The Lion, The Witch, The Wardrobe & The Sammy
Tue, 24 January 2006
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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Here it is, the game based on the movie that was based on the books. You've probably heard of it, I believe the film got a little bit of press coverage here and there (my sarcasm dial is set on full). The story is set in the World War II era England. These young whippersnappers, Huey, Dewey and Louie...no, that's not it. The kid's names are Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy and in an old wardrobe they find a gateway to another world, a magical place called Narnia. Obviously there's far more to it than that, but I expect everyone already knows the gist of it.
It is standard fare, when reviewing a product of this kind, to say you expect a licensed movie tie-in game to suck a floppy fat one (well, perhaps putting it in those exact words isn't quite standard). That cliché , like most of them, exists for a reason - such games really do tend to be crappy more often than not. But that also allows them to provide a pleasant surprise when they turn out to be reasonably fun. Narnia falls into that latter category for me. While hardly an all time classic, this is an enjoyable enough effort and clearly some amount of care for the flim and its fans has gone into its creation. So, if you love some Narnia action, this game is certainly worthy of your attention.
On one hand, I'm not an ideal candidate to review this game. I still haven't seen the movie and (though I seem to recall my Mum reading them to me as a kid) I haven't read the books, by C.S. Lewis, either. I don't have any reasons for wanting to avoid it or anything, just one of those things I'm yet to check out. On the other hand, having no preconceived ideas or expectations allows me to judge the game purely on its own merits. And on the third hand...aah, that's right, I haven't grown my third hand yet.
At first I thought this was intended solely as a kid's game. It starts off very easy & strongly holds the player's hand in guidance throughout the initial stages. Later on though, it became rather challenging. The game would still likely be particularly enjoyable for youngsters, but I reckon they'd need to be about 10 to 12 years of age to be able to progress through it properly on their own. There are definitely some cool sections for older players too, so I'd say Narnia is a game that audiences of most ages could have some quantity of fun with.
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One of the cooler things about this game is how it uses (very high quality) footage from the movie to introduce the key sections. The video transitions quite smoothly into the action rendered with the in-game graphics engine. That has been done many times before of course, but this is one of the better examples of it I have seen. It sets the atmosphere nicely, makes it all feel that touch more "genuine" and, again, is a nice bonus for the fans.
Narnia's gameplay is the latest example of what's becoming a very fashionable style. It consists of you using all four of the kids, each of whom has their own distinct skills and abilities. You switch back and forth between them and often need to team them up in various ways to progress. It is much like the (rather crappy) recent Fantastic Four game. Actually, the teaming up aspect (and various parts of the game in general) reminded me quite a bit of the Lemony Snicket's game I reviewed way back in January of last year (that must've been one of the first game reviews I wrote here at Buttonhole). This one is more of a challge than Lemony though, for better or worse.
The actual action is pretty much a "beat-'em-up" style thing, which I found rather humorous, given you're controlling little kids. How they are able to kick so much arse I really don't know, but somehow these little tackers can take out hoards of big nasty monsters with comparative ease. As I was just saying, you can team them up for more powerful attacks and each of them is needed at different times for different things. Susan has projectile attacks. Peter is the strongest at close range. Lucy's small size enables her to fit into small spaces & she can replenish everyone's health. Edmund is hung like a horse. (Okay, that last one isn't true- at least, not to my knowledge- I was just testing to see if you were still paying attention). You earn more moves as you go, which diversifies each character even further and helps maintain the player's interest.
They've done a commendable job with the controls, as despite having quite a lot to do, it all feels quite natural before too long.
There are a few aspects to Narnia that enable it to remain somewhat charming for a bit longer than the run of the mill title of this ilk. The little puzzles you need to solve, by using the right combinations of the children's skills are well implemented and certainly give the game some extra depth. There are some pretty cool little "set piece" type portions scattered throughout the levels too: you float down rapids, slide along snowy slopes, fend off attacks while perched in a tree and plenty of other situations. These little bursts of variety shake the action up quite well and provide a nice diversion.
Also, some of the boss fights are quite elaborate; you often need to take several different forms of attack (again switching between the kids at the key moments). On top of using standard offensive moves, you're frequently required to interact with the surrounding environment in numerous ways, in order to emerge victorious from these confrontations. So, undoubtedly the boss battles are usually the most enjoyable sections in the game.
The other things included to extend its lifespan are the usual hidden items and unlockable bonus stuff that have become pretty much the standard deal for these sorts of games.
Even with all these elements though, by the time you get to (or near) the finish, Chronicles of Narnia's constant button mashing action does get a bit repetitious. The other biggest detraction to the game is that it can be very frustrating, due mainly to the crappy AI & poxy fixed camera. The computer takes control of whichever kids you are not controlling and it does so very poorly. They behave like zombies and constantly get stuck, left behind and fail to do what you want. The camera often makes it hard to see exactly what's going on, which exasperates the frustration further.
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For those reasons I just mentioned, I can't see many people, except perhaps for the youngsters, coming back to play this one over again. Once you've seen all it has to offer, I'd say you'll be happy to leave it at that. However, it should manage to keep you entertained (albeit, at times also annoyed) for a reasonable duration before you reach that stage.
As far as the game's presentation goes, it is pretty easy on both the eyes and the ears. It also smells like a rose and tastes like chocolate. (Yep, that was another made up bit). While hardly the greatest looking game around, the graphics stay pretty faithful to the look of the film and do have a few moments of grandeur. The reflections on the ice and other such effects add plenty of charm. The characters are all rendered and animated quite well too. There is some minor slowdown here and there, but it is never too extreme. The only real downside to the graphics is, as I already said, that you can't adjust the "camera" and it tends to force some awkward viewing perspectives.
Narnia's music is, I'd assume, straight from the flim's score and I found it to be very pleasant and suitably rousing (not in any kinky sort of way). The actor's from the movie provide the speech for the game's characters and that works nicely. The limited array of sound effects are repeated to an irritating degree though, which does take the aural side of things down a few notches.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a solid, yet unspectacular, game. It won't rock your world, but it is certainly amiable enough and the gameplay does have a few strong elements to it. If you're a big fan of the film and/or books, I'd say you would definitely enjoy this one very much and be able to overlook its shortcomings. This would be an excellent "family" game- as in, one that parents could happily go through with their kids. Otherwise, for older gamers, if you dig action games that also require you to think a bit, I'd recommend Narnia to you as a rental title.
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More articles by Hillelman
This is well above average for a licensed game, with quite a bit of charm. Especially recommened to Narnia fans & younger gamers