Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

Written by Cyril Lachel on 12/14/2005 for Xbox  

My exposure to the world of Narnia is quite limited.  Outside of seeing the movie's trailer a few times on TV and in the theater I don't know much about C.S. Lewis' popular book series.  I looked forward to seeing what I was missing, after all this is a beloved series of books that a lot of people seem excited about, perhaps it's about time I journeyed into the world of Narnia and saw what all the fuss was about.  Unfortunately, like so many movie games that came before it, Narnia is probably best experienced in another venue than the Xbox. 

Despite the game's epic tone, the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe tells a pretty standard story set in a fantasy world governed by good (a lion) and evil (a witch).  However, before even getting a glimpse of the world of Narnia the game features you helping four kids escape sure-death from bomb dropping war planes, avoiding adults in a London home, and generally exploring traditional (and very non-fantasy) hallways for coins and special items.  Before too long the children discover a mysterious wardrobe that, much to their surprise, sends them into the snowy world of Narnia.

Much of this game is spent on your adventure going through the snow covered forest, generally making you battle (and avoid) ogres, wolves, minotaurs, and other traditional fantasy enemies.  You'll meet up with some friendly talking animals who eventually reveal that there's a prophecy that four children will help good overcome evil.  Could these kids be those young warriors the faithful are talking about?  Of course they are, if they weren't what would the point of the game be?

Since the story centers on the four kids you will have a chance to switch between them at just about any time.  Each child has a different skill that is used throughout the game to solve puzzles, outsmart enemies, and so on so forth.  For example, Peter, the oldest boy, is strong and wields everything from a stick to a sword (perfect for killing whatever gets in his way).  Lucy, the youngest girl, is a terrible fighter, but excels when it comes to healing the rest of the party and fitting into small areas the other characters are unable to reach.  The oldest girl, Susan, is strong at throwing and using a bow and arrow.  And then there's Edmund, who acts like his older brother and can also climb up poles and other objects to avoid trouble.

The puzzles put each child's skills to work making even the youngest and most vulnerable character useful.  As you progress through the game you'll find that the children's skills improve, allowing you to perform bigger moves and solve more elaborate puzzles.  Susan, for instance, starts by throwing tennis balls and snowballs.  She eventually upgrades to a magic set of arrows and is even able to put enemies to sleep by playing her flute.  Each character has this kind of evolution, ultimately giving you enough strength and moves to defeat even the most evil enemies.

Outside of the puzzles, the game itself is really nothing more than your standard hack-n-slash adventure game, the type where you're basically doing the same moves over and over from one level to the next.  Each character has an attack button and a special ability button, so there aren't all that many moves to burn through in the game.  Actually, I found myself spending 90% of the time just mashing the X button to get rid of any attacker, even the larger characters.  Scattered through the levels are a number of coins that you can turn around and use to buy special moves and abilities.  This is all well and good but most of these moves are performed using the same button combination and are fairly unspectacular … if not downright useless most of the time.

Even though you can switch between the four characters, you're never in control of more than one child at a time.  This means as one person takes the lead the rest will hang out behind you, occasionally doing something useful like helping you fight.  But maybe that's giving them too much credit; I found that for much of the game the characters you're not playing as just stand back watching you fight.  There are plenty of things they could be doing, from using their arrows to take out enemies in the distance or maybe going as far as to heal you, but in order to perform these tasks you'll have to switch characters and do the moves manually.  On the bright side the children you are not playing against generally don't take any damage, so you'll only need to worry about your health during those tense battles.

This journey through Narnia features fifteen different levels which may sound impressive until you actually see how short they are.  Some levels are no more than a few minutes long, and most are nothing more than a few different "rooms" where you do battle and solve puzzles.  Ultimately this isn't a huge problem, but considering that more than half of the game is all set in the middle of a snow covered forest it may see like you're just playing the same level over and over.  To make matters worse, most of the game isn't very hard; it's the type of adventure that always tells you where to go and will essentially solve the puzzles for you.  In the final few levels the developers ramp up the difficulty (by throwing dozens of enemies at you), it's nice to have a challenge, but it left me wondering why more time wasn't spend on balancing it out.

To the game's credit, each of the levels open and close with full motion video segments that are pulled straight from the recently-released theatrical film.  These aren't long segments (generally only lasting a minute or two), but they do a good job of filling in the story and motives for each level.  My only complaint about these video segments is the way they transition from the FMV to the polygonal characters.  The video itself looks so good that when it shifts to the in-game graphics it can be a little jarring, especially when you see how plain some of the actors end up looking.

The graphics in Narnia are good, but nothing you haven't seen before.  You're fighting the same type of fantasy villains you've seen in countless other adventure games, none of them straying too far from the traditional look.  The backgrounds are good, but with so many snow levels it's hard not to wonder if they are just repeating backgrounds.  The animation is equally unspectacular; it's all pretty basic stuff you've seen in every other game of its type.  That doesn't mean it's bad, it's just not the highlight of this experience.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Narnia's presentation is the use of fixed camera angles.  Early on this camera system may make sense, especially if you don't know where to go and what to do … but as you start meeting up with enemies with long-range attacks you'll find yourself constantly being bombarded by objects coming from off-screen.  Although they are few and far between, the off-screen enemies are a real problem and make a few moments a lot more frustrating than they need to be.

Thankfully the audio in Narnia is a lot more impressive than the visuals.  The score sounds like it comes straight from the movie and fits the scenes nicely.  The voice acting is also quite good, both in the FMV sequences and the in-game stuff as well.  Unfortunately, the sound effects are pretty underwhelming, especially since they tend to recycle the same sound effect time after time.  Thankfully you'll be too busy fighting through hordes of enemies to concentrate on the game's sound effects.

The Chronicles of Narnia may be based on an epic book, but that doesn't mean this game has an epic length.  With only fifteen levels it's easy to beat the game in six or seven hours, something most gamers can easily do in one sitting.  While there are a lot of hidden items to go back and collect, I doubt many gamers will worry much about them after they've experienced the entire story.  For one thing, the extras you earn are all pretty weak (such as a video showing the voice actors reading their line).  Another problem is that to get these items you have to do completely ridiculous things, like hit a chair ten times to get ten coins or move a desk around enough to get a special item.  Just because it's in a game doesn't make it any less of a chore, and chores are rarely fun.

But beyond graphics, beyond the easy puzzles, and beyond the fixed camera angles there is one thing I just can't get into, and that's how the story in this game unravels.  While the full motion videos do a fine job of showing you parts of the story, it seems like some of the scenes are just kind of skipped past in order to present something with more action.  I got the feeling while playing this game that it was designed exclusively for people familiar with the source material, people that would be able to fill in the blanks left by the game.  I have no doubt that there are millions of kids who know the story inside and out, but this game could have used a few more scenes of explanation for those of us unfamiliar with the original book.  This works more as a companion piece to the movie than it does a game with a strong story.

Fans of the book and movie will probably find a few things to like about this game, but it's awfully hard to look past some of the game's glaring problems.  In a lot of ways this like a kinder, gentler Lord of the Rings game, but at the end of the day it's just another movie game with good, but not great production values.  It would have been great to see some of the puzzles fleshed out more and some better fighting mechanics, but the game is what it is.  This journey is not essential, but if you feel like you're being called for it, then I suggest you give it a rental and see if it's the type of thing you'll still be interested in when it's over.

The Chronicles of Narnia has a built in fan base that will likely enjoy seeing a classic book brought to the Xbox, but if you're not a fan of the books (or movie) already then you may want to avoid this title altogether.

Rating: 6.5 Mediocre

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

About Author

It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.
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