The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian Review

Booting up the Xbox 360 version of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, I must admit I was understandably skeptical, as any discerning gamer would be of a piece of software released in tandem with a summer blockbuster film. But upon seeing the Traveller’s Tales logo my spirits were somewhat lifted at the thought of playing another game created by the people famous for making enjoyable LEGO versions of various movie properties. Unfortunately, once the incredibly repetitive combat and puzzle solving began I wondered if perhaps that faint hope was merely naivety towards the strain that a big movie license can inflict on any developer, and so it was with Prince Caspian.

The game is of course based on the second film of the Chronicles of Narnia, which is in turn based on the second book of the series. The story encompasses the Pevensie children’s return to Narnia in order to aid Prince Caspian, whose evil uncle Miraz has seized the throne from its rightful heir. My knowledge of this fable was not gained from the game, as the storyline is told in a very confusing clip show, without any real narration or explanation of the events and characters encountered. However, one who is interested in playing this game has probably either seen the movie or knows the story inside and out, as a fan is literally the only type of person Prince Caspian will appeal to.

Once you begin playing it will be quite evident that this title was made by the guys behind LEGO Star Wars, as it features a mix of puzzle solving and action that does feel familiar. Sadly, the one thing not carried over from TT’s previous titles was the fun. Players will definitely be swimming in shallow waters when it comes to the combat, which even by hack and slash standards is quite rudimentary.

The X button serves as your light attack, A is used for abilities that varies by character, B is for interacting with objects, and the Right Trigger blocks. The controls just listed are as simple as the combat itself since there are no combos to learn and no power ups to unlock save a few weapons that will temporarily increase your damage potential. As the player’s abilities remain static so will the rest of the game, with the same basic type of enemy cropping up throughout the entire campaign. If that wasn’t exciting enough, a lack of increasing difficulty causes the combat to feel like not only trudging through shallow waters, but agonizingly thick mud, making the magical journey a painfully tedious one.

Caspian attempts to throw in some variety with the inclusion of more playable characters besides the Pevensie children, such as dwarfs, Fauns, Giants, and even a tree. No, I don’t mean a sentient kind of tree like the Ents seen in Lord of the Rings, I mean a tree as in the ones those hippies love to wrap their arms around. Getting back to the gameplay, these other characters all posses the same types of skills that the Pevensie children themselves have, such as ranged attacks, fitting in small areas other characters couldn’t, and throwing grappling hook. Cookie-cutter PC’s such as these make any expansion of characters one can play as pretty pointless, as the only real difference is a new 3-D model.

Where these varying abilities do come into play is in sections of the game where the action slows down (well it was always felt slow, let’s just say where the action stops) for some puzzle solving. As the game progresses it soon becomes evident that 95% of all the puzzles merely consist of running off to find a switch or lever to open a door, and it’s the same set of items throughout the entire game. Not only do you know what to look for, but the location of the pieces, and where they belong, are clearly pointed out on the in-game map. This makes solving Caspian’s puzzles feel more like playing pin the tail on the donkey without a blindfold, while at the same time having orders barked at you through a megaphone.

Another issue that affects both combat and puzzle solving is the camera, which often blocks your view, and in a game about item collecting this can prove infuriating when a piece you require is blocked by an object that the camera wouldn’t allow you to see around.

There is an offline cooperative component in the game that allows another player to join at any time, but only a few puzzles require more than one person to solve, and each player must remain in the same screen space. Personally I’ve always been under the impression that co-op was supposed to endorse friendship, not providing the motivation to smack your buddy over the head for preventing you from reaching the next area. One element from the first Narnia game that will be sorely missed are team attacks, which let characters set each other up for a devastating blow. This would have made for a great addition to co-op but, like every other area of the game, the multiplayer is very bare bones.

As far as the length of the title goes, Caspian will only last about 5-6 hours, especially for more seasoned gamers that can see right through the transparent puzzles and meager fighting mechanics. There are no additional difficulties to be found, making the collecting of keys that unlock some bonus levels, footage, and concept art the only tangible reason to go back and do it all again. If collecting content isn’t your thing you might be happy hear that the 360 version is pretty easy on the Achievements compared to most games, with about 500 points coming from simply playing through the title. So if you have a kid that might be interested in Narnia, you can always think about setting up an Achievement sweat shop.

Caspian manages to be incredibly underwhelming in the graphics department as well, with rugged environments and character models that look embarrassingly outdated. The game does have some better moments during the large battle scenes that feature an impressive amount of characters on screen, but keep in mind that these are a lot of poorly rendered characters. Even for a rushed licensed game Caspian exhibits visuals that, in this generation of games for the Xbox 360 and PS3, are just plain unacceptable.

One area that cannot be criticized to as much of an extent as the rest is the sound, which thanks to Harry Gregson-Williams’ score from the film brings an epic orchestral feel to the game that, when mixed with the more climactic points, does make for a somewhat adventurous affair. When it comes to voice acting it’s hard to rate due to the fact that all the characters are surprisingly mute. In true Traveller’s Tales fashion most of the dialogue comes through as a series of grunts and yelps, which doesn’t exactly make the plot any less confusing to those not familiar with the series.

Regardless of the point I make about confusion for those not in the loop when it comes to the tales of Narnia, the reality is that anyone unfamiliar with it probably won’t be playing this game. With its bland puzzles and soulless combat, Narnia carries all the markings of yet another movie tie-in that is meant to only stir up excitement towards a younger audience by taking them through all the same set pieces and characters that have already been seen in the theatre the night before. The way the story is told certainly shows this, and anyone looking for actual gameplay aside from reliving the events of the movie will find a very one-dimensional robotic experience that should only be reserved for younger fans of the films who aren’t as likely to notice.

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