It's a rare thing when a videogame adaptation of a blockbuster film doesn't suck. The reason, of course, is simple. Studios want these games to cash in on a movie's popularity as quickly as possible, giving developers little time to develop a product of worth. As such, most of these small-screen adaptations are barely worth their packaging. They're often shameless exploitations of greater works of art. So when a game as enjoyable as The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
comes along, it's a rare treat.
It bucks nearly every trend when it comes to movie-based videogames by offering a polished, well-designed adventure. It looks good, plays well and keeps things fresh by offering a slew of different play styles. It's by no means a perfect game, as none really is, but it's a great game for adolescents and good game for older gamers as well. It makes great use of the source material, too, so fans of the book (and the movie) will love the game's style and narrative. There are even a host of high-quality clips from the movie. About the only problem with this, though, is that the game is currently very spoiler heavy. But hey, if you get this game as a Christmas present, then everything's fine and dandy.
For those who don't know the story, it follows four siblings, Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund, as they inadvertently discover a mystical land hidden inside a wardrobe. Sentient animals and mythical creatures such as centaurs and minotaurs populate the land, called Narnia. At the beginning of the story, Narnia is under the reign of an evil queen named the White Witch. But a legend foretells the coming of four children (known as sons of Adam and daughters of Eve) who will restore the rightful king of Narnia, Aslan the lion, to power. It all sounds pretty hokey if you haven't read the book, but it makes for great reading.
The game mirrors the plot of the book and movie, only there's far more action in the game. Make no mistake, Narnia is an action-adventure game. Thankfully, developer Traveler's Tales crafted a refined action system that any fan of the genre can appreciate. Depending on the stage, you can play as two, three, or all four of the children. You can switch between available characters at any time to make use of their individual strengths. This character dynamic drives the action in Narnia. Peter, the oldest sibling, is the strongest melee character so he's best used as a grunt fighter. Peter's younger brother, Edmund, can climb trees and poles. Lucy, the youngest, can crawl through narrow spaces. And Susan, the eldest sister, can throw snowballs and fire arrows.
Like in most action-adventure games, a series of obstacles and enemies make up each stage. And while most games in the genre take a similar approach, Narnia takes this formula and adds a degree of polish and refinement that's downright rare. And not just rare for a game based on a big movie, either, but rare for action games in general. Every aspect of the game, whether it's the camera, combat system, driving segments or boss encounters, all work the way they're meant to work. If this doesn't sound like too big of an accomplishment, well, just know that it truly is. Take combat, for instance. It's simple, yet varied and rewarding. Each character has two primary attacks at the beginning of the game and there are even team attacks that pairs of siblings can use together. Peter can grab his brother and swing him around like a human mace. Susan can toss Lucy as a mini-projectile. And Susan can climb on top of Peter to fire arrows without sustaining damage from enemies crawling on the floor. These combo attacks all sound funny. Heck, they're downright dopey. But they work well and it lends combat a distinctive flair.
You can purchase advanced moves as you progress by collecting coins. Moves like Wolf's Bane and Ghoul's Bane affect specific creatures, letting you kill them in one hit while others let you heal yourself. You can also purchase moves, short-range and long-rage, that affect all enemies. The game also lets you buy different combo attacks, healing abilities and techniques for putting certain enemies to sleep. About the only thing you can't buy or improve is weaponry and armor. Not that it's necessary, but it would have been cool. Still, practically every move in the game is useful in combat and they all look impressive to boot.
The stages themselves offer great variety. There are fallen trees, frozen lakes, and other naturally occurring obstacles to circumvent. Susan can ignite her arrows and scorch a path through bushes, for instance, and Peter can chop through fallen trees. Lucy can crawl through tunnels and caves to open doors, and Edmund can climb posts and trees to reach important objects. In addition to all this, most stages have a bunch of unique obstacles. In the first few stages, Lucy's the only character light enough to find a path across frozen lakes so her siblings can follow her. Try this with any other character and they'll just fall through the ice. At other times, Susan will need to fire her arrows at a cliff to trigger a rock slide.
About the only thing worth whining about is the monotony of some of the later stages. You'll need to slay wave after wave of beasts near the end of the game and it grows tiresome and repetitive. And since Narnia enables a second player to join in at any time and take control of one of the characters, some of the stages can feel somewhat overwhelming. If you're playing alone, you'll crave assistance from a live player during certain parts. And while the AI-controlled characters handle their own, they're not the best helpers in the world. And at certain points in the game, particularly the later stages, you'll really need all the help you get.
In terms of presentation, Narnia is one good-looking, good-sounding videogame. Each stage boasts a ton of snazzy special effects. Characters animate smoothly, regardless of how much is taking place on-screen. And sometimes, there is a ton of stuff going on. There's one level where you can literally see hundreds of detailed, well-animated beasts marching in the background. Environments, too, are equally impressive. There's a nice variety of them too: from frozen landscapes to ice castles to green fields and more. Make no mistake, Narnia is one damn fine-looking game. And yes, the sound is equal in quality. Everything from the clang of swords to the musical score sounds top-notch.
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