Games for Lunch: The Spiderwick Chronicles
Developer: Stormfront Studios
Release Date: Feb. 6, 2008
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Wii, PS2, DS, PC
ESRB Rating: E10+
Official Web site
0:00 I think this game is based on a movie or something. I've never heard of it, but Sierra sent it over, so I guess I'll play it. That's right: I have no shame. Send me a game, and I will play it and write about it. Operators are standing by!
0:01 A title screen with a haunted-looking house quickly gives way to demo footage of some generic school-kid characters swinging sticks, shooting slingshots, and doing other things that don't start with "s." Also, one of the characters appears to be a human-sized balding mouse. More as it develops.
0:02 The default brightness is so low that I can't even see the options screen very well to set it. Something is wrong with either this game or my TV.
0:03 Adjusting the voice volume in the options screen results in one character saying "Cool!" over and over again at different volumes. I find this so hilarious that I waste a full minute just moving the slider.
0:04 Considering this game is probably designed for five-year-olds, I boldly choose the "Hard" difficulty. That's right. NO FEAR!
0:05 A shot of a window through the foliage of a tree. Lightening. "My name is Arthur Spiderwick." He found an unseen world of fairies and such in the woods. The Field Guide he wrote about them would prove to be his undoing, he says. Jump to 80 years later, and Helen Grace moves to the estate after separating from her husband (or "life partner," I guess). She brings her kids: Mallory, "tough, strong, independent," and the twins, animal-lover Simon and angry, curious Jared. This is a surprisingly tight introduction, compared to some of the drivel I've had to sit through.
0:08 "No way I'm going to bed in this creepy house without checking it out first," says my character (Simon?). Basic dual-stick controls for movement/camera.
0:09 Hmm. Simon just appeared in my room, so I guess I'm the other one... (checks notes)... Jared! "This place is creepy," Jared says, but Simon kind of likes it and tells his brother to check out the cool tower. Cue spooky music: Dum dum DUM!
0:10 Pressing B near an old length of pipe sitting in the bathroom makes Jared exclaim "Old length of pipe!" -- and I do mean exclaim. His voice kind of creeps up at the end, as if he's never seen anything so exciting as this old length of pipe in his short life. I keep tapping B to hear it over and over. It's really wonderful in its cheesy way.
0:12 Mallory warns me to go to bed and not wake Mom before her first day of work tomorrow. She flips her hair seductively as she does this. I mean, uh, non-seductively. Who in his right mind would be seduced by a 3-D model of a 14-year-old? Heh, heh... heh?
0:13 As Jared goes downstairs, he hears something fluttering along behind the wall and floorboards. Jared stamps on the sound and it stamps back. "It's intelligent," he remarks. As intelligent as you, at least.
0:14 I follow the mysterious sound into the pantry. The game directs me to the "tasks" page, which helpfully gives me a set of step-by-step instructions for what to do next. It's like a built-in GameFAQs. Kind of nice, actually.
0:16 Unnecessary voice-acting quote of the moment (UVAQOTM): "Huh, oatmeal." At least this one is suitably bored-sounding, unlike the one about the pipe.
0:17 Playing around with buttons, I find that "X" does this weird sliding jump thing. It looks like Jared is sliding into second in the middle of the living room.
0:18 I bust a broomstick off a broom. Now I can break through the plaster wall in the pantry. I'm a destructive little bugger, ain't I?
0:19 UVAQOTM: "A bike pump." Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to record Jared's reaction to each and every unimportant item in the house like this?
0:20 Simon thinks the thing in the walls is a red squirrel. Man, that would be a letdown. UVAQOTM: "Baggies."
0:21 Jared busts open the wall to find a dumbwaiter! It looks like something's been living inside it, so of course Jared climbs in and transports himself up to a hidden study, complete with golden globe and a portrait of "Uncle Arthur."
0:22 I find a key to a chest I saw before with a note: "In a man's torso you will find, my secret to all mankind." Hmm. In a man's torso. I know! I'll fashion a shiv out of the broom handle and CHOP UP THE TORSOS OF EVERYONE I SEE TO FIND THE SECRET! BWAHAHAHAHA! Ahem. Sorry.
0:23 Jared will happily comment about oatmeal, but when I want to see what he thinks of Uncle Arthur's desk, he's frustratingly silent.
0:24 The chest has the Field Guide mentioned earlier, which comes with a warning: "Do not dare read this book, for if you take one fateful look, you barter at your life's expense, and face a deadly consequence." Good lord, those are some cheesy rhymes.
0:25 Cut scenes from the movie, I suppose. Jared opens the book, despite the rhyming warning, and reads through the night. The house has a "Boggart" who will cause trouble until Jared earns its trust and it becomes a Brownie. Does Girl Scout come after that?
0:26 Apparently I destroyed the Boggart's house when I went in the dumbwaiter. Now I have to find a new one.
0:28 UVAQOTM: "Ugh, stinky." (This in response to vinegar.)
0:29 UVAQOTM: "It's an old barrel."
0:30 Thirty minutes in and there's absolutely no sign of the nonstop action I saw in the demo. If I were an eight-year-old I'd have moved on to Grand Theft Auto by now.
0:31 I find some birdhouses outside, but Jared complains that they're too high to reach -- despite the fact that they're hanging about six inches above his head. Sigh.
0:32 Hey, it's Mom's first day of work today. Shouldn't I be in school?
0:34 The in-game FAQ tells me to check the garden shed for a grounded birdhouse. It also tells me to get a bat from Mom's room and break open the fake shelves in the attic. This game practically plays itself!
0:38 I place the birdhouse onto the desk in the study and place a cracker with some honey to lure the Boggart (as the Field Guide said I should). The Boggart berates me for stealing the book and reading it despite the warning, but he really likes the honey, so he turns into a Brownie named Thimbletack. He has the most misshapen face I have EVER seen. He warns me about an ogre that's gonna kill me and blah blah blah.
0:40 Now I'm controlling Thimbletack. He has an incredibly floaty autojump that launches him up to twice his height whenever he reaches even a modest gap. Weird.
0:41 Finally, some action! I go into "ranged mode" with RT and throw a needle at a cockroach. Hey, I'll take what I can get at this point.
0:43 "Safely down. Like a penny, I'm sound." Thimbletack's rhymes don't even make sense!
0:44 "I hate to bother with a silly ramble, but up a go with a scurry scramble." Who is he talking to? The cockroaches?
0:46 I'm liking the jaunty music and the climbing sound effects, despite myself.
0:47 "Where this wire leads should serve my needs." Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!
0:49 I unlock the "Roach Killer" Achievement for 10 Gamerscore points. This is a proud day in my gaming career.
0:50 In case you're interested, for the past 10 minutes I've been chasing a donut-shaped stone that keeps falling just out of reach, but why would you care? I barely care, and I'm playing the game.
0:52 For some reason, I can only use my super-floaty jump when I run off ledges. When I want to jump from the ground to the stone that's RIGHT ON TOP OF THE PAINT CAN I'M STANDING NEXT TO, no dice.
0:56 I return to the study and give Jared the stone, which he can use to see Goblins, apparently. Now Jared needs to go see Simon about building a monocle to hold it in place. A MONOCLE. Boy, this game really knows what the kids today are interested in, and by that I mean MONOCLES!
0:58 Thimbletack had a nice little dash to speed along his meandering. Jared seems lackadaisical by comparison.
1:00 After helping Simon get the cat down from the roof with a slingshot (less exciting than it sounds), now I'm controlling Simon and looking for monocle-building equipment. The excitement: You could cut it with a wet noodle.
Would I play this game for more than an hour? No.
Why? I'm not a particularly brain-dead two-year-old, nor am I one of the three die-hard fans of "The Spiderwick Chronicles" movie.
This column was based on a retail copy of the game provided by Sierra.
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