Those of you who fell in love with C.S. Lewis's magical world probably want to experience it in any way possible. Of course, you also want to have fun while doing so. With games like these, fun is never guaranteed, and as I made my way through Prince Caspian, I clung onto that careful caveat.
Is there a "How to Make a License-Based Game" book that we're all unaware of, which requires developers to include repetitive gameplay? Sometimes I think there must be, because so much software based on movies, shows, books, or what have you suffers from this same fatal flaw. Neutered storylines, uninspired music, and mediocre visuals can all be tolerated if there's great or even good gameplay. That's not to say the ideas fueling Prince Caspian don't have potential, but the monotonous combat scheme shoots all that potential in the face after beating it senseless with a bag of horse manure.
You may be thinking: "Those are only the words of a jaded, tyrannical reviewer! A lot of RPGs involve grinding and repetition, that's just part of the territory." Yet, despite your valid concerns, these criticisms are certainly founded. Grinding is all well and good, and in the best games of the genre, it will even be addictive. Prince Caspian won't invoke a gamer's "must increase stats" fetish, though, because there's just no need to.
And now, that brings us to yet another flaw in this title; its difficulty. Considering the game's target audience, this is something that can be overlooked in the best of circumstances. The issue, however, is not that Caspian is easy; the problem is that it provides no drive to level up, and thus the player feels unrewarded after each carbon-copy battle. If the combat system was more compelling, the lack of a sufficient challenge could have been easily forgiven.
There are other factors that make the fighting stale, too. The stylus-based minigames that drive each character's attacks are detrimental to the overall integrity of the combat, because you're bound to get sick of them after a few hours of play. Caspian deserves some credit for these minigames, since they're somewhat fun (at first) and provide a nice amount of variety based on the character or weapon used. The minigame for a person or creature with a sword, for example, is different than the one for a character using magic or a bow and arrows. Performing these actions over and over throughout the course of the game makes them feel menial, though. Not only that, but these minigames don't evolve; instead, you're almost punished as you increase your weapon level, because that only serves to lengthen your attack sequences. So, good sir or lady, you forged your sword to level four, did you? Now you get to trace six swords with your stylus before attacking instead of five! Wait, why are you bashing your head against that wall?
Added to the mix are a familiar cycle of enemy sprites. With the exception of a boss or two, all your enemies will fall into one of the following categories: ogres, werewolves, minotaurs, and Telmarines. As you can probably imagine, fighting the same four characters over and over feels tedious. Being subjected to this makes you want to avoid getting into scrapes, but the narrow pathways throughout most of the game make it impossible to avoid the majority of enemies. When you have to backtrack through areas to find something or someone, these unavoidable foes become even more frustrating.
Before ending this review, it's worth mentioning Disney's DGamer service, which launched with the DS version of Prince Caspian. While creating MySims-like avatars seems a little too "kiddie" for people past their tweens, DGamer does offer some nice features. You can unlock "achievements" throughout the title that get added to your profile, as well as different game-based outfits or accessories for your avatar to wear. Most impressively, though, are the leaderboards, which may help to foster some healthy competition. Each time you go unscathed in battle, for example, you're given a certain amount of points. The DGamers with the most points are then put on the leaderboards. Even though the service is aimed at younger users, it's a nice feature that more companies should think of imitating.
Now that that's all said and done, let's get down and dirty with the details.
Controls: Using the stylus is the most effective way to play Caspian (think Phantom Hourglass). Although you can navigate your characters with the D-pad, talking to NPCs and manipulating the environment requires the touch pen. The battle minigames are also stylus-based, making the button scheme even more useless. Yet, seeing as attacking is intuitive and accurate, there are no major gripes to be made about the controls.
Visuals: Overall, the graphics are unimpressive and the art used in the game is nothing but ugly. The battle animations are the one exception to the less-than-stellar visuals, as those actually look nice, for the most part.
Sound: The sound effects are good, but the music is a complete bore. When the game glitched and no music played for some of the final battles, the change was barely noticeable.
Story: There's no reason for the story in this game to be so mind-numbingly terrible, considering the book and movie manage to entertain just fine. While certain things must understandably be trimmed because of space issues on the DS, that doesn't excuse the terribly written dialogue that plagues this title.
Difficulty: Once you figure out the counter-attack system (which isn't really explained well), Prince Caspian is an absolute breeze. You often gang up against enemies, making it easy to render them useless, and with the exception of some bosses, most foes will fall quickly. If one of your characters loses all their health in battle, don't worry -- they'll be fine for the next one, without you having to worry about giving them health items. Speaking of items, you'll have more than you'll ever need or want to use.
Final Score: 5.5/10 -- Despite its repetitive gamplay, cheesy story adaptation, dull visuals, and easy difficulty, Prince Caspian somehow manages to be fun for a good while, which is impressive in and of itself. It won't be too long, though, before all these flaws fester into a great big ball of disappointment. All in all, Prince Caspian is decent for a license-based game, but forgettable when compared to the vast number of captivating DS titles that you could purchase instead.