In many ways, the trio of studios (Dreamworks, Nickelodeon Movies, and Paramount) bringing Lemony Snicket to the big screen no doubt hopes this will be 2004's equivalent of the super-successful Harry Potter movies. After all, it's based upon a big children's book franchise (nowhere near Harry Potter of course), stars several English children, and even has star power in the form of Jim Carrey. No doubt Activision has high hopes for the franchise as well, and in this regard Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is a decent children's game to go along with the movie release.
Based on the book series and upcoming movie, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events follows the lives of the Baudelaire children as they live through one unfortunate event after another. Violet, the oldest at 14, is the inventor who throughout the adventure makes a variety of devices using common household items scattered throughout the house(s). Klaus, 12, loves to read and remembers everything he's ever read. He's also the strongest, and as such takes on the dirty work like killing rats. Sunny, the baby has four very sharp teeth and loves to bite through things. She's also very small, and as a result can fit in places the other two cannot. After the children's parents die in a mysterious fire, the children are sent to stay with Count Olaf (whom none of them recall). It soon becomes apparent that the Count wishes to kill the children, thereby inheriting the vast Baudelaire fortune.
As expected, the game takes place over 15 different missions utilizing the unique strengths of each child. Klaus and Violet take turns clearing obstacles and conquering enemies, with the child used in each situation depending on the circumstances. For example, when there are snakes to collect Violet uses one of her inventions to capture them while Klaus assists her in opening up new pathways. When rats are the trouble, Klaus uses another of Violet's inventions to pound them into nothingness. When a door is blocked, Sunny will use her small stature to go through one of several 2D side-scrolling areas to get to the other side. Violet's inventions provide new abilities to the children, opening up new areas to explore as well. For example, Violet's stilts allow her to walk over toxic liquid, her Fruit Flinger disposes of enemies from afar, and Klaus' propeller shoes allow him to glide over great distances.
One of this game's strengths is that it provides several different types of gameplay over the course of the adventure. As I mentioned before Sunny's adventures take place in 2D, either forcing the baby to navigate a series of jumps or avoid obstacles while sliding down an incline. Towards the end of the game several more types pop up, including a short light-gun sequence (without the gun of course) and a version of Simon Says used to open a lock. The majority of the game takes place from a behind the player 3D perspective however, and in these situations the tasks Violet and Klaus must undertake are rather easy since the game is linear and the goal usually obvious. Even if the player somehow dies, the game merely puts him back just before the last area attempted with unlimited lives.
The game is pretty short, lasting roughly 4-5 hours for the average gamer without collecting all of the puzzle pieces (see below). Although inventions are made up of items found throughout the house and even though these items are "highlighted" before they're even needed, for some reason the player cannot actually pick up and store these items. My guess is Adrenium saw the necessary backtracking as a way to extend playtime, but it's bad game design nevertheless especially when the children often comment that they can probably use it later. Collecting puzzle pieces helps extend the game a bit, and collecting enough of these unlocks picture clues that lead to hidden packages. These packages unlock bonus content such as movie stills, production artwork, and a series of "Storytime with Count Olaf" video sequences using the game engine.
The graphics mirror the style of the movie faithfully, and are solid throughout. There aren't a lot of special effects or anything like that, but the environments are detailed and the character models look pretty good. Like most multiplatform games, the PS2 version was obviously used as a template for GameCube and Xbox. So while the latter two have a cleaner look overall, they're using PS2 art and as a result it hurts them a little bit in comparison to other titles. There's also a bit of slowdown, but it doesn't really hamper gameplay. Overall there's nothing to hate here, but nothing really to praise either.
Most of the story is told through neat storybook sequences (the picture is drawn in as the narrator speaks), but unfortunately these are used far too often for sequences that the player should've been able to play out. In the end they bog down the adventure, and deprive the player of the chance to see some of the best parts played out in real-time (ex: Olaf's transparent disguises).
The voice acting is competent, utilizing the actors in the movie itself. Tim Curry does a marvelous job as the narrator, and everyone else turns in a good performance as well (although some of the lines are really wooden). For some reason Jim Carrey's voice acting is often at a really low volume, while everyone else speaks at a normal volume. The sound effects are merely average (I recognized several stock ones I've heard before), as is the low-key music score.
A fun and refreshingly different children's game. I was particularly fond of the ending.
The storybook sequences are neat, even if they are overused.
Includes a free child's ticket to see the movie.
Great bonus content, and it's really easy to unlock.
It's extremely short; with a MSRP of $40 that's a little under $10 for each hour of gameplay. A rare example of the movie actually giving you more bang for your buck.
Nothing special going on here with either the graphics or sound, although they're both solid.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is a fairly good children's game, with several different types of gameplay and puzzles that aren't too challenging for younger minds. If you're reading this review this game is probably not worth your time (unless you were a big fan of the books), but your child/niece/nephew will enjoy it quite a bit.