The Spiderwick Chronicles Review

The Spiderwick Chronicles isn't bad for a game-of-the-movie, but it's not good for a game.

The Spiderwick Chronicles will not make your inner child throw itself on the ground screaming, or cause your outer adult to turn an even more bitter shade of jade. Indeed, the game manages to relate the movie's plot effectively, has a brisk pace, and is never particularly odious to play. Then again, it's rarely outright fun, since most of the game's elements (collection, fetch quests, easy action, bad platforming) are the kinds of things you would like to escape from, not to.

The story is the main exception. It's well represented in various cutscenes pulled from the film and in the in-game conversations. The Spiderwick Chronicles is the story of a family that, after a bitter divorce, has left dad behind and moved into the estate of a crazy, dead uncle who devoted his life to chronicling magical creatures. One of the kids in the family finds his book, and a magical adventure ensues.

Well, it does in the film, anyhow. In the game, a fetch quest ensues, and then another, and another. You're constantly running about your house and the forest looking for unexciting items like hose nozzles and vinegar. And everything you eventually are asked to fetch can be inspected the first time you see it. So, if you can look at it now, you're going to have to get it later, which begs the question, "Why can't I just grab it now?" The answer, unfortunately, is nowhere to be found.

Sometimes, there's just no separating the mice from the men.
Sometimes, there's just no separating the mice from the men.

One of the first things you fetch is a baseball bat, which you use to kill wicked little critters, gangland style. This beating-things-to-death mechanic, while disturbing, is the best one in the game. It requires only one button, but as you knock the teeth out of your victims, you learn new moves. You only need to hit the attack button, and the new powerful moves just sort of happen once you learn them. The best of these is a golf swing. First, your enemy is launched into the air. From there, you can charge up a mighty swing, as time slows and the enemy falls back down into your strike zone. You then release the button to unleash the bat head, slamming your enemy, who rolls like a ground ball while squirting green blood in all directions before expiring in the dirt and spitting out all his teeth, which you then fetch.

But the real gory, Joe Pesci-inspired pleasure (remember the baseball bat scene in Casino?) is short-lived, pardon the pun. As soon as you upgrade to the metal bat, most enemies don't even live long enough for you to launch them into the air and splatter them into the ground. Even worse, you are soon put in control of a different character, who wields a squirt gun full of vinegar. Even though the concept is just as violent and sadistic (vinegar is like acid to goblins and makes their bodies dissolve while they scream), the reality isn't as fun or visceral. Another character has a fencing sword, which also lacks the brutal impact of the baseball bat. Still, one cool weapon out of three is a much better batting average than most official movie games can hope for.

Given your characters' violent tendencies, what do you think you do with the fairies you catch in your fairy net? If your answer involves tearing off their legs and watching them squirm, burning their bodies with a magnifying glass you fetched, or crucifying them on Styrofoam with are wrong on all three counts. You paint them, and then they grant you a one-time-use ability, like a blast of air or health restoration. While such warm and fuzzy affairs between the boys and their woodland quarry hardly ring true, running about meadows while catching bright happy things in a net is still a treat.

We can't stop here, this is bat country!
We can't stop here, this is bat country!

Less entertaining are the portions of the game involving Brownie Thimbletack. The idea of Brownie Thimbletack is very weird and very fun. He's a tiny, effeminate, drug-addicted bachelor who speaks in rhymes, kills roaches, and lives in a birdhouse. If only the challenges he faced were as colorful. They come in three varieties: jumping, dodging electricity, and, of course, fetching. Jumping doesn't really count as a challenge, because all jumps are handled automatically. Dodging the rampant and freely arcing electricity that exists in the house's walls (shouldn't he notify the family?) only requires a little timing. But the fetch quests are awful and are likely to end your time with the game. You'll occasionally be asked to find a thing and have no idea where to look. You'll wander all over, dodging electricity, spearing roaches, and rhyming to no avail. You may not see the end of this tale!

That pretty much sums up The Spiderwick Chronicles from a gameplay perspective, though there are occasional puzzles (if "Place fuse in fuse box" counts as a puzzle) and some really lame boss fights. It's also worth mentioning that while the major gameplay elements are all pretty stale, the game switches between them constantly, so you're never stuck doing the same thing for long. You won't have a blast playing The Spiderwick Chronicles, but you won't be horribly bored, either. There are also a couple of wimpy multiplayer minigames that unlock as you play through the story, though races to capture the most fairies is likely to entertain only the youngest gamers. In fact, this game isn't likely to entertain anybody for long, because it's both short and easy.

No matter your age, you will likely think the house looks good, and it should be clear that some very talented artists spent a lot of time making it so. The rest of the game looks average, from the character animations to the enemies to the forest. The sound design, on the other hand, is shockingly bad. Every time you examine an object, your character says something. So if you examine some baggies, your character says "Baggies." If you examine them again, you get another "Baggies." If you do it three times in a row, you get "Baggies, baggies, baggies," which is just crazy. And later, the audio breaks down for a while and the speech gets all garbled, which is just lazy.

The characters in The Spiderwick Chronicles do their best with their wicked bats, fairy nets, mouse-man friends, and cool-looking house, but they're no match for the entropic forces of fetch quests, bad platforming, and uninspired action. Though the heroes of the movie eventually save their own day from the forces of boredom, they probably won't be able to save yours.

The Good

  • You savagely kill things with a baseball bat
  • Much of the excellent source material is represented
  • The house looks good

The Bad

  • The platforming is all handled for you
  • Combat is mostly a one-button affair
  • Voice work is always unnatural and occasionally broken
  • You spend most of the game playing fetch

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