IGN Review of Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Traveller's Tales, best know for its work on the LEGO Star Wars games, has put together some of the best in recent years with its winning formula for licensed games. Unfortunately, it doesn't follow its own playbook to the finish line with The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. That doesn't mean the game is a total flop -- the basic foundation is solid -- but this game doesn't offer the excitement, depth or cohesiveness most look for in their games.
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, with the light attack button reused for simple interactions. 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.
There's not a whole lot to justify the Wii Remote here. Attacks are done with sidweays or downward thrusts and you can pick up and throw objects with swooping gestures up or down. Switching characters is done with the minus button and you have to reach to the d-pad if you want to pick things up without using the Wii Remote. The oddest choice, though, is for opening chests or pushing large objects. You can swing the remote around to activate it, but if you want to do a button press it is assigned to the B button on the underside of the Remote. Slamming that button to activate things isn't the most ideal. Still, the control isn't a disaster since the action is pretty light to begin with. It's too bad the classic controller isn't supported as this game was clearly designed with that setup in mind.
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 at least the visuals aren't half bad. There's a lot going on at once on screen, particularly in some of the massive outdoor battles, and the game runs quite well. The load times are quick and the detail is quite good for a Wii title. The colors occasionally look a little washed out, especially when compared to some of the more lively Wii games out there, but Prince Caspian holds its own graphically.
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