Return to Hogwarts
As far as movie tie-ins go, there are generally three categories they can fall into: good, bad, and ugly. While this year’s movie tie-in games have already seen their share of bad and ugly with titles like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Terminator: Salvation, I am happy to report that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince falls very firmly into the good category. While it is by no means perfect, the game is certainly charming, and I couldn’t help but enjoy the latest video game adventure of everyone’s favorite wizard-in-training.
Like most movie-affiliated games, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince takes you through the events of the upcoming movie. However, if you are worried about possible spoilers in the game, you might not have to be all that concerned; although you will see plenty of relevant plot points, the actual storyline is quite vague in the game. Events happen for no real reason, and a lot of the cinema scenes leave out important details. While this may be unforgivable in a regular game, it actually works well here; those who haven’t seen the movie will get just enough information to keep them excited for the upcoming film, but the entire movie won’t be explicitly spelled out.
The gameplay in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is very simple, and it involves three different types of mini-game style challenges: Quidditch, potion-making, and magic dueling. The first mini-game style challenge you will face is Quidditch. Playing Quidditch in this game is very simple and involves flying your broomstick around a giant field and passing through circular time gates. Although the game does not have a countdown clock, if you are taking too long to pass through the time gates, they will change color from green to yellow, and eventually, red. By passing through these time gates, you will come ever closer to the golden snitch, and once you catch it, the mini-game is over.
The potion-making mini-game is a lot like Quidditch, and it relies heavily on speed and reflexes. During each potion-making session, you will be given a recipe and a time limit. Each line of this recipe will pop up on-screen automatically, and you will have to boil, stir, and add ingredients to a giant cauldron until the contents change to a certain color. Once the contents change to the appropriate color, you will have to stop adding/boiling/stirring, and then the game will automatically move on to the next step. However, if you keep going and the color changes from the one indicated on the recipe, you’ll be faced with a big smoke plume and won’t get an extra time bonus, which can result in failure (and a gentle “try again” message).
The final mini-game-style challenge is Duels. Whether its friend, admirer, or enemy, it seems everyone at Hogwarts this year wants to put their spell casting skills against yours, so dueling is a huge part of the gameplay. The game gives you access to six spells for duels: Stupefy, Charged Stupefy, Levicorpus, Expelliarmus, Petrificus Totalus, and Protego. Although you could use all of these spells very strategically to stun and attack your opponent, I found it much easier to run around your enemies in circles, and then hit them with quick-fire Stupefy spells in the back before they have a chance to turn around. The combat mechanic here is incredibly shallow, even for a kid-targeted game, and I was a little disappointed at how easy the battles were.
Although the main gameplay is only comprised of these three challenges, I can’t say I was ever really bored. The challenges do ramp up in difficulty as you progress, which helps it feel less repetitious, and for a game that is finished in less than 5 hours, there was enough variation on the mini-games to keep the experience entertaining.
In order to get to all of these mini-game challenges, you will have to run all over Hogwarts. The school is a big place, and between the secret painting passageways and moving staircases, getting around Hogwarts can be pretty tough. Luckily, the game has included a guide in the form of Nearly Headless Nick, who will help you reach any point of interest in the school. Although this feature is completely optional, I found out the hard way that trying to get around without him was folly indeed.
In addition to these mini-games, you will also have to wander around Hogwarts looking for collectible emblems. There are a total of 125 emblems scattered across the expansive halls of Hogwarts, and while some of these emblems are just lying in pathways waiting for you to pick them up, many are hidden in secret rooms and corridors. Some emblems even require a bit of puzzle-solving to attain them. For instance, I came across some emblems that were hidden behind jail-like bars, and in order to get them out, I had to bang them against a wall to break them, move all the pieces out with a spell, and then use another spell to put them back together. Granted, this isn’t high-level puzzle-solving, but the effort was made to keep the gameplay varied, and I can certainly appreciate that.
In addition to the single-player experience, there is also an unlockable duel mode which will allow you to engage in wizard fights with a friend. Though this mode isn’t that memorable, it allows you to fight as different wizards (which is something you couldn’t do in the game) and is good for some laughs with friends.
Visuals-wise, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince looks very good. Hogwarts comes to life in vivid detail, with everything from the dark halls of Floor 7 to the grassy fields of the Quidditch Ditch; there are plenty of beautiful views to be had in this game. The character models also look very good, and their look is on par with the ever changing features of the movie’s actors. The only real complaint I have is that the characters’ features are oddly stoic, and their eyes and mouths tend to move very slowly. These aspects gave the characters a very wooden look to them, which was a little distracting during plot scenes.
However, the sound is pitch perfect. Although the voice actors in the game aren’t the same ones from the movie, they do sound very close, and they do an excellent job of voicing the game’s numerous plot and dialogue scenes. As for the music in the game, it sounds almost identical to the movie’s orchestral score. The themes and melodies fit the action perfectly, and I couldn’t have been happier with the game’s score.
Overall, I can very confidently say that Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is a fun movie tie-in game, and it certainly lives up to what is expected of it. Although it isn’t terribly long or deep, it will give fans of the series some solid gameplay, and it certainly isn’t too challenging for younger fans who might want to play it. The game also has some solid replay value from its multiplayer modes, so if you’re itching to get back into Hogwarts for year 6, then Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is a great vehicle to do so.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.1 Graphics
Environments look fantastic, and character models are very detailed. However, facial animations do come across as a little stiff, especially in close-up shots. 3.5 Control
Controls work well for the most part, but a little bit more depth for the dueling aspect of the game might have been nice. 3.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Character voices sound very close to the real thing with few exceptions. The score is also very good, and features the same themes from the movie. 3.1 Play Value
Like most movie tie-ins, this game is very short. However, the collection quests add some replay value for the devoted fan, and the multiplayer modes can be entertaining as well. 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.