It must be pretty sweet to be royalty. Aside from shaking hands and attending sporting events, there's precious little you have to do in terms of actual work and there's the added bonus of owning loads of stately homes, top-of-the-range yachts and entire entourages of cuddly corgis. The trouble is, when you've got such a cushy lifestyle there's always the danger that someone else will want to take it from you.
Spare a thought for poor Prince Caspian, who is cruelly robbed of his birthright by a scheming uncle, forced to relinquish his extravagant lifestyle and flee his luxuriously furnished palace in order to live it rough in the forest with a load of talking animals. Being a royal doesn't sound so great now, does it?
Following the plotline of the upcoming big screen adaptation of CS Lewis' classic fantasy novel, The Chronicles of Narina: Prince Caspian sees you assisting the usurped royal to reclaim what is rightfully his and restore peace and harmony to his troubled homeland of Narnia in the process. All of this takes place over a sprawling 2D world populated by all manner of mythical beasts, including a rather famous lion that just happens to have the voice of Qui-Gon Jinn from Star Wars.
The core game involves wandering around Narnia talking to various creatures in order to further the story. It's the kind of thing that occurs in many RPG adventures of this type, usually those of a Japanese origin, but unfortunately it feels much more forced and dull here. While Prince Caspian has an undeniably entertaining romp as its source material, it's bizarrely selective of what parts of the story it chooses to convey, with key portions of dialogue clumsily stitched together and major events skipped almost completely.
All of this isn't helped by the decidedly dodgy visuals, which in all honesty wouldn't look out of place in a creaky old GBA title. The backgrounds are passable but the sprites are ill-defined and embarrassingly animated, and you'll often find yourself squinting at the screen in order to ascertain if the being you're conversing with is human or otherwise – and in the zany magical world of Narnia, it is of course possible that the latter is the case.
Thankfully, the combat system is far more interesting, both visually and in terms of gratification. Whenever a battle situation is encountered, the game shifts to a 3D viewpoint in the same way that titles like Final Fantasy VII are so fond of doing. However, rather than being strictly turn-based, each move is dependant on your character's stamina bar; so long as this is full they can perform an action, but afterwards they have to pause briefly in order to recover their composure before they can be called in action again.
Refreshingly, attacking in Prince Caspian isn't just a matter of selecting an opponent and pressing a button. Each weapon type – be it sword, arrow or magic – has a different touchscreen input command, which takes the form of a small mini-game. For example, when striking with a blade you have to accurately trace a line using the stylus before the time runs out, which mimics the slashing of a sword. Firing an arrow triggers a targeting mini-game and casting a spell calls for you to correctly chain together a random sequence.
It all works rather well, and thanks to the inclusion of impressive team attacks and a counter system where the player has the ability to preempt enemy action (they handily glow orange just as they're winding up an offense move), it's all rather tactical and actually quite gripping at times. It's a shame then that the six basic attacks quickly become tiresome and after a few hours' play you'll be so proficient that it's almost impossible to lose unless you fail to pay attention.
This worrying lack of challenge is exacerbated by the fact that Prince Caspian isn't the longest game in the world, offering around eight hours' worth of play. Despite this relatively slender playtime it still manages to become boring and repetitive all too swiftly; you simply wander from one location to the next, chatting with the locals, fighting certain enemies and then repeating the whole process until the adventure finally ends. Additional characters become available – including the famous Pevensie children – and while this undoubtedly adds a little to the long-term appeal of the game, the novelty is lamentably short-lived.
However, Prince Caspian does have one more trick up its chain mailed sleeve: the swanky new DGamer system. Essentially a toned-down amalgamation of Microsoft's Xbox Live and Nintendo's 'Mii' system, DGamer not only tracks in-game achievements and high-scores but also allows voice-chat and avatar creation options. In a cool twist, you can collect items in Prince Caspian and then dress your DGamer avatar in them.
Although I'm probably well over the average age of your typical DGamer user, I have to admit to being impressed with what's on display, and with Disney Interactive promising that every title it releases from this point on with interface with the service, its future looks very bright indeed. The only drawback is that DGamer is obviously unlikely to be rolled out on all DS releases, so unless you're a fan of The House of Mouse it's doubtful you'll ever dabble with it in the future.
Regardless of this, it's ultimately a shame that the service is being launched (in the US, currently) with such an average video game. Prince Caspian isn't a complete train wreck by any means but it cannot hope compete with the better examples of the RPG genre that are currently available. The story is unexciting, the exploration sections lack any appeal and while the 3D combat is fun and engaging to begin with, it soon descends into monotony thanks to a limited number of moves and the general repetitive nature of the enemies you fight against. Hardly the adventure you'd associate with a prince, in other words.