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 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.
This product was submitted by the publisher for review. As a rule, Defunct Games does not review games we spent money on. However, that does not always apply to classic/retro games. This specific product, however, came straight from a PR guy for the purposes of being reviewed!