Itâ€™s the height of World War II, and after the Pevensie familyâ€™s London household is bombed during an air raid, the four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, are bundled off to the country to stay with (although the game never truly explains it) a kindly old professor and his nasty Scottish housekeeper. While trying to occupy their time in the large country house, the children partake in a round of hide-and-seek, and youngest sibling Lucy takes shelter in a beautifully carved wardrobe filled with lush fur coats. To further conceal herself, Lucy delves deeper and deeper into the wardrobe, until she stumbles backwardâ€¦into a snowy forest. The land of Narnia, its mystical creatures, marvels, mysteries and dangers all await, and soon the four Pevensie children find themselves embroiled amid an ancient prophecy that depicts them as Narniaâ€™s final hope against the warring conquests of the evil White Witch.
Though certain movie-licensed videogames in 2005 have transcended the usually dire offerings that accompany Hollywood releasesâ€”most notably the impressive Batman Beginsâ€”The Chronicles of Narnia sadly occupies a solid niche in the popular realms of disappointment, directly beside Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fireâ€”and it actually shares some of the same destructive flaws as Potterâ€™s latest gaming misadventure in terms of an annoying fixed camera, appallingly unreliable party A.I., and an unbalanced difficulty curve.
Following the general theme of the movie, the narrative structure of The Chronicles of Narnia runs alongside live-action clips, though huge chunks of plot are obviously missing in order to keep the game moving at a fair pace. While the inserted clips do help draw players into the sheer beauty of Narnia, they also seriously overshadow the actual gaming visuals, which pale by comparison, and jerkily connect between the two interpretations of environments and character models. Considering the available power within the Xboxâ€”and those games that care enough to utilize itâ€”the lack of graphic performance in terms of design, texturing, and animation is really quite shocking.
Actual gameplay revolves around simple icon-prompted puzzle solving, intensive item and coin collection, and direct and time-based hack-and-slash fighting. In an attempt to better convey the gameâ€™s sense of family interaction, the Pevensie children can â€˜team upâ€™ into pairs during battles to use purchased special movesâ€”hence the extreme coinage collectionâ€”as well as overcome certain environmental obstacles that would remain otherwise immovable. Thereâ€™s a wealth of singular and combined attack moves to be purchased during the Pevensie quest, and though they offer considerable power advantage during standard fights, the more intensive battlefield clashes often descend into desperate button-mashing affairs. Each move has set instigating button presses, but when surrounded by Giants, Minobaurs and Ogres, chances are that careful consideration will be swiftly thrown aside in favor of immediate survival.
Game music is sweeping and majestic in its orchestration, and certainly lends the game a sense of layered richness not readily available in its other departments. However, in-game vocal performances are largely flat, and feel somewhat separate from the live-action preamblesâ€”though the actual movie cast is used throughout both. Sound is further revealed as lacking depth during time-specific gameplay moments where repeated failure (annoyingly frequent thanks to the ramped difficulty) prompts the same chiding line of character dialog over and over, which quickly leads to player frustration at the exacting time demands and lack of character variety.
Most telling across the game is the sense of disassociation gathered from the Pevensie children themselves. Though players can easily cycle between the central characters with a press of the right shoulder button, those siblings left to the control of the A.I. prove to be fairly useless in swiftly following player movement across environments, or providing defensive and offensive cover during levels. The player is often left to do the majority of legwork while frantically selecting between the different children in order to better utilize their assigned skills and moves. This is made all the more annoying when dealing with tricky objectives that play out against the clock. For example, Lucy, as the smallest Pevensie child, can scurry through small openings, or cross thin ice to hit prompted environmental details, whereas Edmund can climb posts, Susan can fire a bow, and Peter can hack through heavy obstaclesâ€”but players will need to use them all sequentially to accomplish certain tasks, which can be a labor of patience when suffering amid incessant enemy attention and against the ticking clock.
Moreover, the game rarely rewards such dedication, as set amounts of collectable statues and bonus item shields are almost impossible to locate fully because of time restrictions, poor visual distribution and, more worryingly, a stunted game camera that remains independent of the player and merely follows the action depending on character positioning. The camera acts as a further hindrance when players want to swing around and quickly search for interactive details or collectable items rather than mundanely wander across every inch of the level hoping the camera reveals some goodies.
Oddly, the actual hack-and-slash component of The Chronicles of Narnia is extremely addictive, and struggling to form powerful â€˜team upâ€™ partnerships amid the madness of battle does provide moments of extreme satisfaction as attending enemies are swiftly defeatedâ€”only to be replaced by willing hordes in a matter of seconds. But, stacked against the pleasingly immersion-friendly fighting mechanics are a restrictive camera, lackluster sound, fractured A.I., and shamefully substandard graphics. The Chronicles of Narnia should perhaps only be recommended to those players faithfully attached to the C. S. Lewis source material, or those die-hard hack-and-slash fans who simply canâ€™t help themselves.