Tested: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian DS
Franchise games! Just like like comic to film adaptations the thought of a movie turned into a video game is like nails on a chalkboard for gamers. Currently, there are two major films vying for gamers attention. One is Iron Man, a game that goes directly for hardcore gamers with super suit building action and lots of explosive power. The second, however, is targeted at a younger tween demo in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
Last year The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe brought an enitre new generation to C.S. Lewis’ magical realm of heroic deeds. The film, like the book, was tremendous and a really good time (if you go for that sort of thing). For those who wanted a proper translation of that success to video games, well, they were verily disappointed with a game that was just plain boring. Like worse than the Shrek game. It was super linear, combat was boring, you needed two characters to do anything at one time in weird combos, and you collected completely out of place items for power ups. You don’t need shiny spinning coins in Narina. So when I popped in the DS version of the new Caspian game I was _very_surprised.
First off, I love my DS. It constantly amazes me when the graphics are so not what one would call cutting edge and yet they are exactly what I need even when playing a game set in the epic beauty of Narnia. I just go for SNES looking games, it’s beyond nostalgia, it just feels right. Then all the “gimmicks” of touch, sound, and even your own life’s breath to make a game work. With so much going on with the hardware the options for innovative and exceedingly fun gameplay isn’t that far out of reach. Having a developer who will use the hardware for that purpose is the tricky part, especially for a franchise game. Disney Interactive Studios and Fall Line Studios have done that, pushing their own limits to deliver a truly fun and fresh game for fans of both Narnia and the DS in general.
Alright, enough pontificating, what is the game like? Like fun is what! No, really, I was expecting a paint by numbers follow the story action adventure and what I got was a experience the story, action rpg! Can you say tickled pink?
The story of Caspian is set 1300 years after the end of Wardrobe and Narnia is in disarray. What you need to know: a bad guy is ruling and trying to kill the rightful heir of Narnia – Prince Caspian, who must call on the Pevensie kiddies to once again come to Narnia and save the kingdom! Adventure, set, go!
You start as Caspian in the courtyard of his castle for his first combat lesson. This is my favourite part of the game because I was so surprised by it. When you run into enemies on birdseye view of the screen you are taken to a traditional rpg style screen with enemies on one side and heroes on the other. Your party starts off as one, but quickly grows and you can arrange your party depending on your needs in battle. You have heavy attacks, light attacks, and magic attacks. You select which of your party you wish to use by a tap of the stylus and another tap on an enemy takes you to another combat screen. Each type of attack is essentially a mini game on its own.
Heavy sword attacks have one or more swords creeping away from a target in the middle of the screen. You vigorously rub the swords before they slip off screen so that they stab the target instead. You are always on a timer for these moves so you have to move fast and for a complete attack you need all the swords to hit the target.
Slash sword attacks have one or more lines appear on the screen and you must quickly swipe across the line with the stylus. The time limit always makes me nervous especially when a slight mistake will ruin one of the slashes and the attack will be weaker.
Archery has one or more bows scattered around a target and you must use the stylus to aim and pull the drawstring back and hit the target. This one was the trickiest by far for me and not only did I have trouble with more than two bows within the time limit, my aim was not that good. My answer to that was just to avoid using Susan…
Short swords and daggers use quick, jabbing thrusts. Targets pop up on the screen and you have to jab them with the stylus in the center for your attack. Kinda like the DS Super Mario’s Whack’a’Mole mini game.
Heavy attacks have a club appear which you grab with the stylus and must swipe down with when a target appears below. The faster the swipe the more damage delivered. It’s kinda nifty and reminds me of martial arts style block breaking.
And finally, Magic attacks use a pattern wheel that has certain points light up in sequence. You repeat the sequence with the stylus and the spin the wheel quickly to release the magical attack. The bigger the attack, the harder the sequence. Very cool.
Above the battle screen there are also items for health and attack maneuvers like Aslan’s roar. Enemies can be paralyzed or put to sleep and you can attack them with ease. You can also stop attacks from enemies by tapping them when an orange circle appears under them and you have already selected a character to attack with. You can only select members of your party that are standing up as sometimes they sit down to recover. The fact that you can stop attacks by intercepting them is great and adds a certain bit of strategy I didn’t expect, but greatly enjoyed. Susan’s horn is also on the top screen and you activate that for retreat from battle. You tap it and then quickly blow into the mic to sound the horn. Not great on a subway, but super fun at home.
You can change up the party to have a max of three characters and three helper characters (animals). Different mixes can give you different combos in battle. All characters need to be built up with experience points to enhance their stats. After a certain point you can also use Forge mode to upgrade equipment and characters. You are always picking up Forge items and there are side quests to collect more as well.
Your item bag will always be loaded with stuff and using the items is as easy as dragging and dropping over the character you wish too heal/equip. There are items every where and the best part is they are never out of place. You pick up items from the forest that are natural for that location, like apples, and of course there are chests with more specific items.
Another huge part to the Caspian title is that it is Disney’s first game to launch with the new DGamer network. Now the network doesn’t go live until May 16th but I tried out it a bit as well. I want to go into that in more detail in its own Tested so stay tuned for that in a few days time. The basic idea is DGamer is a secure, safe and fun environment for fans of Disney games to interact, trade items, and show off their stats. It’s like a mini Live for the DS and, I have to say, it’s about time. I didn’t think I would go for it as much as I have, but when I unlocked my first item in Narnia (the Caspian outift) my first instinct was to switch the game to DGamer and change my avatar clothing. Bonus items are so addictive, and I much prefer a stat I can show off in avatar form than points form. More discussion on that soon, suffice to say that I was surprised…for a second time.
I’ve spoken alot about combat here, but it’s my favourite part of the game and just so darned fun. Caspian has totally shocked me in terms of what a handheld franchise game could be, heck, what any console franchise game could be!
One thing that is pretty cool since it is based on a book was the use of text and the DS function of turning the console sideways for the dual screen reading mode. All the story is delivered in this way and when the DS icon appears you hold the DS like a book and the story appears in script along with very well done images that were created specifically for the game by an artist who has worked on Narnia covers before. The art is also based on the movie so all of the characters look exactly as they should. I really did enjoy the book-like aspect to the game. It reminds you of where this story comes from and I think even encourages younger players to actually go and read the story they are playing. A nice touch for sure.
All in all this game is fantastic. Yes, fantastic. Not only because it’s one of the few to break the franchise curse, but because it uses the DS so well. Like I said before, if you like Caspian play this game. And if you just love your DS then play this game too.
One last note, I think that the most important revelation I had from seeing this game early and then playing it all weekend was that I remembered where I started. As a kid I played Hook on the SNES and I just loved it. I wouldn’t play a game like that now. I’m all older and snobby with my games. Then I had the opportunity to take a look at Caspian and I’ve been experiencing sheer, childlike fun ever since. I think it’s important to remember the fun we had when we were kids and indulge the inner wee one every now and then.
What better game to do that than with one involving Narnia?
None that I can think of…