"Now you can clutch at your forehead and scream in pain too!"

Wow. The epitome of mediocrity. I picked this game up for $23 at Wal-Mart during a rather heavy bout of Pottermania. "It can't be too bad", I thought. After all, I owned the old 2001 PC version, and it was pretty good. I just couldn't play it for more than 5 minutes because my computer's memory plumetted like Harry Potter playing quidditch against a team of Dementors. "This is the nextgen version, of course it's better than the original!" I said and bought it, along with Chamber of Secrets (which I hear is better).

So I sit down to play. Then my jaw drops. Hogwarts looks NOTHING like it should be. The GBA and PC versions depicted it in a great way, and even they took huge liberties, like turning the gently sloping grounds as depicted in the movies and books into hedge mazes, and putting you on set paths (for example, if you had to go to Charms, all floors you wouldn't have to go through to get there would be blocked off). When I played the GBA and PC versions of SS, I desired everything this game brings to the table. Day-by-day schedules, a fully explorable school with minimal blockades, and a wide expansive grounds.

I should have been more careful with what I wished for.

The grounds are horribly boring. It's simply a bunch of gray trails on green. I was a bit miffed that Hagrid's Hut and the Greenhouses were too close to the main castle in the previous versions. Now they're too far away! It takes you at least 3 minutes of running to get across the grounds. There's nothing to see on the grounds either. Hagrid's Hut, the Greenhouses, and the lake's shore (if you can count that as a sight to be seen). The Castle seems cold and lifeless. There are a few well-done rooms, like the common rooms and the 4th floor room with the couches that students sit on, but most classrooms are carbon-copies of each other, and are empty save for a few pots to shatter for beans. The main rooms, like Charms and Defense against Dark Arts, are slightly better, but they're way too big. There are like 30 chairs in each, bookshelves, and even plaza-size empty spaces between the teacher's desk and the chairs. There's no sense of comfort and coziness in the castle like the books and movies depicted.

There's no sense of it in the student body either. Teachers disappear when they're not teaching classes. You don't even see Filch in the halls, or Snape skulking in the dungeons, or Dumbledore standing and talking to children. Even the GBA featured that! The students repeat things over and over. I would have gladly taken silent students with text that didn't repeat as much over students who say things repetitively. For example, there will be a male student who says "My money's on the Chudley Cannons coming at the bottom of the league again this year." You go to a female student. An entirely different voice actor says the same line. You go to a black male student. Same line, different voice actor. Then a female black student. Same line. 4 different voice actors. Instead of getting them to say something different, precious space is used to get them to repeat what they say over and over. Don't get me started on what some kids say the very first day of Hogwarts. "I just can't wait for the summer holidays!" Kid, they just ended YESTERDAY.

The main classrooms are too big, some of the floors too small. The Ancient Runes floor is SMALLER than the entire Defense Against Dark Arts classroom. The Dungeons, which were depicted accurately as gray and stony and cold in the movies, books, and previous Sorcerer's Stone games, are now orange and brightly lit and look just as happy as any other part of the castle. Dumbledore's office is not behind a stone gargoyle like it has been since the second book. It's these little things that add up.

The PC version featured moving suits of armor, ghosts flying through walls, and teachers roaming the halls. Not here. The only things that may make you feel at home for just a moment is Peeves floating around every so often, and the moving stairs in the main stairwell. Other than that, the magic of Hogwarts is gone. The only person learning spells is you. The rest of the students stand around. You don't perform the spells in class, you get shoved off by yourself. It's a very lonely game, even with Ron and Hermione following you around. They move in short, odd spurts, and if there's a locked door, or a boss battle, they stand around and do nothing except shout advice at you.

Your average day at Hogwarts (and there's less than seven, mind you, not that I wanted any more) consists of running up and down stairs getting between classes. There's plenty of repetitive classes and libraries to search. The currency of the game are Bertie Bott's beans. However, all you do to get them is either shoot bottles from which they shoot out of (And often they shoot right through walls or even worse, into high walls, where they float in midair out of your reach), or search bookcases. However, shooting a bottle takes one second and gives you 2 or 3 beans, while searching a bookcase takes like 10 seconds and gives you a single bean. After the first few runs through the school, you're gonna want to skip exploring every room after getting a new spell. However, the game does little to alert you of new secrets that become available. For example, one night of sneaking through hogwarts will do nothing but regenerate those blasted jars for you to blast and get beans from. However, if the next night you decide to skip exploring every floor and decide to head down to the Great Hall without any detours, you'll miss two Prefect events where you can sneak into heavily guarded classrooms for Wizard Cards. What's even more funny, once you sneak past them into the room for the card, there's a cutscene of them walking out of the area for no reason. One wonders why they didn't save this cutscene for BEFORE, to alert you of such an oppurtunity in case you're sick and tired of exploring the school OVER AND OVER for such special events.

The few parts of the game that are fun include flying and the actual spell challenges, which play like a Zelda dungeon. One thing about the dungeons that bothers me is that it direly needs a room-reset system. In Zelda, if you pushed a block into a wall and couldn't get it out, and needed that block to reach a hidden treasure chest, you could simply leave the room and re-enter to reset the blocks. However, accidentally pushing a block onto a switch will freeze it there. More often than not, on your way out of that room you'll spot a niche up on the wall containing beans and a treasure chest, and you must actually leave the dungeon to get them to reset.

The Wizard Cards are pretty fun. They are probably the only thing that will keep you playing. Every time you find one, you'll discover yourself examining at the art, which is surprisingly well-drawn (moreso than the game's character models...). Even getting duplicates is an event for celebration, as several students will trade with you for new cards. However, these students are just as empty as the rest.

There is a fair amount of attention to details, but only slightly. It was a nice touch to have Ron's Chudley Cannons bedsheets and Dean Thomas's West Ham poster. Many of the tables are busy with books and vials and look pretty good. It's hard to see why the game has so many empty areas on one hand and so many busy, accurately depicted ones on the other.

Graphically, the game depicts Hogwarts in two different lights. The characters look overly cartoonish, and the castle looks overly real. Some rooms feel lively and cozy, others whitewashed and dead. It's like stepping from a snug bookstore cafe to some sort of empty marble room. These stony gray rooms make Zelda's temple of time look like a funhouse. I guess the graphics themselves are good, but could have been used in far better ways.

The sound is okay, when it's there. When you step into a new area, very nice orchestrated music plays for a while. But then it quits out after 30 seconds. Why? The only place in the game where music seems to play without shorting out unexpectedly is the Library (which is again, way too big, COMPLETELY empty of students or even Madame Pince, and its only purpose is to provide lots of bookshelves to search for beans). The voice acting is okay, but some cutscenes feature extremely long pauses, and other cutscenes have the characters saying their lines so fast that they almost start talking over each other.

The control is good. The camera...is not. Sometimes it gets stuck behind objects. The camera reset button, instead of swinging behind you so you have time to adjust your movement, simply flashes behind you, causing many headaches. The spell-assigning system is okay. It's almost an exact copy of Zelda's item-assigning system, except that the menus are not as decorative. For crying out loud, the menu system is called a Remembrall. Shouldn't it have something like a globe-type background or something?

Replay value? None. Maybe one more replay of the game. I can see myself returning to practice flying one or two more times, but it does a very bad job of pushing you foreward.

My final word: Rent it. Rent it, do not make my mistake. The gameplay is repetitive and the game is like your average day at school. There's no magic behind it at all, and that's dissapointing.

Fame clearly isn't everything, POTTER.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 05/30/04

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