In any creative industry there's little more depressing than when a big opportunity is squandered. If someone hands you an expansive world to play with, you'd think it'd be almost impossible to deliver a stale and sterile end product, wouldn't you? It'd be akin to making a movie about Tolkien's Lord of the Rings universe, and then casting Orlando Bloom in it. Just who would do that?
Needless to say, Disney's Narnia cash-in – naturally tied to the giant's follow-up to 2006's box-office smash The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – does not feature Bloom in any shape or form, but the sense of disappointment that was felt by all every time Legolas appeared onscreen during that infamous trilogy is mirrored here, with developer Enorbus offering up a title that makes CS Lewis's imagination feel more like a burden than an opportunity.
That's because Enorbus's Narnia is almost claustrophobic in nature, with progression being motivated by a need to get the whole thing over and done with rather than the excitement and anticipation of discovery that should almost be synonymous with any game set in CS Lewis's wondrous realm. Admittedly, that's hardly a concrete criticism, and Prince Caspian certainly starts off with some promise.
With you in the role of the Prince himself, play initially focuses on introducing Caspian to the ways of the Kingdom – or, in a more practical sense, the game's exploration and combat. The latter takes a rather simplistic form, with the game offering three types of attack with varying degrees of strength and a blocking move. Rivals differ in terms of ability (and, on the same scale, in terms of the experience points rewarded when you defeat them), allowing the deftest amongst you to alter your strikes accordingly.
But for the rest of us, Narnia's battles – which are triggered every time you run into a guard or assailant – are a case of hammering away on the particular attack of your choice, hoping you catch your rival when they let their guard slip. It's a trite system that remains tired and turgid throughout, actually becoming easier as play progresses due to the fact that the game eventually allows you to call on your friends mid-battle.
Certain characters you meet along the way will be able to join you to take a sly and indefensible poke at the enemy during combat, becoming available when your 'spirit meter' fills up. Quite bizarrely, the meter builds when your swipes with your sword miss their target or a rival inflicts damage upon you, meaning it's often better (or at least quicker) to suffer at the hands of your combatant, rather than taking them to the sword mercilessly.
Anything that brings said battles to a close as quickly as possible should be welcomed, though that's not to say that the rest of the game offers up much in the way of entertainment, either. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is an adventure title at heart, but the developer's translation of that is to hand out random task after random task, giving explicit direction for each activity rather than any sense of motivation.
Essentially, this means you spend most of your time following arrows on the screen to collect rocks, speak to certain characters and carry out various other perfunctory tasks. All in all, it involves following a carrot dangling in front of your head (metaphorically speaking, of course) with little opportunity for decision making or straying from the path. As a result, every action feels like a chore, and merely managing to carry on becomes a test in itself.
That's something certainly not aided by the game's plot, with the script often reading like a mistranslation and the narrative making nonsensical leaps as if the game's entire audience has been privy to the entire works of CS Lewis. It's not exaggerating to say that it's often hard to fathom just what is going on, or what you're meant to be doing – especially if, as usually the case with mobile titles, you happen to step away from the action for any length of time.
If that all sounds especially negative, it should be said that what's on offer here is far from a catastrophe – it simply lacks any spirit and feels almost entirely like the film cash-in you might have expected. When you're handed the keys to the kingdom, it's always a bigger blow when the end result falls painfully short, and this is a Narnia devoid of any character, littered with rudimentary tasks and tainted by disillusionment.