Swing the Remote to dispatch hoards of creepy goblins, but don't expect much more.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is a popular fantasy series among young readers. It's of the Harry Potter variety, only slightly more annoying. In this Wii adaptation you assume the role of Jared, Simon, and Mallory Grace as they discover a book entitled "Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You” that contains a bestiary of magical creatures normally not seen by the naked eye. While it features some decent visuals and exciting combat, these qualities just aren't enough to keep Spiderwick Chronicles from the mediocrity so typical of children’s franchise titles.
Gameplay is surprisingly free-form with exciting battles versus hordes of nasties. These encounters prove to be a worthy lead-up to the ultimate battle with Ogre Mulgarath. This struggle leads the player to explore every nook and cranny of the Spiderwick Estate and the surrounding woods as one of the three children. There are additional missions in which you control a little weasel ally named Brownie Thumbletack. The ability to switch characters is artificial and mission-driven; often these missions are short, and then you go to the next scenario with a different child hero. Each character has unique moves that provide enough individuality and bounce to keep you amused. The inability to cycle through the characters on your own takes a lot of variety out of the gameplay. There is also a fairy mini-coloring game that’s disastrously simplistic and boring.
Controls are functional but not exceptional. Battles feature a simple attack scheme that provides fun on a universal level. There is a quickness and zaniness to combat that highlights it as the game's strong point, and capturing fairies along the way lets you learn magical spells that add an element of strategy. Using the Wii Remote to swing Jared's baseball bat or Mallory's sword to annihilate hordes of creeps with ease is a real treat. However, there is one major drawback. Aiming at enemies with the Wii Remote is slow, moving at a pace that only a very young child will appreciate. As Brownie Thumbletack you can use the Remote to aim at cockroaches and throw needles at them with the "B" button, but this feels like it takes about twenty minutes. Simon's tomato juice gun works a little better, but not much.
Spiderwick’s graphics are generally good, sporting some detailed character models and creepy enemies (that are actually surprisingly intense for a children’s game). Still, there are some noticeable issues. At times the characters and their weapons blend into the background a little too much, and the game camera has control and continuity issues. You’ll find yourself constantly forced to reposition it to get a proper view of the action. And while there are many cinema sequences from the feature film, they are unfortunately grainy and choppy. There doesn’t appear to have been much work put into these interludes; replacing them with original animation would have been a much better fit.
The creepy, minimalist soundtrack adds to the eeriness factor. Each of the characters has a dialogue sound bite they repeat as they defeat enemies or complete a task; while formulaic, it certainly gives the game an authentic Spiderwick flavor. Moments of silence are broken by approaching enemies, but dispatching them with a whirl and snap of your weapon sounds gratifying.
The Spiderwick Chronicles is an approachable game with quality graphics and faithfulness to the series, with briefly exciting combat that makes it fun enough for most players to enjoy it for a while. However, there are also plenty of negatives. The inserted movie scenes are a letdown, battle aiming is slow, and the game’s camera can be annoying. The inability to switch characters is disappointing, as is the fairy coloring mini-game. Overall, these drawbacks add up to The Spiderwick Chronicles being a game that is decent but not exceptional.