What is it?
first establish the appropriate abbreviation for this game, as this one
has one heck of a long title, “The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, The
Witch and the Wardrobe,” and that’s just too much to be repeated without
wasting an inordinate number of virtual trees. So from here on in it will
be simply Narnia, with apologies to the marketing whizzes at Disney who
wanted us to spend more time typing the title of the game than playing or
Chronicles of Narnia -- the books that is, not this game -- are globally
famous as C.S. (Jack) Lewis’s allegorical adventures of a number of
children in the magical lands of Narnia. C.S. Lewis was a member of the
Inklings, an Oxford literary group focused on legend, poetry and language;
the other particularly famous member, and longtime friend of Lewis’s,
being one J.R.R. Tolkien – a figure of reasonable note in terms of his
influence over the computer games industry. It was during meetings of the
Inklings, often in the Eagle & Child pub (a.k.a. the Bird & the Baby) in
Oxford, that both men first brought their fantastical creations to the
attention of other people.
Lewis’s books that had the more immediate success, of course, what with
them being much shorter and aimed much more directly at children. In fact,
it was Lewis’s commercial success, amongst several other issues, that is
thought to have begun the gradual falling out of Lewis and Tolkien.
of the surroundings, though, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the
first published of the eventual seven novels that form the Chronicles,
although in terms of narrative chronology it is the Magician’s Nephew that
comes first. Echoes of future blockbuster movie chronology perhaps?
jump from the mid 1950s to 2005 when Disney released a mainstream movie of
the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Now, I must admit that I've not been
able to go see the movie yet – so any comments I make here in no way
reflect upon the movie.
the original question in this section, 'what is it’? The Narnia game is an
RPG-like fighting game set in the world of Lewis's stories.
Is there a plot?
The game of
the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is pitched as an epic recreation of
the story of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie. This is a reasonable
description, if you think that the story of the Pevensies is one of
fighting their way almost every step across Narnia to the Ice Queen's
palace, then a massive battle, and the coronation of four shiny-faced
Disney children by a tame lion.
starts abruptly, with no introductory cut-scene or helpful tutorial,
straight in at the deep end trying to get the children out of their
burning home in London. So, battling unfamiliar controls and a novel user
interface in a dark and smoky environment, you are immediately under time
pressure and playing for your characters' lives. What's more, there was no
paper manual to read beforehand to get any idea what's coming – there's
just a help file (a .chm, a Windows compiled help file) hiding away on CD
follows is a cut-scene direct from the movie, evacuating the children from
London to the Professor's house in the country. The children then begin an
exploration of the house, whilst playing hide-and-seek, and hiding from
the house keeper, all of which results in Lucy, the youngest Pevensie, and
Edmund, the third youngest, discovering the eponymous Wardrobe and the
lands of Narnia beyond.
point on, the deviations from the 'proper' story really start to kick in.
I completely lost Edmund's adventures with the Queen – a bug caused the
relevant cut-scene to crash the game every time. Instead I had to skip the
movies that give Edmund and Lucy their motivation for the rest of the
story (their separate encounters with the Queen and Mr. Tumnus) and was
dropped into a cooperative sequence with Lucy and Edmund escaping from
Narnia through a fight with a horde of wolves. I don't remember that from
the book, and there was no mention of Turkish Delight! What gives?
returning to the 'real' world, there are arguments between the various
children about Narnia and the Wardrobe, but eventually all four children,
whilst trying to hide from the housekeeper, Mrs. MacReady, end up going to
trip to Narnia leads to the discovery of the arrest of Mr. Tumnus, and the
adventures of the children with the beavers, Father Christmas and Aslan.
I'm not going to tell the rest of the story here, as C.S. Lewis did a much
better job than I could ever hope to manage. It's a story of difficult
journeys, betrayal, conflict, heroism, sacrifice, deep magic,
resurrection, redemption and restoration. The game manages to include some
of those, references others, and then completely manages to miss the most
important ones in any meaningful manner.
How do you play?
is a game, so there's game play, right? Well, strictly speaking I suppose
there is, but it is almost completely summed up by three words; manic
keyboard mashing. This is not a game for anyone who likes to spend time
pondering options – you're straight into combat at the earliest
opportunity, and killing things is the answer to almost every problem. I
must admit to having great difficulty reconciling this style of game play
with the Narnia stories.
is controlled from the Wardrobe Room, where you select the section of the
story you wish to play next. As you'd expect, there's access to the save
and load menus and options screens, though the latter are restricted to
little more than the configuration of the controls and a few sound and
graphics settings. Nothing novel there.
chosen your section to play, you enter the game proper. In many cases the
section is introduced with a cut-scene. Most of these are taken direct
from the movie, transforming the actors into their electronic counterparts
at the end of the scene and introducing the next combat sequence to the
player. Each of the children has different skills, and these are developed
through the game, with upgrades and bonus abilities available through the
in-game pause screen. The only notion of inventory in Narnia is the skills
selection screen, where you buy new abilities with coins that are
scattered liberally around the environment. Some skills apply to all the
children, such as health upgrades, some to specific children, such as
Lucy's taming skills, and some to specific combinations of children, such
as Lucy and Susan's Rain of Fire skill.
Back in the
game itself, the active child is controlled with the W, A, S and D keys
(player 1), and you switch between children (from those available in a
given section) using the left Ctrl key. The current child is displayed in
the top left-hand corner of the screen, or top-right for player 2 when
you're playing in cooperative multiplayer mode. The other children in a
given section (there can be anything from two to four children in a given
section) will follow around generally trying to block the enemy
characters, but not really doing a great deal. In addition, there are the
H (attack), U and J (special move) and K (combine) keys for player 1.
Combat basically boils down to frantic hitting of H, U, and J until all
the wolves, boggles, ankle-biters, ghouls, dwarves, minoboars, minotaurs,
cyclopses and ogres are dead. Combinations of H, U, and J will make the
child perform special moves – more damaging special attacks for Peter (the
eldest, sword-wielding, Pevensie) for example.
combat sequences are timed, some very frustratingly so -- particularly the
Battle of Beruna, though not (perhaps surprisingly), the Great Battle.
Beruna actually took me three long evenings to get right, whereas the
Great Battle was done in relatively short order with no need for calling
upon the serried ranks of available reinforcements.
interesting control I've not discussed so far is the K, or combine,
control. This allows any given pair of children to combine to achieve
either a greater smashing power (Lucy with any one of her siblings), or
greater combat damage – various combinations of Susan, Edmund and Peter.
Other special powers are available for specific sequences. Susan can also
use her bow and arrows, via the space bar and H keys, to pick off targets
out of range to the other children, and Lucy has very important First Aid
and Heal skills as well as the ability to fit through small openings that
make her more than an annoying appendage.
are 'puzzle' elements in a location, you'll find round tokens over the
targets first with a specific child's portrait. This indicates which
child can perform the relevant action, and once the child is selected, the
appropriate action key to be used (attack key, special key 1, or special
key 2). These are things like having Susan shoot targets to cause boulders
to fall on a group of ogres, or Edmund climbing a tree to retrieve an
item, or Lucy and Peter combining to smash a blocking lump of ice. These
puzzles are always simple, in essence, though getting the timing right can
sometimes be a little frustrating – especially when they involve Susan
playing a tune on her pan-pipes.
contains so few truly notable features that I'm reduced to commenting on
the quality of the graphics and environments. These were nice, reflecting
well the winter-cum-spring aspects of the original story, but beyond that?
Well, there's not much more to say, except to mention that collecting
shield tokens and frozen statues does more than just add to your score for
a particular level. They also earn you access to bonus content, which
consists of self-congratulatory videos by the production team about the
making of the game, and a number of bonus levels. Gee, that was worth
Any other novelties?
remarkable that the only novelty I can find in this game is the control
system. What's worse is that it's not a positive novelty, but something
I'd look to avoid in future games! Player 1 uses the keys W, A, S, and D
for movement and H, U, J, and K for actions, plus Left Ctrl to switch
between available children. For cooperative two player play, just imagine
how cramped you'd both be trying to use one keyboard together!
I found it
most odd to have save games marked with a percentage score that doesn't
reflect progress through the story, but instead the percentage of shield
tokens found. This was particularly confusing, as I thought that I was
only halfway through the game, based upon the percentage score and my
memories of the original story, when all of a sudden the game ended with a
short cut-scene. Bang! Game over. Huh?
we find that a console game has been crippled by a simple porting
exercise, rather than a more complete re-think of the user interface. In
the case of Narnia, this results in there being only three save game
slots. Why three, I do not know, nor do I really care; what I do know is
that it is ridiculous to carry over a feature like this from a system that
might actually have this kind of thing for hardware reasons, to a general
purpose PC that certainly does not! What's more, I will continue to
highlight and complain about this kind of developer blindness until it
The game is
a typical console adaptation of an excellent children's story. It's a
combat-driven, token collecting, RPG-lite imitation of a wonderful story
reflected through a glass darkly. The movie might be suitable for most
children above preschool (it being rated PG in the UK and US), but this
game isn't – this is one game where I think the 12+ rating is right. It
may be glossy and technically competent (apart from two cut-scene crashes,
the first trip to Narnia and the meeting with Father Christmas), and the
animation of the characters and beasts might be good, set in decent
environments, but so many other aspects of the story are missing.
Important things like character motivation and development, and an honest
reproduction of the story. Hence the grade below.
this game for your eight year old, because of C.S. Lewis's Lion, the Witch
and the Wardrobe, nor because of the Disney Chronicles of Narnia movie; it
just won't meet you or your children's expectations.
What do you need to play
Microsoft® Windows® 2000, XP
Pentium™ 4 class processor 1.4 GHz
600 MB free hard disk space
8X speed CD-ROM drive
16-bit DirectX 9-compatible sound card
DirectX™ 9-compatible, 64MB or TurboCache™ Direct 3D
card with Vertex Shader v1.1 AND Pixel Shader v1.1 Support (NVIDIA
GeForce™ 3 or equivalent)
DirectX 9.0c (included)
Joystick or Game Pad (optional)
Requirements (where different from the minimum)
(I used Win
XP, AMD XP 2400+, 512 MB RAM, and ATI Radeon 9000 Pro 128 AGP)
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