Zathura PS2 Review

Zathura is a videogame based on a movie based on a book by author Chris Van Allsburg. who writes and illustrates dark moralising fantasies like Jumanji and The Polar Express (both also videogames based on movies based on books).

The game has had terrible reviews. There’s only one game mode, the main story, and it’s simple and straightforward. There are no puzzles to solve or complicated strategies to uncover; the plot, characters and narrative are basic; and there is no blood, law-breaking, or savagely insane kill kill death modes.

In short, it’s for children. The characters are easy to control, the levels are straightforward, enemies are stupid, there are hundreds of power-ups everywhere, health-bars are massive, and when you die, you respawn in almost exactly the same place. Experienced gamers might blast through the whole game in a couple of hours sneering at all the crappy bits, but Zathura has not been made for them. It’s for a six year old who doesn’t know any better.

There are plenty of annoyances in the game: the camera, controlled by the right stick, has an inverted X axis that’s impossible either to reconfigure or get used to; it’s repetitive; and sometimes the game-physics don’t match the game-appearance, especially on moving platforms, and it’s easy to fall to your death in a pit of lava, over and over and over again. But for a six year old that’s probably fun.

Although you switch characters, you play mostly as sweet little boy Danny, who, left at home with older brother Walter, finds the Zathura board game in the basement while smashing boxes in a sulk.

Walter is a typical older brother – first mocking Danny for being a little kid and then, after bullying him into the basement, mocking him for playing the board game. He soon changes his tune when there’s a meteor shower in the front room. The cut scenes are nicely animated and tightly scripted (as you’d expect from an author whose books sell millions). As the house transforms into a spaceship and Danny and Walter notice star fields drifting past the windows, like most children who find themselves floating through space in a house, they worry about what dad’s gonna say when he finds out.

Like Jumanji and The Polar Express, the Zathura book was a massive seller, and the movie packed cinemas with more kids than you can fit in a mega-jumbo bucket of popcorn. And also like Jumanji and The Polar Express, the videogame sucks for anyone who is not six.

The good news for six year olds is that Allsburg has even more books optioned for movies and, inevitably, video game tie-ins.