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Reviewed: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: February 1st, 2005
Page: 2

Ah, so you've continued reading. Excellent.

The game opens, of course, at the same point that the movies and book open. Three now-orphans Klaus, Violet, and Sunny have been taken to live with their "Dear Count Olaf", an "actor", after their parents died in a mysterious fire. Olaf immediately sets the children to work on horrid tasks in his run-down, broken-down house.

Gamers expecting high action or amazing adventure from this title will be disappointed. It sort-of follows the book and sort-of follows the movie plotlines, but the game's designers rightly recognized that those plotlines left little opportunity for, shall we say, anything remotely resembling gameplay. In order to create a game that gives young players the illusion of doing something to advance the plotline, they had to make a few... changes. Basically, in each level, there is a bunch of junk strewn about. The children will be given a task - kill rats, collect and replace books, find hidden items - and Violet will immediately whip up a shopping list of various items she needs for her latest invention. Then, the children travel around the house, assembling weapons and tools and working to get their task done. Sometimes, they are required to split up, and Klaus and Violet can be shifted between; Sunny is limited to being used only during her special mini-games.

Klaus, the bookworm of the operation, gets very little play. Unlike the movie and book interludes on things he remembers, his role is mostly limited to being the "brave boy" and wielding offensive creations such as the "Brilliant Bopper", a spring-loaded boxing glove. Violet's role is to follow Klaus, use auxiliary inventions and ranged weaponry, and haul around Sunny.

Sunny is perhaps the most disappointing of the three; while she is able to chew through anything (including, apparently, steel pipes) in just a few bites, her role in the game is limited to engaging in needlessly circuitous 2D side-scrolling minigames.

Death in the game is not an option; when the children are "injured", their morale meter drops, and collecting lockets with the silhouettes of their parents restores it. Run out of good feelings, and the latest challenge will simply be restarted. While I understand the need for this dynamic in a childrens' title (despite the fact that the children are supposedly in "mortal danger" on many occasions) it would still have been nice to see a little punishment for failure.

Control-wise, the game is tolerable, though not brilliant. The camera is reasonably well executed, until in tight quarters, where it can get hung up on the scenery. The right thumbstick controls its lateral movement, but vertical adjustment isn't allowed. The left thumbstick controls movement, though when Violet's on her stilts it isn't quite instantaneous; this takes some getting used to. Defeating enemies is never about straight fighting but rather dodging until an opening appears - par for the course in a childrens' title. 

In a nice fit of innovation, Activision didn't waste time trying to pre-render visual cutscenes between chapters, or do them in the engine. Instead, dialogue plays out behind a series of sketches, each scene filling itself in (as if being drawn) while the voices talk. It's a nice touch in referencing back to the book, a definite improvement over some games that attempt too much.

The game is full of extras. Completely full. In every level, the children will collect puzzle pieces, either just lying about, in smashable items, or in locked chests that must be unlocked. For every 25 they acquire, a picture of some hidden room's entrance will open up; entering the room and taking the parcel will open up "extra" viewable features from the menu. It's a nice enough touch, though the pieces are ridiculously easy to find. Thus I can only assume that it is once again a nod to the target audience, who will want to see the extras but not spend too much time finding them.

Overall, the game is well designed for its audience, but I would have to advise that players above the age of approximately 12 will not find it very appealing. If you're a parent whose child loves the books, the game is probably a good choice.

Added:  Thursday, February 03, 2005
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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