Before the days of the wizard with the scar on his head, there was Narnia series, the most famous novel series produced by the mind of C.S. Lewis. Much like Harry Potter, the stories were insanely enjoyable and captured the hearts of children and Adults alike. The first book in the series he wrote, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, has always been the most popular starting point for adaptations, ever since it's first publication in 1950. It has often rekindled its success through plays, cartoons, TV series and the like. And now thanks to the new feature film, the story will continue on in the hearts of those who missed out on the incredible story during their childhood.
Bringing a successful movie-based title to video game consoles has always been a difficult task for developers. In the rare occasion or two, we will get a successful title, however, there are others that deserve to be in the bin - where we sometimes believe our money has gone once buying these disastrous games. One thing Narnia has going for it, though, is that Traveller's Tales (famed for their work on Lego Star Wars) is behind the helm. Is it a good payoff or is it just another title that falls victim of becoming a terrible cash-in off a movie franchise?
The story of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a relatively straightforward one. Four siblings, Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund, are shipped off to the countryside during the bombings of WWII in London. During a relaxing game of hide and seek, Lucy discovers a Wardrobe that gives access to a magical land called Narnia. The land is under the reign of an evil queen named the White Witch, who is slowly taking over the land with her evil powers. But a legend that foretells the coming of four children (the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve) that will restore the land to its rightful good is the only hope the land has left. Typically, the world is home to a number of loveable mythical creatures such as Minotaurs, giants, dwarves and talking animals.
The game itself follows the same storyline, as well as adding a few sequences that tie the game's levels with the movie itself. The story is fairly simple to follow without prior knowledge of the novel, and is just as memorable. Throughout the game, gamers will be able to play as any of the four children - each with their own unique abilities that help you succeed in certain situations. Peter is big and strong, meaning he's the best for moving objects and hand-to-hand combat, Susan is efficient with ranged weapons (bow and arrows, tennis balls and snowballs) as well as playing musical tunes with her pipes, Lucy can heal people and access tighter areas, while Edmund is, well, useless to say the least.
Narnia is an action/adventure title, sharing some similarities with the EA Lord of the Rings video game titles - a lot of button-combos with some odd puzzles here and there. Depending on the level, there are often two, three or even all four of the children on the screen. You can switch between each character at any given time, as well as teaming up with another to perform unique special moves. For example, Susan and Edmund can team up to perform a whirlwind attack where Susan will dish out a barrage of arrows. Meanwhile, other combos are important in advancing onwards. Edmund can toss Lucy, which is useful for breaking walls and barriers in your way or even help pull Lucy through deep snow.
Most characters have their positives and negatives in advancing further through the game. Peter will be used most often as he is the most effective in combat, Lucy is helpful when you're low on health, and Susan is helpful in taking out afar enemies. The key to this game is paying close attention to each of the four main characters advantages, which forms the reliability on the gamer's ability to change between characters throughout the game.
The downside to all of this is the incredibly stupid A.I of the remaining friendly characters. In most of the levels you will play as a group of four, you controlling one of them. When you move too far ahead you are later left waiting for the others to catch up, which can be a problem when you want to switch between characters - since you can't change characters if they're too far away. There's a lot of hack and slash combat involved and it doesn't help when you're left fighting every single character while for some reason the other three stand there idle watching you slowly die (Gee, great team effort guys). In the rare occasions that they do fight, they won't offer too much assistance.
A lot of the game's problems are perhaps due to carelessness or even time constraints that the developers were under. For the most part, the game is really enjoyable; buying new abilities for your characters, finding hidden items throughout each level, the puzzles and combat is usually quite enjoyable also. However, there are a lot of smaller details that hinders this games success. The A.I is incredibly frustrating, there are a number of repeated cut scenes in certain levels, some of the characters are unbalanced - for instance, you don't even have to use Edmund at all - and the overall length of the game is surprisingly short.
The game is great for the kiddies, especially if you've got two, as they can work together to save Narnia. The difficultly in the game isn't too hard, but there are later sections in the game that can be difficult for their little minds to tackle, meaning that the bigger kids might have to lend a hand every now and then. But thanks to the loveable characters, equally loveable story, the kids will want to try their hardest to overcome the satisfying experience.
The visuals are surprisingly solid for a PS2 title. The game does a decent job at emulating the movie; the environments are nicely designed that create a memorable setting for Narnia. The presentations only problem is the character models. They're quite poor in fact. The four main characters look rather plastic, and the remaining models look somewhat of place in the nicely detailed environments.
The game attempts to emulate the gameplay provided by the previous EA Lord of the Rings titles. The story is broken up into different sequences throughout the movie, and uses these movie sequences to form the basis of each level. However, unlike the Lord of the Rings titles, these aren't as well implemented into the game as expected.
The soundtrack and voice-overs are well done, which is something Traveller's Tales should be commended for. Each of the original casts members provided their assistance for the game that is executed exceptionally well. The music is well produced and creates a great atmosphere for the in-game action. Although a lot of it can become quite repetitive at times.
The Chronicles of Narnia is a fairly solid title, which presents a lot of fascinating gameplay elements. But, due to an issue that seems to plague a lot of movie-to-game transitions, the game suffers from some minor setbacks that pulls the game down greatly. The incredibly stupid AI is unforgivable and is something that shouldn't be an issue in any game these days. Perhaps due to time, or maybe just plain laziness, whatever the issue, this one nagging issue prevents this game from being something much more than it really is.