Disney has done it again. For the second time now, the kid-friendly conglomerate has defied the odds and released a movie-licensed Chronicles of Narnia game that almost lives up to the source material, thanks largely to the talents of developer Traveller's Tales (best known for its Lego Star Wars and Indiana Jones games). This summer's Prince Caspian follows in the paw prints of 2006's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, giving C.S. Lewis aficionados a lunch-pail action adventure better than the kiddie dreck you were probably expecting. Lack of imagination, as well as a confusing narrative, still limit the game's appeal to fans of talking animals and awkward Christian allegory. But this is still a reasonable achievement for the historically underwhelming movie-game genre, which on occasion has been known to offer as much interactive excitement as other such cinematic souvenirs as Burger King toys.
Although the plot is a straightforward recounting of how the Pevensie kids return to Narnia to help Prince Caspian seize his rightful throne from the corrupt King Miraz, not much effort has been put into making sure this tale makes sense. Animated cutscenes and film clips book end missions in such a haphazard way that it's often hard to figure out what exactly is going on in the game. You'll be lost if you haven't seen the movie or read the book. This is especially true in the beginning where you're dropped straight into what seems to be a flashback battle and then introduced to the prince just as he hightails it out of Dodge because of what looks to be an assassination attempt. All you can really make heads or tails of here is that Caspian is obviously the good guy because he looks like he just stepped off the cover of Medieval Teen Beat.
Prince Caspian's gameplay is simplistic. Levels focus entirely upon mindless combat and finicky busywork where you pull levers, push buttons, or slap machinery together. You also switch back and forth between characters with special abilities, such as throwing a grappling hook or firing a bow. So you're either hacking and slashing through hordes of eternally respawning enemy knights, or you're looking around for the puzzles that need to be solved to open up the next area or reveal a quest item. Nothing here is amazingly tough because the game is geared toward the younger set. Combat is a clickfest where you can wade through foes slaughtering at will, especially with tough characters like Peter and the minotaur or speedy ones like the centaur. Solving puzzles is equally undemanding. You step on a couple of platforms to cause a staircase to rise up out of the ground, pull switches to open up portcullises, smash through a wall by pushing over a statue, or fire an arrow into a far-off target to release a bridge. Essentially, you spend a lot of time performing the same sorts of duties that you would expect from a traditional action adventure or a 3D platformer.
And, all in all, it works pretty well. Prince Caspian doesn't reinvent the wheel, and the six or seven hours of action flow along so swiftly that you never get bogged down, even with so many repetitive tasks. Gameplay seems well suited to kids between the ages of 10 and 14 or so. The action is not so dumbed down that it would insult their intelligence nor is it so challenging that they might just give up. Some of the platform-style puzzles are even a bit innovative, such as the windy caves where you have to keep torches lit to fend off bats and insects. There are some annoyances here, most notably the way you have to click-click-click your way through prying open chests and pulling levers. But there isn't anything unduly offensive, save perhaps the automated camera that forever turns to face your character head-on. If not for the great 2D minimap in the bottom-right corner of the screen, you'd barely be able to find your way out of some corners. What you can see, however, looks great.
The levels take you to all of the key locales in the movie, such as the ruins of Caer Paravel, Miraz's castle, and the battle of Beruna. All of the medieval architecture, grassy fields, and ancient ruins are also realized with great use of color and shadow. Audio effects and music are also quite vivid and cinematic, although few lines from the movie are featured during gameplay and some of the animated cutscenes are blurry and clippy.
Solid yet workmanlike are the best words to describe The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. It doesn't do anything remarkable, but this is still a reasonably enjoyable way to take C.S. Lewis home.