Another movie tie-in taking advantage of the lucrative bored-kids-on-holiday market is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
The film was released on the 15th July; this time around the characters are all a bit older, and those dreaded teenage hormones have well and truly kicked in. The pursuit of romance has attained as much importance as learning cool new spells, kicking butt at quidditch and thwarting nefarious Death Eater plots.
Those unfamiliar with J.K Rowling’s sixth Harry Potter novel will have trouble following the events in the game. Even if you are acquainted with the book you will find the storyline a little disjointed in places. Overall, gameplay is more of the same-old, same-old; however the Wii has a point of difference over the other consoles thanks to the Wii-mote and nunchuck, which must be physically employed to cast spells, brew potions, and play quidditch.
This makes for a far more immersive experience in our book... but is it enough to set the latest Harry Potter title apart from all the others?
Set in the grounds of Hogwarts, this game plays just like the previous one: wander around the school, carrying out tasks and encountering characters from the book whilst advancing the story. Throughout the game Harry will regularly engage in one of three types of activities/mini-games. Mixing potions is probably the most interesting of these, enabling you to embrace your inner mad scientist by using the Wii remote to pick up arcane ingredients, dump them in the bubbling cauldron, stir, shake and brew all manner of magical concoctions.
Duelling is another activity you will frequently participate in, using the Wii-mote and nunchuck in place of wand and somatic components. Harry joins duelling clubs and will also use his wizardly prowess against all manner of school bullies. Initially, there’s a lot of fun to be had incapacitating your opponent with Levicorpus, before finishing him or her off with a barrage of Stupefy spells. However once the novelty wears off, duels become more of a chore – and a predictable one at that. There are only six spells available, and it must be pointed out that occasionally the movements are misinterpreted, meaning you end up casting something entirely different.
You can duel a friend, but once again the fun factor is relatively short lived. The least impressive activity is playing quidditch – well, you don’t ‘play’ it as such, but rather steer Harry through a set of star-shaped gates along a predetermined flight path with little or no skill required. Yawn.
There is a large area to explore right from the get go, with all the familiar favourites such as the perpetually shifting staircases and the quidditch pitch. These are all recognisable from the Harry Potter movies, and as you progress in the game more areas of Hogwarts become accessible to you. Unfortunately there is no onscreen map, but to work around this you can summon the ghost of Nearly Headless Nick to guide you to your next destination. While Harry definitely takes centre stage, there are a couple of other playable characters from the film: both Ron and Ginny Weasley each take a temporary turn at the helm.
Scattered around the school and its grounds are numerous collectible crests, which are also earned by defeating bullies. Once you have accumulated enough of these, Harry automatically gains more health and duelling options. Badges are awarded for various achievements, such as winning a duel without getting hit.
Character models are easily recognised as their movie counterparts; however they appear quite wooden and largely devoid of expression. We found this to be disappointing – especially since so much effort had gone into faithfully reproducing Hogwarts and its surrounding environment in such detail. Voice acting is very good however, with many of the actors delivering convincing performances, and the musical score is easy on the ears.
So is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince worth the price tag? Well, it does have a certain charm and is by no means an awful game, but by the same token it lacks the depth and polish to deliver a memorable performance. Perhaps our strongest criticism is that the playing time is extremely short: four to five hours to completion – probably a little more if you want to get in a little overtime mixing potions or duelling your mates. This one’s strictly for the young Harry Potter fans.