This game has a LOT more combat than the movie. True, the movie’s violence was more graphic and in-your-face, but this video game is a war zone from start to finish. The Pevensie children constantly hack and slash at their enemies with weapons, and those enemies cry out in pain before dying and vanishing in a green swirl of magic.
You also have to “duel” some of the friendly animals to earn their respect. This game is not going to give anyone nightmares because the action is viewed from afar, but there the violence was frequent enough to earn an ESRB rating of E-10 (appropriate for Everyone age 10 and up).
The fighting itself is rather mindless. Most of the enemies can be defeated with the same button-mashing strategy. And while there are many unique skills to be learned, there aren’t too many reasons why you’d actually need to use them. There are about 12 dungeons to be explored, but they are little more than dark brown mazes littered with monsters. Exploration is a chore, due to the lack of a world map that lets you see how the different areas connect. The dungeons have no maps at all. You will wander, wander again, and wander some more.
Another problem with this game is that it takes WAY too long to collect money. Defeated enemies drop only 1 ice shard (Narnian currency), or if you’re lucky you might a whopping 3 ice shards! Saving up to buy new equipment or ally banners takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r, and if you decide to upgrade, you can’t sell your old equipment for cash. It disappears from your inventory, lost forever. The currency problem artificially extends the game’s length to about twice as long as it should be. Boring.
Fortunately, this is a pretty good-looking DS game with some nice art design. The Stone Table looks just like it did in the movie, and the forests are full of crooked trees who will grab your characters and throw them to the ground. Everything is animated very well, with the exception of the Pevensies, who look like they’re running in slow motion. Actually, they are running in slo-mo. And that’s the main problem with this game. The animation has been so painstakingly crafted that the gameplay slows down to accommodate the animation.
Once you start your sword-swinging animation you have to sit there and watch your character run through it to the end. You can’t interrupt the flow of the animation, which is simply ridiculous when you want to turn around and whack an enemy who is closing in on you from behind.
The music is rather lovely. The DS is capable of playing orchestrated music, so it’s kind of disappointing that this game uses MIDI, but these compositions are still pleasing to the ears. It would have been nice if the animals actually spoke verbally, but the well-written text is decent enough, I suppose.
There is some commendable material. The Narnian animals will take offense if you speak to them rudely or show indiscretion, so you really have to be diplomatic in between all of the monster-killing. Politeness, kindness, and wisdom aren’t exactly essential to your success since you can basically strong-arm your way to the end, but such Christlike virtues help in your search for allies.
It’s worth noting that Mr. Lewis’ Christian allegory made it into the game intact. Aslan is ultimately the Savior of Narnia on the DS, just as Jesus is our Savior. But while these spiritual themes were featured prominently in the movie and book, they really lose their impact in this action-oriented game. It’s like, “Oh, Aslan died. Rats. Oh well, he wasn’t much help anyway. Let’s go slay some more wraiths and goblins.” The focus is on the battling Pevensies, while Aslan is pushed aside for most of the game.
Overall, “Wardrobe” is a pretty average video game interpretation of the movie. It’s the kind of Action-RPG that keeps you hooked while you’re playing it, but after powering down there’s little motivation to come back later and finish what you started. Control needs to be tighter and everything needs to move faster. “Wardrobe” was a passable choice back when it was the only Action-RPG on DS, but today there are much better games to choose from. Perhaps the upcoming “Prince Caspian” will provide a more satisfying adventure in Narnia?