reviews\ Nov 11, 2004 at 7:00 pm

Lemony Snicket: A Series Of Unfortunate Events - PC - Review

The popular children's series of books "A Series of Unfortunate Events", is coming to the theater soon in the form of a movie based on the first few in the series, and Activision, in partnership with DreamWorks, Paramount and Nickelodeon, has published a game based on the movie for the Xbox, PS2, GameCube, GBA and PC, all of which have been developed by Amaze Entertainment. The console versions are pretty similar across the board (not sure about the GBA version), but the PC version is a little different in terms of gameplay, even though the story elements are the same.

Lemony Snicket's: A Series of Unfortunate Events is based on the first books in the series, so players will follow the early travails of the Baudelaire children, Klaus, Violet and Sunny. After becoming orphans due to the tragic death of their parents in a fire, the children are sent to live with their Uncle Olaf, who has nefarious designs on their fortune. He is a very eccentric actor who lives in a run-down Victorian mansion in England, along with some equally strange house-guests. Like many good children's books, all is not well in the children's world, and sad things keep happening to them. These books treat these events with a decided tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, which is very effective. Unfortunately, this delightful irreverence just doesn't come across very well in the PC version of the game, despite the occasional narrator remarks that draw on this same type of dry, witty humor that is found in the books, on the lines of these editorial comments from the author Lemony Snicket, "I'm sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. "

Screen Shot for Lemony Snicket: A Series Of Unfortunate Events

In the computer game, the three children must complete various tasks based on situations and localities from the book and movie. These are presented as a mixture of action and adventure elements, with most of the emphasis on the adventure mode. Mostly, the Baudelaires will have to collect a list of items for each task, and can also collect health powerups, possible weapon projectiles, poster awards and letter tiles. Sometimes, they have to deflect various hazards, either in the form of Olaf's friends and henchmen or an unpleasant type of creature, by shooting them with projectiles from one of Violet's inventions.

Klaus, Violet and Sunny each have different abilities that at first appear to affect the gameplay, but in reality they all pretty much play the same. Each character will hunt for the items on the list, by searching rooms, and walking and jumping across slightly treacherous ledges and boxes. The only difference is that Violet makes inventions and Sunny can bite things with her teeth, but this doesn't affect the gameplay; Violet's invention skills are only demonstrated in cut scenes when all the items she wants are found, and Sunny's biting method has basically the same effect as the others using their weapons to smash things open. Klaus and Violet both use the same weapons and collect things the exact same way. The console versions feature Sunny in 2D simple platform levels, but that is apparently not the case with the PC version, at least not in any of her levels that we have played so far.

The appearance of the game is an exact replica of the movie and the books and has captured the whimsy effectively. The house and other environments have been painstakingly detailed to match in every way that counts, which makes for a slightly creepy and mysterious atmosphere. All of the characters, good and bad, are exactly like the ones in the movie, and what we would expect them to look like from the book. The voices are also all the ones from the movie, which adds to the pleasure.

Screen Shot for Lemony Snicket: A Series Of Unfortunate Events

The game control is quite difficult. Players have to use the keyboard directional keys for movement and jumping, and the mouse for actions like picking up things and shooting things. While the platforms are simple in design, they're made much harder than they should be by the awkwardness of the utilization of the keyboard, which has the characters moving in jerky diagonal movements with each directional change, instead of a smoother, more "curvy" method of traveling that might have been possible playing with a gamepad's directional stick (there didn't appear to be an option for a gamepad, but this review copy didn't come with a manual; however, we couldn't get our gamepad to work with the game).

A strange design in the control is the method used for finding "hotspots". Players can click the mouse on interesting items, which elicits an "eye" icon, but this icon is tied to the camera viewpoint of the character, a couple of inches above his or her head. This may have seemed like a great idea to the designers, but the execution is less than desirable. Oftentimes, the character's head is in the way of the object, and players have to keep maneuvering the character back and forth and around to get the "eye" icon centered on the item. Also, doors are a big problem for the characters, which often open right on top of the character, who then has to be walked around the door to get through. Cabinet doors are another problem, as the "eye" icon has to be used to open them, but then the viewpoint often doesn't allow a good view into the opening, which again usually means the character has to be moved so players can see into the space.

Screen Shot for Lemony Snicket: A Series Of Unfortunate Events

While there are many good features about this game, mostly to do with the appearance and quality of the animation and graphics, plus the amusing, occasional asides from the narrator, the gameplay itself is less than a pleasant experience. Even aside from the control problems, the game just isn't very engaging. As an adventure game, it quickly becomes old collecting endless lists of items, and there is no dialogue with other characters, or even any comments from them as they look at things, unlike other children's adventure games such as Pajama Sam or Nancy Drew. As an action game, the action is very simple and spaced out; there's no excitement as is found in Shrek 2, SpongeBob Squarepants: The Battle for Bikini Bottom, or Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which is the most similar to this game, probably because it was developed by the same company (KnowWonder, a division of Amaze Entertainment), but is a much more fun game.

While this isn't a bad game, neither is it a very good one. For children who want to relive the world of Lemony Snicket, I would recommend getting one of the console versions, rather than the PC one, they look much more fun.

Gameplay: 6
This game just isn't very interesting. Collecting endless items for a list becomes old after awhile, and there isn't enough other things to do to keep it interesting. The control system also makes playing more difficult and frustrating than it should be.

Graphics: 8 
The look of the game is the best feature, and the designers captured the world of the Baudelaires splendidly in a strictly visual manner.

Sound: 7.5
The orchestral background music fits the mood well. Other than the music, there's not much going on in ambient sound.

Difficulty: Easy
The difficulty level is fairly easy, even with the control problems. There is a slight learning curve at the beginning, due to a lack of clear, repeatable in-game instructions. This copy of the game was a review copy and didn't come with a manual; hopefully the retail product will have a detailed manual.

Concept: 7 
A simple action adventure game, there's nothing really new here, or anything done exceptionally well.

Overall: 6.5
This is a mostly mediocre game, and players are probably better off checking out the console versions, which look like they offer more variety of gameplay elements and a better control system.

Above Average

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