Chronicles of Narnia exists in a weird space for me. I fondly remember being a big fan of the books and the shows that used to come on TV, but I don't actually remember much of the series itself. I know the basics, of course, from Aslan to Lucy, but the series as a whole is in a weird pseudo-nostalgiac blur in my mind. It was with this in mind that I dug into the DS revision of the movie adaptation of Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.
Chronicles of Narnia is a game that starts off fairly slow. By "fairly slow," just know that I mean that you'll be running around for a good while before the game really gets started. It throws you almost instantly into the action, and you'll have to sit there for a while before you start unlocking new things to do. The good news is that there's plenty of stuff to do. While you are on your quest to release Narnia from the White Witch's grasp, you'll have to befriend various animals and turn them into allies. When you first meet an animal, you'll usually be presented with a list of possible greetings. Pick the one that's the most flattering or truthful and you'll be rewarded. To make them allies, you have to do a wide variety of quests, which includes everything from running races or killing something that's bothering them. Sometimes, a creature will have a friend or two locked up in one of the White Witch's prisons and you'll have to enter that prison, kill everything inside (including a miniboss) and break them out.
There's a lot of killing to be done in Narnia, as it happens. The general rule is that if it isn't a friend, cut it down. Narnia is a remarkably hostile place. It's filled with trees that will grab you and sling you around and more monsters than you can shake the pointy end of a sword at. Luckily, you've got backup. You can control any of the four Pevensie kids as you charge into battle, with swapping between them as easy as tapping a shoulder button. The combat itself is fun, but leaves a bit to be desired. You can give basic commands to the three children that you aren't directly controlling, but that's only really useful when you're fighting a miniboss. Battles with normal enemies tend to be over way too soon for you to give commands and attack at the same time.
The AI is far from perfect, to be sure. Battles tend to consist of the three AI children swarming whichever bad guy is closest, demolishing him (or getting killed, whichever the case may be) and moving on to the next. Trying to use actual strategy is really a waste of your time, as the sheer single-mindedness of the kids will serve you well nine times out of ten. Often times, you can just sit back and watch them do your work for you, if you like.
Some enemies, no matter how many times each of your characters hit them, refuse to go into any kind of hit stun, which results in free strikes on their side. This is beyond annoying when you're down to just your last sliver of life and three out of the four members of your party are knocked down. The fact that the enemies are invulnerable when they're knocked down or standing up just builds on that frustration. Your characters stay knocked down an inordinate amount of time, too, and they get knocked down very easily.
Each child has different specialties and skills, and you can further alter the kids by way of the level-up system. Once you gain enough experience points, your character goes up a level and you can add one Virtue point to one of four pools. If you play your cards right, you can end up with a party that's a team of physical powerhouses, if you so desire. Each kid also uses a different set of armor and weaponry, which you can buy from a number of conveniently-placed squirrels in Narnia. The only problem is that money drops perhaps 5 at a time at most, and the good equipment runs into the high hundreds. Now, consider that you have to upgrade four characters, along with buying banners to impress animals, and you've got a bit of grinding ahead of you. The grinding is helped a little by the numerous quests that the animals will send you on, but that makes it no less tedious.
Chronicles of Narnia is hard early on, and this is mostly due to the occasional healing items drought. There are a few stretches with no fruit to refill your health bar, which means that you may end up literally running on empty for a while. Dying, though, has no ill effects. In fact, it's practically a bonus. It does nothing other than restarting you at the entrance to the current screen with full health. Sometimes, it's to your advantage to enter, die, and then take on the hordes of monsters with full health. This is kind of baffling, to be honest. I don't think that I ever saw a Game Over screen while I played.
Chronicles of Narnia is honestly one of the better looking games on the DS. All of the 3D models are nicely animated and widely varied. The kids will shake and chatter when they get too cold and it's all very believable. The textures are sharp, though there are a few obviously prerendered areas lurking out there.
Chronicles of Narnia is a perfectly fun dungeon crawler-style game, and probably about as close as you'll get to X-Men Legends on the DS. It'd be nice if the touch screen implementation was a little more intuitive, such as some way to have access to the map and your tactics screen at once, instead of having to tap the touch screen nearly half a dozen times total to swap between the two of them. The combat is often frustrating, but that's soon forgotten once you get into the heat of the battle. Chronicles of Narnia isn't a stellar game, but it will fill your action-adventure thirst for the DS. It's a fun romp, but it's also yet another average movie tie-in. Grab it up if you're really hungry for a hack'n'slasher.