IGN Review of Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian follows the story of the second book in C.S. Lewis' epic children's tales, plus tosses in an extra sequence unique to the game in an effort to bridge the 1,300 year gap in Narnia history. In the time since the Pevensie children left the magical land, Narnia has been taken over by the Telmarines and the talking beasts have been driven into the wilderness. It's up to the player to take control of 20 different characters (including the awesome talking mouse Reepicheep) from the movie and help the titular hero defeat the despot King Miraz.
The adventure spans six different stages and a nice variety of locations, as you might expect given the source material. During the 6-8 hour adventure, you'll guide the Pevensies and various mythical creatures through impressive large scale battles, castle crashes and escapes, and various caves, ruins and forests. It's a fairly linear trek through the tale, but you are allowed to choose the order in which some tasks are tackled.
Though the gameplay can get repetitive at times (was it really necessary to make us clear out a guard tower six times in a row?), all told it has some nice variety in puzzle solving and action. The action is simple; each character has two attack buttons and one for interacting with the environment or using a special tool. It's undemanding, and so are most of the encounters with generic Telmarines, but the action does have its moments in the sun. Taking control of trees to smash hordes of Telmarine soldiers or riding around on a giant's back to bash catapults is fun; I don't care who you are or what your tastes are.
The lack of depth to the action doesn't begin as such an issue, but it becomes one by the end of the adventure. It simply doesn't evolve as you move through the levels. There are no move upgrades or enhancements, no special abilities to unlock, and nothing beyond simple button mashing. The only thing you get to mix things up is the occasional special sword or bow (it glows and does extra damage for a small amount of time) or a shield that ups your defensive abilities.
Like the combat, the puzzles and adventuring elements are kept basic. In fact, most of the puzzles simply involve finding a piece to a lever and then pulling said lever, but this is a game aimed at kids so it's hard to complain about simplistic design. The more fun puzzles require you to use a specific character (you can swap between party members on the fly at the touch of a button) to complete a task. Some will need a character with a hook and rope, others need a bow and arrow to shoot out specific targets. Smaller characters can crawl through tunnels while bigger ones can smash obstacles to reveal new paths.
Since you're always in a small party, the game allows a second player to hop in or out of the action at any time with just a few button presses, but the experience for player number two is middling at best. At worst, their presence can drag down the game entirely for both players. It's all offline which means both players have to share the same screen. And that means you'll have to decide together where to go so as not to run into the edge of the screen and hit that invisible wall. Even when things work, one player oftentimes has little to do since all tasks are designed to be completed by just one character. I tried playing one of the final boss battles co-operatively and found that the second player had absolutely nothing to do. Exciting.
To keep those of us with attention issues happy, there are a few things to collect strewn about the levels. Inside every destructible barrel, box or vase -- as well as in plain sight -- you can find small chips to collect which will upgrade your health. Less commonly, you can find golden keys which unlock treasure chests and score you bonus art, video and a few small bonus mini-games. Oddly enough, the keys respawn each time you enter an area, so by the end of the game you'll find yourself with far more keys than you need to open every chest in the game. The bonus content isn't all that special, but finding the chests does provide a reason to go back and play the game a second time. At least the game gives out achievements like free candy so you won't have trouble getting close to all of them on the first run.
The major issue with Prince Caspian is that the game rarely has sufficient context for your actions. Though the game makes use of clips from the movie and cutscenes in between the gameplay, it can be difficult to follow if you haven't seen the movie or read the book. Most people that play Caspian will probably already be familiar with the story to the point of that not mattering, but the game objectives also sometimes suffer from the same issue. Kids may find the instructions on how to complete specific tasks too vague. Heck, I found myself lost a few times. The game designers seemed to assume too much about the player.
But then, that sloppy presentation carries through to the graphics and sound. As powerful as the hardware is that is running it, there certainly is nothing here to indicate that it's being used properly. I thought we were done with the PS2 lowest common denominator affecting how games looked on PS3 and 360, but it looks like that isn't the case. Prince Caspian runs without a hitch on Xbox 360, even when there is a lot going on, but this isn't the visual showcase that the movies are. Unfortunately, the same can't always be said about the PS3. I found an unbearable amount of slowdown the first time I entered one of the large battlefields. It cleared up and didn't appear again, but there really isn't any reason it should ever have an issue running. And while the orchestral music that the game features is a pretty good listen, awkward scene cuts and generic sound effects don't help things.
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