The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe has already proven to be hugely successful in the realms of literature, television, and film. Coinciding with the recent movie, C.S. Lewis' creation has moved into the world of handheld video games with the aptly named The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, an action adventure game for the Nintendo DS. The game is developed by Amaze Entertainment, a company that has a history of bringing blockbuster fantasy films to life on the small screen with such licenses as The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. The relationship is evident in the design of Narnia on the DS, as the game shares the same brand of simple action and light puzzle-solving as its cousins. Unfortunately, tedium sets in quickly in Narnia, and you're left with a fairly average game that doesn't do much to complement the license.
Narnia on the DS plays like an introduction to hack-and-slash role-playing games. You play through the story as the four Pevensie children from the movie. The main objective in the game is to defeat the White Witch and save the troubled fantasy world known as Narnia. This involves crisscrossing the rather small world on foot, battling enemies such as wolves, rats, giants, polar bears, dwarves, minotaurs, and white tigers. As you fight, your characters earn experience and eventually level up. With each level a character earns a virtue point, which can be applied to one of four stats to increase health points, defense, strength, and willpower, which determines how often a character can use a special skill.
You control one of the children while the rest tag along and provide some basic support, depending on how you set the artificial intelligence for each character. You can have a character heal, attack, or defend, depending on their strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. Each child has unique abilities, and you can switch among characters in your party with a press of one of the shoulder buttons. You can have a maximum of four characters in your party at a time, but you can gain the ability to summon familiar creatures who will help out in battle. The story rarely allows you access to all four of the children at the same time, so you don't have any say over who gets to come along on each quest.
As you go from dungeon to dungeon and battle to battle, you'll meet various friendly creatures, who will assign side-quests that usually involve menial tasks such as finding an item or clearing an area of a specific type of enemy. If you complete a side quest, the assigning animal will teach you a valuable skill. Some skills, such as passive stat boosters, can be learned by any character. Other skills are specific to each character. Peter can learn combat skills such as a shield bash, Lucy can learn magic and play panpipes to cast healing spells and summon familiars, and so on.
All of the characters in your party share the same health gauge, which sounds odd, but it's actually convenient in practice. If a character takes a hit when the health gauge is empty, he or she will get knocked out for a few seconds. When none of the characters are left standing, you have to start over at the last checkpoint, which is never very far away. After you learn how to exploit this system you can often just let your melee characters keep fighting, dying, and recovering while keeping one character out of danger, thus keeping the party alive. In addition to keeping your characters conscious, you have to keep them warm. Narnia is pretty much frozen solid, after all. There's an icon in the upper left of the screen that tells you if your characters are warm or cold. If they're warm, they'll earn more experience and perform better in battle. If they're cold, you can enter a shelter to warm them up. There's also a day and night cycle in Narnia, which affects your characters' warmth as well as what types of enemies you'll encounter.
Despite all the little bits of detail, the game comes down to running around and beating up enemies over and over and over again. Since the world is fairly small, you'll have to do a lot of backtracking, and since each area resets when you reenter, you'll have to fight the exact same enemies each and every time you go through any given area. This is handy because it provides experience fodder, but you always end up feeling like you're running around in circles. That wouldn't be especially bad if the combat was fun, but the combat in Narnia is clumsy and slow. The characters all have the same couple of stiff animations in battle, and they move pretty slow. Landing a hit isn't satisfying either, because there's no sense of impact. The only way you know you hit a character is by looking for a little yellow spark that tells you that your hit landed. It often feels like you're swinging right through the enemies as if they aren't even there. The same goes for when enemies attack you. When you fight a giant, he'll just jerkily sweep his club through your characters and they'll fall over, even if it looks as though they're well out of striking range. The combat is simple too, consisting of only an attack button, a block button, and a button to activate special abilities. Because a lot of the abilities aren't worth the trouble to use, you'll mostly end up repeatedly tapping the A button to do the same three-hit combo until your enemy finally falls. The four children all behave similarly, except for Susan, who has a ranged attack. As a result, you won't often find yourself needing or wanting to switch characters very often. Lucy can use magic and play songs, which is handy because she can heal the party, but you have to use the touch screen to draw symbols or tap notes, and that just isn't practical in the midst of battle.
Aside from the magic, the touch screen is used only to navigate menus, which are always displayed on the lower screen of the DS. The menus are awkward and not at all intuitive, and since a lot of the selection areas are quite small, you'll have to use the stylus or a very precise finger tip, which makes the entire act of navigating menus much more work than it should be. Other than the menu issue, there's glaring flaw with the presentation of the game: the crippling slowdown that occurs whenever there are more than six characters on screen at a time, which happens often. The characters are all fully 3D and they're nicely detailed, with different skins for your characters depending on what they're wearing. Unfortunately, though, the animations are pretty stiff, there's only one model for each type of enemy, and there aren't all that many enemies in the game. However, if you're able to look past those few rough spots, you'll mostly enjoy the presentation of the game. The environments are full of details that make them feel like naturally occurring landscapes--frozen streams, icy cliffs, and plenty of plants and small woodland creatures such as squirrels and birds.
The sound in the game is a blend of great music but annoying sound effects. The music sounds like it was taken straight from the movie, and it fits the theme of each area perfectly. The sound effects, on the other hand, sound bad to begin with, and after you hear the same grunt or clank a thousand times you'll want to mute the noise. There are some nice ambient noises, like birds chirping and wolves howling, but for the most part the sound effects don't do much for the game.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe takes about 10 or 12 hours to finish, and you can play cooperatively with up to three other players as long as each player has a copy of the game. You can import your saved characters into a multiplayer game, and although other players can't quite jump in on the action at any time, you can choose to start a multiplayer game at one of the specific story points that you've reached in the single-player campaign. Whether playing solo or with friends, Narnia offers a decent, if somewhat tedious, adventure while it lasts, and the simplicity should appeal to young and casual players who are fans of the movie. But it's difficult to recommend this game, especially since there are so many better ways to spend time with your DS.