"At first, I stupidly tried to battle everyone. This is a waste of time. Instead, you need to work actively on the current objective, whatever it might be. These can range from destroying siege engines, bashing stone pillars with your club (while riding on back of a lumbering giant) to simply working your way through the maelstrom to safety."
I've never looked at a wardrobe full of coats in quite the same way since discovering Narnia. The magical kingdom has always held a certain allure. I love imagining that somewhere out there, a special world exists where griffins and centaurs roam wooded foothills and gallop across flower-strewn meadows, just as real as you or I. That attraction works for a lot of people, not just me, and that's why the endearing classic has so often been translated to the big screen and finally to home gaming consoles.
The first thing you'll likely notice if this is your second video game trip to Narnia is the visual leap this game has taken over its predecessor. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was a beautiful game for its time, but now we're in the middle of next-generation gaming. Scenes from the past game like a battle on the cliff while minotaurs marched beneath were incredible because they seemed almost impossible for the available hardware. They were the result of well-executed trickery, of course. In Prince Caspian, though, similar scenes are now the result of a ton of characters on-screen at the same time. You're no longer looking at a background with which there can be no interaction. Now, you're part of it!
Texture work is similarly beautiful. Castle walls no longer have that utilitarian look to them, where every brick is more or less the same. Forests feel alive, with fallen logs lying between patches of verdant grass and rodents scurrying out of your way as you approach. Even the backgrounds are gorgeous. You'll be able to sometimes catch glimpses of distant hills or beaches, places that never had to be rendered as anything more than simply a static background but that here look (even if they aren't) like something more. There exist few of those all-too-frequent moments in other games where some visual flaw pulls you out of the experience. Here, the impression truly is that you've stepped into a fantasy world.
A healthy amount of cinema from the actual film does a nice job of highlighting key emotional moments during the narrative. There are necessary exceptions--like when the game deviates from its theatrical inspiration, particularly for a few instances where you fail an objective and the catastrophic results are brought to life--but the disconnect isn't as huge as it could have been. Character models are quite detailed and at times some of the mystical beasts come close to looking as beautiful as they do in theaters. Traveler's Tales is generally a competent developer and sometimes an exemplary one. Nowhere has that ever been more readily apparent than with its work here.
The main chink in Prince Caspian's armor is its repetitive puzzle solving, something that all of the visual polish can't fully rectify. Early missions see you taunting bears so that they'll crash through rotting logs and you can press onward through a stage, but that grows tiresome a little bit before you can tackle the next challenge. There's another moment where you're raiding a castle and soldiers are ringing bells to sound the alarm. You have to battle through goons to reach them and silence them before time expires. Again, this is repeated too often for its own good. Then there are some puzzles that aren't particularly enjoyable even once, like when you have to rotate round stone discs to assemble a picture of Aslan the lion, only you don't know what you're supposed to wind up completing before you start. Even though each of the above instances does look beautiful, eventually they grow tedious enough that you start to remember more actively that you are playing a game--not always an amazing one--and not touring Narnia.
When you're not solving puzzles, you're usually either exploring or battling. The former is of course handled brilliantly, since everything looks so amazing. The latter is mostly what you make of it. As I already mentioned, there can be a lot of characters on the screen at once. This isn't something that the developers save up for the final battles, either. When the story calls for full-scale wars, you will see them and you will be a part of them. Wading through the mass of bodies can at times be disorienting.
At first, I stupidly tried to battle everyone. This is a waste of time. Instead, you need to work actively on the current objective, whatever it might be. These can range from destroying siege engines, bashing stone pillars with your club (while riding on back of a lumbering giant) to simply working your way through the maelstrom to safety. It's initially a confusing design that quickly becomes a delight to experience and ultimately serves as one of the game's triumphs.
Perhaps the only problem with combat is that it so often proves an exercise in button mashing. Two factors avert the disaster that could have been. One is the occasional boss battle, where you more regularly have to block and even use bits of the environment to your advantage. The other is the fact that you can generally switch between characters on the fly. For example, you might be finding that the soldiers are kicking your tail when you wield Prince Caspian's cumbersome broadsword--effective against a few goons at a time but not against a wall of spears--and so change to a centaur who can prance merrily around the opposition while dealing vicious sword strokes. There are a few character styles, including a giant mouse that's downright lethal and a potion-tossing professor, so that you're less likely to tire of combat than you would be otherwise.
Battles and other portions of the game needn't be tackled alone, either. If you have a friend around, all he has to do to join is press 'start' on the second controller and he'll be right with you, solving puzzles and fighting Telmarine soldiers. I played for awhile with my brother-in-law in the early missions and we had a fantastic time (though some of the later ones do seem designed more around a single-player experience). For most of its duration, this really is the perfect game to play with a friend. Not a lot of the objectives call for teamwork, but the design is such that you'll enjoy having a buddy along for the ride.
One final point that should be mentioned is the abundance of treasure chests lying about for this outing. Finding them all can be quite the challenge and the effort will probably force you to replay stages a few times if you take it seriously. That's a great way to extend the play value, but Prince Caspian hardly needs it. The main adventure will last you around 10 hours and the option to play through with a friend means that you'll likely make repeat excursions. With beautiful visuals and solid design that generally falters only for brief moments, this game really is like picking up a pass to Narnia. No wardrobes or mysterious train stations required.
Staff review by Jason Venter (May 20, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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