As a child of school teachers, there were several drawbacks to a youth spent around books. Thanks to Enid Blyton, it's still difficult to shake the mental association between smugglers and ginger beer, and discovering The Hardy Boys were written by a collection of shadow writers was hardly a cause for celebration either.
With C.S. Lewis however, you always knew what you were getting, and provided your imagination was up to it you could be transported through an amazing magical realm where you'd encounter strange creatures involved in desperate struggles, and some of the most captivating writing ever printed. Even by the time you became old enough to be irritated by the religious undertones Lewis rather unintentionally included, you still couldn't lose that desperate desire to visit Narnia, just once, just to see that goat person. And perhaps go for a ride on a sleigh.
Although Prince Caspian was the second novel in the Chronicles of Narnia series to be published, it's intended to be the third chronologically. The film series started with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (presumably because nobody in North America would recognise The Magicians Nephew as a title) and of course, whatever order the films are released will apply to the video game series too. Today we managed to get a sneak preview of Prince Caspian on the Xbox 360, and although most games based on films are fairly hit and miss, Prince Caspian may find itself a firm family favourite before long.
Prince Caspian picks up the story a year after the events of the first film, which is 1,300 years later in Narnian time. Prince Caspian finds the Pevensie children returning to a more savage land where the Narnian creatures have been driven into hiding and Narnia is under the rule of the evil tyrant Miraz.
Our initial play-through started with an impressive opening video clip that looked to be lifted directly from the film itself. This set up the first chapter of the game, in which we're dropped right into the middle of a castle siege. The most important aspect of Prince Caspian is noticeable immediately - there is drop-in, drop-out gameplay for two players who can control a number of other characters on screen at the same time, and as you would expect, each character has an individual strength that can be used as required.
Graphically speaking, well... to be honest, my hopes weren't high. Typically in any job after a fashion you tend to be able to spot a train wreck a mile off, and usually games based on films set off some rather large alarm bells. Those of you who have ever played the Atari version of E.T. will be under no illusions on this score.
Fortunately, we're able to report that not only does the game chip away with a flawless framerate, the graphics are way beyond what you would expect from such a title. There is a crisp detail to all the creatures, the scenery is appropriately decorated with fantastic lighting effects, and the outdoor battle scenes are smooth enough to impress fans of Creative Assembly's work. Even the mini-map, whilst simplistic, appeared purposeful and easy to follow.
Each chapter has a series of objectives which can be completed in any order. This is crucial to the non-linear storyline, providing players with ample freedom to traverse through the game at their own pace. These objectives appear to consist predominantly of location-specific puzzles, such as finding a lever to open the castle gate, or pushing over a large pillar to create a bridge over a stream.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the preview copy we were shown, only the first chapter was functional, so we'll have to wait until the final review copy for a more elaborate demonstration of how these objectives tie into the story.
Guiding your posse of mythical creatures around the screen requires some fairly fancy footwork. You can take charge of any creature by tapping the associated button, at which point you'll zoom to that creature and continue uninterrupted. This is a great feature that lends itself well to co-operative play; however, with two people playing sometimes your comrade can disappear worryingly into the background making it a little difficult to perform detailed combat moves. This shouldn't be a huge problem though, it's most likely something that requires more of a familiarity with the controls than we had the chance to achieve in the limited time available to us.
Prince Caspian is developed by Traveller's Tales, who also had a hand in the LEGO Star Wars franchise, so it's little wonder that they share a similar co-operative style of play. Fall Line Studios, a Nintendo-dedicated arm of Disney Interactive Studios, is developing the Nintendo DS version, which we've been told will add more of an RPG twist to the mix. The console versions will have over twenty playable characters, but the DS version will have this reduced to ten or so.
We've been promised a full retail version just as soon as they land over here, so we'll do a comprehensive review at a later date. It's a no-brainer that fans of the film series will purchase the game, but from what we saw, there's a real chance this could become a cult favourite all by itself.