The Spiderwick Chronicles, from developer Stormfront Studios and publisher Sierra Entertainment, is one of those games that’s tough to review. It’s not particularly novel or interesting, it’s not particularly good or bad, and it’s not particularly memorable. It’s one of those games where you play it and say, “eh, ok” and then move on to the next game. My guess is that since the game follows the exact same storyline as the movie it’s based on, most of the gameplay elements were decided upon before development even started, and so Stormfront Studios didn’t feel any need to invest a lot of time or energy into the project. Maybe I’m completely wrong here, but The Spiderwick Chronicles feels like a game where the developer did exactly what was required of them, and nothing more, and then cashed a paycheck.
The Spiderwick Chronicles focuses on the three Grace children -- the twins Jared and Simon, and their older sister Mallory -- and your efforts to help them battle goblins, trolls, and ogres. It turns out that the children have in their possession a special field guide, and if the ogre Mulgarath gets his hands on it, then he’ll be able to take over the world. The children, of course, want to prevent this (if Mulgarath takes over the world then he’ll probably eat them), and together with a brownie named Thimbletack, they devise ways to keep the goblins at bay and the field guide out of reach. Since the Spiderwick world is based on a series of children’s books, these methods tend to involve things like tomato sauce, oatmeal, and squirt guns. That is, The Spiderwick Chronicles isn’t a game where you have to worry about a gore setting or turning on a profanity filter. It’s pretty family friendly.
The game proceeds through a series of quests. During each quest you’re given control of one of the children (or Thimbletack), and you have to meet a series of objectives. For example, at one point in the game you learn that you have to get into the house’s cellar, and so the quest objectives involve locating a treasure map that shows you where the key to the cellar is, finding a shovel so you can dig up the key, and protecting one of the twins so he can follow the directions on the map. Other quests involve fighting your way to a griffin so it can take you to a special glade, rescuing Simon when he gets captured by the goblins, and tracking down the ingredients for a special anti-goblin goop for Simon to use in his squirt gun. For the most part, the quests are not very complicated, and players of all ages should be able to complete them.
The Spiderwick Chronicles uses a third-person perspective where the camera follows along directly behind the character you’re controlling. You use the WASD keys to move the character, you use the mouse to look around (but not steer), you use the left mouse button to attack with your weapon, and you use the right mouse button to switch to ranged combat mode. There is quite a bit of combat in the game since goblins spawn regularly, but it is more tedious than difficult, and mostly it just serves to get in your way while you’re trying to explore and find things for quests. There are also some action sequences, but characters automatically jump when they come to a ledge and climb when they come to a ladder, and so the sequences don’t require a lot of hand-eye coordination to complete.
To help you out in your battles against the goblins, you can also capture sprites. Sprites basically serve as spells in the game, and they do things like heal you or give you a damage boost or make you invulnerable for a short period of time. To capture a sprite, you have to swap your weapon for a sprite net, and then you have to “attack” the sprite. If you hit one, then it will stay with you for 60 seconds. If you can “paint” it and add it to the field guide during this time, then it will stay with you until you need it, or else it will fly away and you’ll have to start over with it. In keeping with the rest of the game, painting a sprite isn’t very complicated. You’re given a paintbrush and a canvas, but all you have to do is move the paintbrush over the canvas, and the image will appear. You don’t actually have to know what the sprite looks like or what color it should be or anything like that.
Other parts of the game are lackluster. The graphics are so-so, and there aren’t many locations to visit or creatures to see. The dialogue is minimal and sounds like it was recorded in a single afternoon. The interface is clunky because it was designed for a console, and so you get things like save points and awkward menu systems that require you to use the “page up” and “page down” keys. And while most of the quests are straightforward, there are some optional quests that require you to explore everywhere and find odd things (like a series of “dwarf relics”), but the game doesn’t give you any help for them. There isn’t even an overheard map to show you where you are or where you’ve been.
And so it’s difficult to recommend The Spiderwick Chronicles. It’s not an awful game, but it’s nowhere near a good game either. It took me about seven hours to complete the main parts of the game and get my field guide to 74% complete. Supposedly, if you finish all of the optional quests and get the guide to 100%, then you get a bonus feature or an extra ending or something like that, but I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to try for it, and that pretty much sums up my feelings for the game.