The Chronicles of Narnia is the latest ubiquitous Disney franchise to capture the imagination of children everywhere. It's no surprise, then, to see the Pevensies tripping through Narnia on mobile phones. After all, there's no reason to settle for merely releasing a game on the Xbox, PlayStation 2, Game Cube, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, and PC. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe for mobile phones is a simple but fairly enjoyable strategy role-playing game that mimics the basic gameplay of any number of "tactics" games you might be familiar with.
Narnia mobile follows the story of the four Pevensie siblings as they travel through a magical wardrobe to the land of Narnia in order to fulfill a prophecy and save the world. The story is divided into 11 chapters, most of which consist of a few quick battles with brief bits of dialogue interspersed throughout. You can play as all four of the Pevensie children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. In some battles you'll control all of the children, and in others you'll have to use only one of the kids. Sometimes you can take control of other story characters like Mr. Tumnus, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, and Aslan. Despite some very slight stat differences, though, most of the playable characters play exactly the same.
Each chapter is set up with a brief dialogue sequence to introduce some kind of mission, like reaching a certain area or finding a certain character. As the involved characters set off to complete the mission, they're repeatedly interrupted by enemies such as ankleslicers, ogres, wolves, minotaurs, hags, bats, and more. This initiates a battle in which you have to defeat all the enemies while keeping all your allies alive. When you finish the battle, you earn some experience points and move on to either fight another battle or begin a new chapter.
The battles are played out on a small battlefield that is divided by a grid that determines where you can move, wait, and attack. You're given an isometric perspective of the battle, which is helpful for showing elevation on the battlefield but makes controlling characters a bit awkward because the directions on the keypad don't correspond with the directions on the screen. For example, pressing up moves your character diagonally up toward the right, and pushing down moves your character diagonally down toward the left. As a result, you'll often take a few missteps as you move your character around the map.
Characters take turns based on initiative, and each character can move, attack, or guard. Each action requires energy, which is replenished incrementally during each round of combat. You can move and then attack, attack and then move, or just attack twice, depending on how much energy you have. This gives you a bit of freedom in planning your strategy, since moving and attacking doesn't necessarily end your turn. You can use energy that would otherwise go toward movement to instead get an additional attack. In addition to moving and attacking, you can forfeit your turn to guard, which replenishes 10 hit points per turn. There are no magic spells or items in the game, so your options are actually fairly limited beyond the three basic commands. Each character has two different attacks: a weak attack that requires little energy, and a stronger but more costly attack. Other than that, there's not much to do in battle, so combat usually results in moving next to an enemy and attacking over and over until you win. Occasionally you'll have to retreat to regroup, but for the most part, all the battles are extremely easy and none take more than five or 10 minutes to beat.
As mentioned, when you finish a battle you earn experience points. However, unlike other strategy role-playing games, this one doesn't demand much in the way of stat, character, or inventory management. All of the character buffing comes from collectible cards that you can purchase with the experience points you've earned. There are 40 cards in all, divided among five different elemental categories. Fire cards increase your offense; wood cards increase defense; and so on. Each character can hold up to three different cards, and you can discard any card at any time--although if you want to equip that card again later, you'll have to purchase it again. Most of the cards grant passive stat bonuses, but some cards give you special abilities, such as automatically healing a few hit points each turn.
The Chronicles of Narnia looks quite good on the LG VX8000 handset we played it on. The characters all look surprisingly detailed, and the battlefields are full of varied terrain that you can use to your advantage when planning your strategy. The one sore spot is the animations. The characters move slowly, and they only have a couple of frames of animation for each attack. If you throw a snowball at an enemy, for instance, it literally takes a couple of seconds for the snowball to move from your character to its target.
The sound in the game might as well be nonexistent. There are some odd, muffled gurgling noises to indicate speech and some beeps and boops to accompany attacks, but that's about it. The only music to speak of is a jingle that plays for one or two seconds at the beginning and end of each battle, which is unfortunate, because the music sounds like it would be pretty good if it were actually allowed to play for any discernible length of time.
The 11 chapters in Narnia can easily be completed in an hour or two. After that, there's a "new game plus" sort of mode in which you can play through the story again with all the cards from the previous game, but that makes the game even less challenging than it was before. For the most part, though, The Chronicles of Narnia is a respectable attempt to bring a strategy role-playing game to your mobile phone without getting bogged down in complex character management. Ultimately, that simplicity can be this game's best or worst feature, depending on the level of entertainment you're looking for.