by Jay Seaver
TAKEN FROM "BOARD GAME REVIEW MONTHLY"; REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION: Zathura proudly boasts that it is from the makers of Jumanji, specifically, game designer Chris Van Allsburg. As with his previous creation, Zathura likely will appeal far more to small children than to their parents or older siblings: The serious spieifriek will find much to admire in its hand-crafted workmanship and retro-style design sense, but the play mechanics leave a great deal to be desired.Like Jumanji, Zathura initially displays all the strategy of Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders, with even less actual effort required from the players. They spin a sort of wheel and the mechanized board itself moves the pieces along a predetermined path. Once they reach their new position on the board, a card is dispensed, and the piece is either directed to to move further up/down the game board, or the game will make an earnest attempt to kill its players.
"Leave this game on the shelf."
While one of course frowns upon such a dangerous product being marketed to children, I must admit that trying to dodge the meteors, robots, and alien "Zorgons" that the game throws at the players does at least involve them somewhat in a game that basically plays itself. Otherwise, the only human skill involved would be finding ways to cheat, and there are strong penalties charged for being caught at that! The nature of this game is, in fact, co-operative, despite how the players are initially led to believe it is competitive. Indeed, though the box states that this is a "game for two players", our playtesters eventually found themselves involving their babysitter, Kristen "Lisa" Stewart, and Astronaut Dax Shepard, who showed up to assist midway through.
Our playtesters, young Jonah "Danny" Bobo and older brother Josh "Walter" Hutcherson, handled themselves ably in the game. Watching them play certainly brought back memories of game-playing with my own brothers as a kid, from Walter's indifference which quickly flares into annoyance and anger, to Danny's quick and insincere apologies, to their competition for their father's attention.
Working from Van Allsburg's original template, the team of David Koepp, John Kamps, and Jon Favreau do an adequate job of building the game. One cannot complain too much about the design, which for the most part confronts the players with actual, tactile challenges rather than electronic approximations thereof. Not that there's anything wrong with what comes out of the computer, but it's often a more cohesive experience, especially with young players, when they have to deal with something solid.
The game's biggest problem is that the players often don't seem to be in control of their own destinies; the structure of the game is thoroughly mechanical, with the players always reacting to random events, rather than planning and initiating their own strategies. If the educational goal of the game is to teach co-operation despite the outwardly competitive structure, it's somewhat muted, and poor Lisa found herself on the receiving end of nothing but abuse for no better reason than having been told to watch her brothers. The endgame is fairly unsatisfying, despite the bombastic phase of play that leads up to it.When push comes to shove, Zathura is much the same game as Jumanji - which, despite having been a holiday sensation several years ago, does not hold up particularly well. Young players who had yet to be born when the previous game appeared will enjoy the frantic action and running around, but seasoned players will want something more sophisticated.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13483&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/30/05 02:03:21