It’s sometimes difficult not to be cynical when yet another game based on a movie title comes along.
These tend to be trotted out along with the T-Shirts, the breakfast cereal collector cards and the McDonald’s Happy Meal action toys (that kinda look like the characters in the movie if you squint hard enough). Production values tend to be correlated to movie production schedules and more often than not the overall quality is disappointingly low. We are very happy to report however that The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian does not fall into this category.
C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia books – and the recent movies - are targeted at middle to upper primary school-aged children (although there is certainly an adult fan base), and the game follows along the same, well-trodden path.
We therefore set up some trials using some of the aforementioned little people – both in single and co-op multiplayer modes, and overall they were pretty impressed. We all know there is a real challenge in keeping children of this age focused for any length of time, and it is a testament to the designers’ abilities that they have delivered a game which attracts and holds their attention so completely.
At its heart The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian follows the basic story line of the movie, and each new section of the game is linked by the corresponding big screen footage. For you non-Narnians out there the story goes something like this: A year has passed for the four Pevensie children since their last visit to Narnia; however when they are summoned back to a ruined Cair Paravel they soon discover a lot more time has passed in the magical realm. This time around they and the few Narnians who remain must help a young fugitive prince, Caspian, defeat the uncle who has usurped his throne, along with an invading army of Telmarines.
As players progress in the game they will eventually get to experience some 20 different playable characters from the movie. By and large the most intriguing and the favourite of our review team were the mythical creatures. Whether playing the minotaur, centaur, dwarf or any of the other rich bestiary of characters from the story, each has its unique abilities and fighting styles. That's really the nub of the game; it’s all about fighting and using special abilities to solve puzzles and progress the story.
Keeping in mind the target audience, fighting is about steering your chosen character about and using a limited amount of buttons to smash and bash your way through the hordes of Telmarines. It’s violence on a low scale, with absolutely no blood or visceral action (this is a family show, after all). Enemies collapse and die, and their bodies quickly disappear. Combat is not taxing but for the younger set, the large amounts of enemies and the relatively easy kills hold a lot of appeal and satisfaction.
The puzzles too are set at a level that challenges but does not overly tax the player. They mainly consist of finding the right character for the right job. This includes using the dwarf for climbing and getting into tight spots or the minotaur to smash away obstacles. Some nice touches are included - a universal favourite being the ability to jump on the back of a not-too-bright giant and wading into enemy formations, to smash ‘em like bugs. The giants lumber and stagger about and display some questionable hygiene habits – a fact which delighted our younger male players. The human characters are less engaging with their abilities being less appealing but overall the players you control change regularly enough to keep young minds interested.
As you would expect, progressing through the game includes power-ups to boost weapons and armour – albeit temporarily. Big, shiny and destructive can be used to sum these up; once again it’s about delivering an interesting and appealing game experience. There are plenty of chests to open, plus secrets and keys to find along the way, and these can reward you with behind the scenes footage, concept art and bonus levels, the frequency of which is guaranteed to hold a younger player’s attention.
Visually the game is very good. The developers seem to have eked out every last ounce of power from the PS2, graphics-wise, and the icing on the cake for us was no noticeable drop in frame rate – even during the most frenetic battle scenes. To be honest, the experience felt very much like playing on a next-gen console, with excellent lighting effects and some great environmental touches enhancing the in-game atmosphere. Likewise, incidental sound effects such as birdsong, plus well matched background music helped to blur the boundary line between our wet and chilly reality of a Kiwi winter and the fantastical world that is Narnia.
While there is some freedom to explore each section as you wish The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is ultimately linear in nature. This is not a bad thing however, as it provides a sense of achievement for players as they progress through task after task. An adult player would find some of the puzzle and fighting aspects of the game repetitive - probably annoyingly so; however its pace and level of challenge really hit the mark where the target audience is concerned.
Having taken all of the game’s aspects into consideration we have marked The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian quite highly. Purists (read ‘adult gamers’) may find the game not to their expectations; however for its target audience there’s a load of family-friendly fun to be had that is both entertaining and challenging. It’s wet outside and we’re only half-way through the school holidays; why not send the kids on their own personal journey into the land of Narnia?
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