The Golden Compass? In game form? As good as that idea sounds, the game fails at being anything but a mediocre cash-in

User Rating: 5.5 | The Golden Compass X360
Ever since the release of the Harry Potter series, Oxford has become associated more with magical children than late hours at the Bodleian. And maybe it's because I didn't attend the illustrious Exeter College, but I honestly can say I never witnessed a young girl swinging from gargoyle to gargoyle with the aid of a magical sloth during my time spent in the city of dreaming spires. This image, however, makes an appearance in the first chapter of Sega's The Golden Compass, all before our plucky protagonist spits some plum-like substance at the college fellows milling about below. Give her a couple chapters, and she'll be off to save the world's children.

The game gives a decent show in terms of first appearances, though it does come packaged with a few rough spots. Environments are decently rendered, especially the aforementioned college of the first level and the snow in later portions of the game. Characters look somewhat like their real-life counterparts, though Roger suffers from Smoker's Mouth in some scenes and our main gal Lyra has hair that looks more like she's wearing a polished wooden helmet on top of her head. When it appears, the music gives a nice touch to the otherwise mundane sound of footsteps crunching snow, and the video game is as well acted as the movie is. However, Lyra and her daemon Pan tend to sound a lot alike - and by "a lot", I mean to say that I mistook them for the same person during the first few chapters of the game, leading to a few schizophrenic moments where I thought the girl was arguing with herself.

But once you sort the characters out, you'll find that there's plenty for each of them to do in this game. The bear Iorek deals with most of the combat while Lyra excels at a hodgepodge of activities. You can spend your time deceiving people in order to 1) weasel out important information, or 2) weasel yourself out of a situation. You can engage in some stealth action to make sure that certain undesirable individuals (like the fuzzball evil monkey) don't find you hidden behind a couple inconspicuously placed crates. Or you and that magical sloth can swing around in the game's many platforming levels. So yes, there are plenty of scenarios in the game, and after playing through a few of them, you can't help but wonder who these activities are intended for. On one hand, Iorek's combat has been watered down to jamming the X button over and over again; until the witches appear in later levels, it is practically impossible to die if you are in the general vicinity of your enemy. On the other hand, Lyra's platforming is unnecessarily difficult thanks to the challenge in gauging distances in the game. The camera is static for the most part and because there is little room for error in the sloth swinging (that hand has to make contact with the bar), I found myself committing suicide time and time again.

And then there are the Alethiometer missions. Although these brain teasers provide the most fun in the game, they can also be the most confusing, and few will be accessible to the tykes out there - honestly, how many kids know the meaning to the word "rapacious"? The game works like this: You select a question for the Alethiometer, like "Is Mrs. Coulter still looking for me?", and three adjectives will be assigned to describe the elements of the question. In the case of this particular inquiry, words like "evil" can describe Mrs. Coulter and "perseverance" her quest to find you. These adjectives correlate to different symbols on your instrument. Some of these symbols are fairly straightforward (the serpent represents "evil") while other associations are downright confusing. Chameleons represent "air" and camels "perseverance"; walled gardens are "innocent", a term one might think would be assigned to a baby, but the squirming infant is described as "malleable". That is a term which I've always used to describe materials that can be hammered out, like metals. Not babies. My God, not babies.

And then the game returns to mind-numbingly simple as you're told to focus on the question you're asking. The more symbols you correctly assign to adjectives, the easier it is to control your starburst cursor of concentration as it roves around the Alethiometer; keep it in the center of the screen and you'll have an easy time answering the question. There are 48 queries to solve and 108 symbols to discover; the more symbols you have Pan seek out using his ermine powers of sight, the easier the questions are to solve. The easier the questions are to solve, the more you understand about what's happening in the game. Conversely, you could just watch the movie, but Shiny's done a good job of providing the next best thing, as you're treated to a handful of clips from the film before and after each chapter. The clips are decent in terms of length, and help provide the back story to the game; that being said, however, if you haven't had a chance to read the book or see the movie, be prepared to be a bit lost in certain sections of story plot.

The game is long enough to occupy a couple days of your time, and if the little ones are playing this, they should be satisfied for a good week or so before every extra feature is unlocked. Still, be prepared for a couple controller-flinging tantrums along the way since this game is frustrating in certain sections. But if you or the kids enjoyed the book and/or movie, then chances are you might want to go out and give The Golden Compass a shot. Just take my advice and rent this title before sinking sixty dollars down to buy it.

Pros:
- Graphics are decent for the title, and locations are varied from schools to docks to frozen tundras.
- Plenty of mini-games to engage in; most notable are the tasks involving the Alethiometer.
- Game contains many extras to unlock, including artwork, movie clips, and a few featuretts.
- Pretty solid voice acting and music clips.

Cons:
- Platform missions are overly frustrating as it is difficult to gauge jumps.
- Combat is overly simplified to mashing the X button until all the enemies die.
- Game might prove to be too difficult in some areas for children to complete, but is too easy for adults.
- Lack of camera control can complicate a few boss fights - especially the flamethrower battle later in the game.
- Autosave system saves too infrequently, meaning that more often than not, you can't quit until the end of a level.

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