Reviewed: November 29, 2004
Released: November 9, 2004
When game designers run out of original ideas they turn to the movies. At least thatís the way it seems. This is my third GBA review this month and all three games have been based on movies. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is the latest movie-inspired game that has shipped a month before the movie even hits theaters.
With an all-star cast headed by Jim Carrey, the movie is already looking like a fantastic hit just from the trailers I have seen. I dabbled with the GameCube version before tackling this GBA review and despite some potential spoilers; the games are a faithful adaptation of the novels and Iím assuming, the film.
The GBA does a fantastic job of packing in all the same great action, item collection, gadget building, and puzzle solving that you get on the big consoles while adding some handheld charm. You still get to play as any of the three orphans, Violet, Klaus, or baby Sunny, and you can still switch off between characters at anytime for all new options and possible solutions to puzzles.
To quickly summarize the story, the three children are orphaned when their parents die in a mysterious house fire and sent to live with their evil Count Olaf who is only interested in their inheritance. Itís a depressing tale that is made intentionally darker almost to the point of being funny, but that is also the style of the books and the film so this is good, just not as cheery as some GBA games.
The GBA simplifies the 3D exploration of the console version and handles everything in simple yet effective 2D side-scrolling levels. You start off on the beach doing some simple jumping and item collection then you move into Olafís house where the fun really starts.
Violet is a whiz with the gadgets and can make some incredibly useful tools out of totally random objects. Considering these items stand out as the only things in the level you can actually use they probably arenít that random, but the combinations are amusing.
Klaus was a primary character in the console version since he did all the combat, but on the GBA Violet take the lead. She uses her own inventions and she doesnít share her brotherís fear of heights, so ladders and jumping puzzles arenít a problem. Sunny is able to get into tight places and chew her way through obstacles.
Controls are rather complicated for a GBA game. To select a character you push the select button to bring up the portraits then select with the D-pad and tap the A button. During the game you need to continuously bring up the command menu by pressing the right trigger then selecting from two columns of command icons like open, use, switch, gadget, etc. Actions that cannot be done are dimmed and inactive taking some of the guesswork out.
My favorite part of the game has to be the invention creation interface, which is actually ten times better than the console version. The GBA puts up a silhouette of the final invention and you start picking pieces from the parts list. The full-color part is now overlaid on the silhouette and you must rotate and place it in the proper location. Repeat for all parts until the gadget is complete. You can even acquire additional parts to upgrade existing inventions later in the game.
There are a lot of collectibles in Lemony Snicket. Youíll need to collect puzzles pieces to unlock bonus goodies and then you have butterflies that also need to be collected. The more butterflies you get the more upgrades you can unlock later in the game. All of these various components are nicely tied together to create a challenging little game.
The visuals for Lemony Snicket are solid with digitized stills from the move, wonderful character portraits that pop-up during dialogue and great gameplay graphics. The levels are large and scroll numerous screens in all directions giving you plenty of large areas to explore. There are doors, switches, and moving ledges to navigate in Olafís house and things get really creative once you escape that deathtrap and move into the later levels.
The garden levels are particularly beautiful and even the opening beach level looks realistic and a bit dismal. There are multiple levels of background scrolling for a great 3D feel and the textures, lighting and detailed pre-rendered characters are outstanding. This is easily one of the prettiest GBA games I have played this year.
I didnít really expect all the wonderful voice acting from the console to get squeezed onto my GBA cartridge, but there was a minor attempt to slip in a few bits and pieces of digitized speech. The soundtrack is excellent and mirrors the moody content of the big systems while only sacrificing a bit in quality. The music puts you in a very somber mood, which is just what this game is trying to do.
Sound effects are minimal but good. Youíll hear plenty of environmental noises along with suitable sounds for the various inventions, movement, and item interaction.
Even though you have the freedom to switch characters at anytime the gameplay isnít nearly as freeform or nonlinear as you might think. There is a solid 12-15 hours game here and if you want all the butterflies and puzzles pieces you could easily find yourself pecking away at your GBA for 20+ hours. Thatís a pretty substantial game for the GBA these days.
I really liked Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, both on the console and the GBA, and in many ways this might just be my favorite GBA title of 2004. The designers have combined some really inventive gameplay that mixes collection, action, and puzzles with a great story and stylish presentation. Iíd highly recommend this game to anyone who has read the books, plans to see the movie, or is just looking for a great game.