The Golden Compass Review

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I imagine the days when games based on children’s movies were seldom awful will have many younger games skeptical. The truth is that during the 16-bit days, there were many wonderful games based on children’s movies such as Aladdin, The Lion King and Toy Story. Of course most movie license games were still awful but it was nice to have a few exceptions to the rule. Today almost all movie license games (regardless of target audience) are terrible, with something like GoldenEye appearing once in a generation. Considering other games such as the Lord of the Rings games were decent, you would think that a company like Sega would be able to produce something special with The Golden Compass. Unfortunately (much like Sonic Teams efforts with their mascot), they have missed the mark by quite a bit.

I should clarify before I move on that I have neither seen the movie nor read the successful books. I have heard the books highly praised and the recent movie less so. No matter your opinion on either, this game is very unlikely to do either justice.

The DS version of The Golden Compass is a platformer and my first impressions were good. The menu system, what appeared to be an abundance of play modes and plenty of options meant made it look like I was in for a deep and engaging game. The first few levels also give that impression with what initially came across as a faster-paced version of Prince of Persia; with extras. You play as a girl named Lyra and her two animal friends Pan and Iorek. Pan is a rodent that can morph that can change into three other forms and Iorek is a polar bear. The characters are animated well and the variety and potential for puzzle elements in switching between these characters was exciting. You can turn into birds and other animals to fly over or dig through obstacles and help Lyra by defeating enemies in your path. Lyra has a small arsenal to defeat enemies with but she can also run, climb, grab ledges and crawl. Although feeling a little stiff and some awkward moments when you have to switch characters, the controls work quite well.

So what is the problem?

Despite all the potential as a solid platformer, the game is quite simply horribly and sometimes tortuously boring. There are a few reasons for this. A major one is the same eerie music being played each level which is so generic that I can’t even remember if it is the same track or many similar tracks. The next is the text screens that have characters talking about what they must do next: even if you like the source material I doubt you will find this banter interesting. Although levels look different and are animated well, the level design for each feels (and often is) very similar. They are all overly long and have you repeating the same series of movements over and over in a straight line. There are also stealth sections in some stage that have you sneaking past teachers and searching for keys over and over again until you stumble over the stages end. Some of this may sound similar to other platformers and not so bad but all of the above combined makes the game feel like work.

The Golden Compass is actually quite a lengthy game with over 10 (that doesn’t mean 11) chapters which are also divided into multiple sections. If the game was fun, this would be a great thing but since I have found playing it less fun than a Dad’s Army marathon, it just threw me into despair. No, I did not finish this game or get very far into it. I played for around two hours and realised I was only about a twelfth of the way through. After getting stuck trying to find another obscurely placed key, I turned it off in both anger and disgust. There is only so much time I can spend forcing myself to play bad games and I had more than reached my limit.

If you are a really big Golden Compass fan, you’ll probably want to have a look at this but if you aren’t this is (and should be) a very obvious miss. As said before, it has a lot of clever elements and good ideas but it comes together poorly amongst a lot of bad choices in level design and boring gameplay. After the games prelude I was already forcing myself to play it for this review and while some games get better after time, I am very confident in predicting this one wouldn’t have.

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