Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
The tale that Lemony Snicket recounts is not a pleasant one, nor is it especially clichÃ©d in the world of childrens books. The Baudelaire children haven't had it easy; their folks were killed in a house fire, they've been adopted by their uncle, Count Olaf, who wants nothing more than to off them and collect the inheritance, and no matter how bright things seem to get, an ominous pall is never too far behind.
Still, Violet (the inventor), Klaus (the bookworm) and Sunny (the, uh, mouth) are resilient kids, and they tend to buck up despite the mountain of crap constantly thrown their way. Most of the game is more or less a dumbed-down fetch quest. Violet can assemble random objects (springs, buckets, plungers, propellers, etc.) into makeshift weapons, while Klaus provides the muscle. On rare occasions, Sunny can slip into a crawlspace, which usually leads to a side-scrolling set of challenges, and are easily the best part of the game.
The actual combat -- especially with Klaus -- is spotty at best. Violet's weapons (all whopping two of them) are long-range, and the lock-on is slightly tighter, but in both instances it can be a pain to hit enemies without taking a hit. Most of the "boss" fights are simple half-minute encounters with painfully simplistic attack patterns right up to the very end of the game. Granted, this is a game aimed at a younger audience, but the difficulty curve never really ramps up all that much. A smattering of mini-game-style events (a rhythm-action bit, a Simon-style memory game and a railed shooter al-la Time Crisis) serve to break up the action from time to time, but they're rare.
The game is a mish-mash of graphical ups and downs. While the core 3rd-person gameplay runs along at a relatively smooth clip, the cutscenes show the engine's major flaws. Every time the game jumps to a cinema, the framerate inexplicably nosedives into teen-to-single-digit territory. It's incredibly jarring, and makes no since given that there's no more detail on the screen than in the normal game. When the characters move or speak, it's also rather hard to watch; jerky animations lack any real life or personality, and the marionette-style flapping jaws does nothing to improve the look of the characters up-close.
The game also borrows liberally from The Mark of Kri's sketched-out intros to levels, though here it's done mainly as an intro to the next level of the game. It's certainly not a bad idea, since I never really tired of watching things slowly build stroke-by-stroke into a full scene, but it's a striking change from the otherwise bland visuals of the in-game graphics. Overstretched textures and a generally bland color palette don't help to properly digitize the Tim Burton-esque set pieces from the movie either.
The audio is also rather disappointing. Jeremy Soule's audio team, who normally pump out some amazingly good soundtracks, seem to have dipped into their archives and pumped out tired musical accompaniments. The main theme that plays all through Count Olaf's house seems lifted almost entirely from a section of Champions of Norrath and the other parts are forgettable otherwise. The effects work lacks any real punch, too, hefting the burden on the voice acting to carry the game.
Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a problem given the cast -- which includes Jim Carrey and the kids reprising their roles from the film, and swaps out Jude Law with Tim Curry as Lemony Snicket -- but none of the performances are stellar. Jim Carrey's lines in particular, whether it's because his rubberface isn't visible to help bolster the performance or a general lack of interest in the vocal part, just plain fall flat. Only Tim Curry's readings had any real punch, and even his comments after one of the kids bites it get overly repetitive.
Lemony Snicket works well as a movie/game bridge, but without the license, it's a painfully bland adventure, even for kids. The minigames and Sunny's bits are quite well-done, but the lackluster audio, sloppy controls and general lack of graphical punch drag the experience down. This is worth a look if you've seen the movie and want a little more, but most of what will make the movie entertaining; the performances, the set pieces and the atmosphere are all missing when it comes to the interactive version of things. Rent if you must, but even the free child's ticket shouldn't be enough to convince you this is a worthy purchase.