages of the game when multiple quests/tasks are open.
The combat system is very simplistic, mainly single button attacks and whilst you do unlock new and more powerful moves, you’re still essentially pressing the same button over and over again. There are also some first person ranged attacks, but again these are very basic. I guess this is indicative of the ‘hand holding’ I felt throughout the game.
One of the more ‘unique’ components to The Spiderwick Chronicles is capturing sprites. Sprites grant you special powers for a short time and each different breed (there are ten in all) have their own particular ability like restoring health, shielding or increased weapon damage. Sprites are one-offs however and it’s up to you to keep capturing them, but they are in abundance and a particular type will keep re-spawning in the same location.
Nabbing the sprites is broken into two parts: First, capturing the buggers with your net, simple enough, although I did have some issues with character perspective making capture difficult to judge at times. Secondly, once netted an empty page from the field manual appears along with a brush icon and you have to ‘paint’ in the sprites’ image before the timer runs out. Fortunately once you’ve captured a certain number of the same type of critter the painting process is skipped and the special power goes directly into your inventory. Incidentally, you can only have three sprites at any given time.
The graphics, while not rocking my socks off, did manage to achieve some atmosphere thanks in large part to being well coupled with a nicely executed soundtrack, which was complimentary rather than intrusive. The exception to this was when playing the Thimbletack levels. Here, the music suddenly becomes ‘quirky’ or as I call it - incessant and irritating. This was a shame considering Thimbletack’s chapters are quite fun. I also have a pet peeve against characters that converse in rhyming couplets and for this; Thimbletack is as guilty as sin. Speaking of which, the voice acting was generally fine and not too dense, although repetition was always just around the corner.
Gameplay is fairly well paced; with each chapter being short and sweet - every time I found myself starting to get bored, the level rounded itself up with an appropriate cut scene from the movie. These scenes can be a little confusing though if like me, you know nothing about the story and there was just something about them that felt a little rushed.
I promised myself I was not going to prattle on and on about the unholy trinity that is the book, movie and game tie in… suffice to say The Spiderwick Chronicles isn’t too shabby an entry into this much maligned sub-genre. Sierra has created a game which is light and airy, a soufflé perfectly suited to those of us young or young at heart or who simply have short attention spans… Oh look, it’s a hilarious cat on Youtube!