The Spiderwick Chronicles game is based on a movie, which is based on a book. While normally that spells a recipe for disaster, it becomes evident while playing this title that it's not just a quick cash-in attempt. Stormfront Studios clearly put a lot of time into the game's development, and tried to utilize the features of the DS to the fullest. That's not to say that Stormfront always succeeded, however.
Gallery: Spiderwick Chronicles DS
Spiderwick centers around three siblings who stumble upon their ancestor's handbook to the faerie world. This book, known as the Field Guide, only gets the children into trouble upon finding it. An evil ogre named Mulgarath is determined to get the guide for himself, so he sends his goblin cronies (among others) to attack the children and retrieve it.
The game itself is an adventure RPG, as it includes both exploration elements and turn-based combat. Spiderwick could have benefitted from more adventuring, though. While I love a good point-and-click, the adventure parts of this title tend to be too basic. Not only that, but they get repetitive, as you're constantly doing the same things (like picking up rocks, shaking bushes, and grabbing faeries, for example).
Repetition is, in fact, the game's biggest problem, and the combat system is the worst offender. Obviously, as a turn-based RPG, it's going to be repetitive sometimes – but that's not the issue. In a word, the problem lies with minigames.
Combat seems promising at first. You have the option to either attack with your weapon, faeries, or items. In order to get the maximum damage or healing points, though, you first have to complete a minigame. The minigame is different for each of the characters, which is good, but unfortunately stays the same until the end. Therefore, by your twentieth battle, you get really sick of either drawing lines quickly or pushing buttons in the right order. By the time you're a quarter of the way through, it becomes almost unbearable. That's not even taking into consideration the dodging you have to do in order to survive battles, which numbingly consists of touching your character with the stylus right before they're attacked. It won't be long before performing the same actions over and over takes its toll on you.
Unfortunately, the problems don't stop there. In order to find faeries in the light, you have to blow on the microphone. Spiderwick has you do this a lot, and the worst part is, you're not always rewarded for your efforts. The constant blowing into the mic gets to be ridiculously irritating, especially later on when you have to do it for even more things, like scaring away evil faeries.
That's not to say that Spiderwick doesn't have its redeeming qualities. The system for leveling your characters, for example, is something worth noting. After you kill a certain amount of baddies, you'll have the option to increase the the siblings' stats. They have three stats each – health (their number of hearts), magic power (the number of faeries they can use at a time), and attack power. You can only increase one stat for one character at a time, so you have to choose carefully and really think about your decision. Furthermore, one stat for each sibling will rise exponentially fast, which is another element to factor into consideration when choosing how to spread experience.
The positives don't make up for the game's fatal flaw, however. Had the developers perhaps made a few different decisions, the game might not feel like such a chore by the time you're a few hours into it. Yet, the gameplay is simply too frustrating to make Spiderwick worth the effort.
Controls: You move your character around with the stylus (think Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass). The concept works just as well here as it did there, but if you find yourself longing for the dpad, don't worry – that's an option, too. As per usual, the point-and-click parts work excellently with the stylus, but blowing into the microphone gets old fast.
Visuals: While the character sprites and some of the backgrounds aren't impressive, the interesting style of the artwork often makes up for the graphics. The game looks best in the scenes that are strongly cel-shaded.
Sound: The music is often whimsical and suits the fantasy environment of Spiderwick. Not only are the songs pleasant, but the sound effects also fit the game well.
Story: While the story is cute, it could have been fleshed out more. The game doesn't really spend much time with character development, making those unfamiliar with the movie or books less immersed in the tale.
Difficulty: Spiderwick is surprisingly hard, considering that it's based on a children's book series. Health isn't easy to come by, and some of the monsters are brutal in combat. Even blocking won't prevent you from losing life, and your attacks aren't always strong enough to finish off enemies quickly. There are also many times when it's unclear where you have to go, which can get frustrating. None of this is helped by the checkpoint save system, meaning that if you die, you might have to retrace a lot of steps (and fight more repetitive battles).
Final Score: 5.5/10 – The Spiderwick Chronicles has a lot of good things going for it: the music is fitting, the visuals are unique, and the story is appealing. Despite its potential to be great, though, the gameplay failed to live up to the title's other strengths. The combat and minigames become tiresome quickly, the exploring is too basic, the tasks (like blowing on the microphone constantly) get irritating, and the save system is questionable. While Spiderwick is a lot of fun at first, it's not long before the game just feels repetitive. It's hard to even recommend this title to young fans of the franchise, since the fighting would be too difficult for that age set. If we ever see a sequel, we hope that Stormfront or whoever is involved does some tweaks and makes Spiderwick the game we know it could be.