'Compass' game includes lost material

Published: Thursday, May 1, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 29, 2008 at 6:42 p.m.

I loved the book and was disappointed with the movie version of "The Golden Compass."

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"The Golden Compass" from Wii beats the movie, but not the book.

Special to The Sun

Most people stop with this comparison of an adaptation, but I was curious to see if maybe the video game version of The Golden Compass was redeeming.

Based on the first book in Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, "The Golden Compass" movie left out quite a bit. I didn't expect the video game to replace the lost material, but I wondered if it could make the included parts more interesting. It did.

The game begins with a narration from the witch Serafina Pekkala, who acts first as a guide and then later as a friend in battle. The action of the adventure game begins with our three main playable characters: Ioreck Byrnison, the armored bear; Lyra, the child heroine; and Pantalaimon (or Pan), her daemon.

Surprisingly, the game begins in the frozen North, searching for a boy. To an audience familiar with either the book or the movie, this seems a giant leap. And it is. But, the narrative jump is an effective one because the frozen North provides a great tutorial. Here the player can immediately jump into the action. Lyra and Pan ride Ioreck on their first mission, while Ioreck fends off wolves and savages.

Fighting as Ioreck is a blast. If you play the game on the Wii it enhances these fights because the player can either press A to slash at the enemies or the player can just swing the Wii remote and accomplish the same task. Having the choice between button mashing and physical movement makes fighting easy for all different experience levels.

But if you are not good at fighting, blood moss is sprinkled throughout the game to heal wounds. Also, sky iron can be collected to upgrade Ioreck's armor and protection. Ioreck can slash with his massive bear paws or grab an enemy and toss him aside with his mouth. Being one of my favorite characters, it was neat to be able to play as Ioreck.

However, he isn't everyone's favorite and the game accommodates multiple tastes with multiple playable characters. Next you are able to play as Lyra. She does not fight, but instead dodges attacks and uses courage points to keep her healthy.

Combining Lyra's character with her daemon Pan provides one of the best aspects of the game. In the book, Pan can morph into any animal. In the game he can only change into four, but it is enough. Pan has four possible forms: ermine, sloth, hawk and wildcat.

Each form comes with its own special power: insight for finding clues, whip for crossing ravines Indiana Jones-style, glide to help fly over short distances and dash to get somewhere faster. Pan's different forms help Lyra in physical challenges and in puzzles to solve each game goal.

Once you complete the first goal and find the boy, the game goes back in time two months, back to Oxford, where the story begins afresh. Here the player is limited to Lyra and Pan, but we meet several crucial characters like Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter. The game continues through Oxford and London to Trollesund, where Lyra meets Ioreck.

Even though I like fighting with Ioreck, and using Pan's different shapes is helpful, I was most curious about how the game would include the actual golden compass or alethiometer. The player uses the truth-telling device to solve in-game puzzles and unlock bonus content.

As you go through the game you collect items to help Lyra deceive or trick people. You also collect meanings to the alethiometer's icons. You can ask the golden compass a question and use these meanings to help decipher the answer. Sometimes you have to guess, but it makes the game interesting.

Even with the interesting parts, there is a lot of busy work in the game, with seemingly mundane or repetitive tasks. And, with three playable characters, particularly with two so strongly connected as Lyra and Pan, it is surprising that the game doesn't offer a two-person mode. Most players will find this game a typical movie spin-off with rushed production to get the game out in time for the movie release.

While I enjoyed the game, my final assessment falls on the well-known final word in adaptation - the book was better.

Cathlena Anna Martin can be reached at cathlena@gmail.com.

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