Review by JustinW303
"Mediocre, bland, average. Notice the theme here?"
We all knew it would happen. With the overwhelming popularity of anything remotely related to Harry Potter, everyone knew there had to be a video game somewhere down the line. Fans of the series embraced the idea, genuinely excited by just the thought of being able to control Harry and live out his first year at the legendary wizarding school. Others, though, cringed at the mere mention of yet another game based on a license. What could it bring to the table that would make it anything worth playing? How accurately could EA emulate the atmosphere of the books? The final product isn’t anything amazing or groundbreaking in the slightest, but anyone interested in the series ought to give it a try.
Being as the game is based on a best-selling book, you’d naturally expect it to rely heavily on the story elements of that book. With this game, such an assumption would be proven wrong within the first few minutes of playing. While the game does make a vague attempt to stay true to the book, anyone playing this game without first reading the book may be a little confused as the game progresses, and for just reason. Of course, some things had to be tweaked a bit for the game to be anything worth playing, but it sometimes strays a little too far away from the source material. I’m all for adding things to a game like this if it adds depth without changing the story too much, but sometimes I think EA tried to warp it a little more than needed, and ended up distorting the story to the point where I wouldn’t have recognized it had the Harry Potter name not been on it. Things are added, removed, and switched around in an effort to better involve the player, assuming the person has a background knowledge of the books. I would strongly suggest reading the book before playing the game so you not only know what the game is about, but so that you derive a little more enjoyment from the game as a whole. This game was obviously made with the fan in mind, not the average gamer.
With that in mind, the game begins, skipping everything leading up to Harry’s arrival at Hogwarts and summing it up in a “story book” mode where you’re presented with dialogue and illustrations detailing it all. The game sets you up with a false sense of freedom from the very beginning, and it won’t take long for you to realize this. There is a set course for you to follow throughout the game, and if you’re not told what to do next from one of the game’s numerous cut-scenes, a little wandering should set you on the right path. You’ll progress through the game in area-specific segments, starting out in the Main Castle, then moving to the Grounds, and then down into the Dungeons before continuing to the later parts of the game. You can talk to your pals Fred and George Weasley and collect Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans for them for a reward, or you can search out the Famous Wizards and Witches cards hidden throughout the castle and the grounds. Collecting the cards is the only real side quest in the game, and you will have to search every new area thoroughly if you hope to find them all. It’s not as hard as you may be thinking, though, and because the game is so linear you won’t find many complex paths to follow and there isn’t any backtracking in the game at all. As for the Every Flavor beans, these can be found all over the place, so as long as you pick up the ones you see, finding the required amount isn’t hard. House points can be earned and lost, but you’ll automatically win the house cup so don’t worry if you’re late for class and you lose a few.
Perhaps the most anticipated aspect of this game was the prospect of being able to use some of the magic seen so frequently throughout the book. In the game, there are a total of 6 spells to choose from, and they can only be used once you’ve learned them. You’ll start with the most basic of spells: Flippendo. You’ll have to attend several different classes throughout the game, only visiting each of them once, which may be a bit of a disappointment to you. Visiting each class a second time would have added a lot more length to the game, but in turn even more would have to be added to the game in the form of story additions and whatnot. Not that it would have been bad, but there’s no need for the game to drag on to that extent.
To learn a new spell, the X, square, circle, and triangle buttons will flash onto the screen and a spark will move from button to button and you have to press the button the spark touches in unison with it. This a lot easier than it sounds because the time window is very lenient. A novelty at first, it takes away all the challenge that learning a spell should have had. It’s very repetitious and not exactly the deepest way to learn a new spell. After you repeat the pattern 3 times, you’re led to a room where you have to practice the spell you’ve just “learned” before you can leave class. It’s always something very simple, and you never fell like you’ve accomplished something after one of these classes. Once you’ve learned one of these spells, using them is even simpler. When a spell can be used against an enemy or an object, there will be a spark floating above it. The color of the spark dictates what kind of spell you have to use. For example, a green spark indicates you’ll need to use the Incendio spell. Press X to activate it, and then depending on which spell you’re using you’ll have to perform some sort of button pressing activity unique to each spell. And then, instant wizardry! Magic is used fairly frequently throughout the game, but some spells will only be used once or twice while others are used every few minutes. Several of the spells feel like they were added to game as a type of filler, only there so you think you’ve learned quite a few useful magic tricks while at the school.
As for the rest of the game, two words: straight platformer. Lots of jumping from here to there, and like Zelda there in no button set aside for this skill. Just run up to an edge and you’ll jump. Pretty far, actually. There aren’t very many challenging gaps throughout the game, and you can use the R2 and L2 buttons to line up the camera for each jump. Besides spell casting, there really isn’t much to do besides run around. Don’t come into the game looking for a challenge because besides Gringotts you could probably blow through this game with ease. After the trapdoor near the end of the game it gets a little harder, but you definitely won’t go anywhere near breaking a controller over the game. There are a few puzzles in the game, but they’re all very laughable. You’re little brother or sister may have a little trouble with the game, but any experienced gamer should fly through it. Playing through the first time, it may take you around 5 or 6 hours to complete, meaning it’s also very short. You can save anywhere you see a red book floating in the air, and they’re placed abundantly throughout the game. It may be a little hard to control with the Analog sticks, but maybe it’s just me. One thing I liked was that you can look around and aim your Flippendo spells through a first-person perspective by pressing Triangle. A great feature that I’m glad they added, and it’s even required in a certain spot in the game. Overall though, the game does nothing to innovate, but even as generic as it is you can’t find complete fault in it. Everything is very basic, unfortunately for you I, but it’s very playable to anyone who comes into the game with an open mind.
With this game, EA had an excellent chance to take everyone’s favorite wizarding sport and turn it into something good enough to be associated with the book or movie versions. In short, it’s no where near as good as we could have hoped for. In fact, it’s barely passable at all and probably won’t hold your interest for any longer than the first few matches. Basically, they took all the excitement and chaos a real Quidditch match possesses and made it as linear and boring as possible. You fly through hoops, and then you catch the snitch. Wow. Great. Excellent. Catching the snitch is also mind numbingly simple. So simple you could very literally catch it with your eyes closed. An icon of the snitch moves back and forth across a bar at the bottom of the screen, and you have to press X at the right moment to catch it. No diving, no fighting off the other seeker, no daring leaps or outstanding catches. Just an incredibly weak attempt to recreate a game that could have been so good. EA, stick to football.
As with the rest of the game, the graphics can be best be described as average. Mediocre compared to Playstation games past and present. The character models are horribly simple. Actually, just plain horrible would work. Very primitive, to say the least. The faces are just as bad, and they only barely resemble their silver screen counterparts. The magic in the game is decent, if not below average, and nothing compared to something you might find in a Final Fantasy game. Animations are acceptable; there’s not much in them to find fault with. Framerate is slow, and sputters pretty often even when you’re the only one on the screen. Textures in regard to the buildings, characters, and outside environments are abysmal. Inside the castle everything is without any sort of shine or flair, and in the grounds and the Forbidden Forest it’s simply terrible. When you’re walking around the grounds, it’s like you’re in a big hallway with jungle colored walls. I feel stupid for even calling it a forest. Jagies are minimal, thankfully, and the castle is of a decent size. A lot to explore, so you shouldn’t ever feel too cramped. The game’s graphics feel and look very rushed and shabby. Not something you would normally find in an EA game. Disappointing to say the least.
Are you starting to see a trend throughout this review and the game? Yes, like nearly everything else in this game, don’t expect much of anything out of the sound department. Music? It’s there, just a little hard to hear. What you can pick up is just your average “mystic quest” theme, with a very soft melody. But most of the time, you’d be better off with a pair of headphones because it’s pretty quiet for a great part of your game. Voices? Yes. Good? Maybe. Do they sound like the actors? No, not really. They’re all imitation, and do sound a little like the real characters if you listen hard enough and really want it to happen. Sound effects? Well, I guess. Maybe all of about 10 sound effects are found throughout the game. Weak is one way to describe them. Barely above SNES quality. Sadly, I’m not joking.
Ok, so I’ve bashed the game for the most part throughout the review. Maybe I have, but what was I supposed to do? Give it a 9 just because it’s Harry Potter? Nah, that wouldn’t be fair to anyone. It gets a 6 only because it’s so mediocre, and not horrible. Little kids will love it, older gamers will shun it. There really isn’t too much about the game to completely tear apart, but it is a very disappointing effort from EA. This game needed a LOT more work, and EA should have considered the older fans of the series instead of throwing something together in a rush to sell a million copies because they knew the little ones would find it very hard to find anything wrong with the game. Yes, Mediocrity is the prevalent theme, and it’ll easily top the charts just because of the name on it. Heck, it could have been a racing game and it would have still sold a million. They took it for granted this time, and if the next game is anything like this I may just decide to pass it up. No matter how good something is, whether it be a movie or a book, you’ll almost always find a game version to be below expectations. With this game, I’d only suggest a purchase for the loyal fan. Not a fan? Only if you’ve got the extra money and you really want to get into the series. Everyone else, find a better game to occupy your time.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 02/22/03, Updated 02/22/03
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