A Game For Wizards, Not Muggles
I’m going to reveal a dirty little secret that is going to make much of the geek community turn on me: I just never cared about Harry Potter. I read the first book, got partway through the second, and then never continued on to read any of the other books or watch any of the movies. It just wasn’t interesting to me. What I am, on the other hand, is a gamer who knows a good gameplay experience when he sees one, even if he has no experience with the story or subject matter. Because of this, I can say one thing confidently: Harry Potter for Kinect was not made for me.
Harry Potter for Kinect is, essentially, a minigame compilation with a story. There is no one overall control scheme that dominates the game. Instead, you will be asked to complete multiple tasks, from potion mixing to Quidditch playing to shoving wands up the noses of trolls, which I am told is a high point of one of the books. The game covers every book in the series and gives you multiple sections to complete for each book, with each section playing differently from the last.
This is actually where the game lost me. You see, Harry Potter for Kinect assumes that you have prior knowledge of the Harry Potter universe, which, as I stated before, I don’t. It doesn’t actually do a good job of telling the Harry Potter story in or out of gameplay. Instead, it just hops around from segment to segment, hurrying you through the books quickly and assuming you know why the things you’re doing are relevant. For someone who came into this from outside of the fandom, the game never gave me good enough motivation to be doing what I was doing.
That being said, if you do have prior knowledge of the events in the Harry Potter series, you’ll probably jump into this with rampant fan fervor. The game lets you control multiple characters, many of whom newbies like me can even recognize. Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Dumbledore are just a few of the characters you get to control. You can even create your own self-made fan-fiction wizard using the Kinect’s face scan technology.
Unfortunately, no matter how many times you scan your face, the wizard you create becomes a distorted version of yourself that sends chills down your spine. In fact, every character in the game seems to suffer from uncanny valley syndrome. The animations are very stiff and the character faces are lifeless. However, scanned characters are even worse. They are almost doll-like. Overall, the graphical performance in this game could have been better, though I doubt a hardcore Harry Potter fan would complain, as the characters do look like the actors from the movie. In an eerie way, though.
The actions you’ll take in the game aren’t particularly bad. Some are just series of quick time events, while other sequences, like combat and Quidditch, have deeper mechanics at work. Mixing potions even reminded me of Cooking Mama in a way, and I loves me some Cooking Mama.
Casting spells is probably the coolest part of the game, as you both make arm movements and shout out the name of the spell you are casting. Granted, I felt like a bit of a doof at times for constantly yelling at my TV screen, but this is by far the most immersive part of the game.
To the game’s credit, this is also the part of the game that works the best. The Kinect actually rarely fouls up on either motion or voice commands. You don’t see this often in licensed Kinect games, whose motion detection systems tend to be buggy. In addition, the constantly changing gameplay keeps things fresh. It never degenerates into a flail-fest as most motion controlled games do. Overall, it feels like you are actually playing a game rather than just mindlessly waving your hands around like a madman.
The difficulty of the game is a bit random, however. Combat never seems to get as difficult as, say, Quidditch. In fact, the more mundane tasks like random school activities tend to be far harder than the epic confrontations you have with the series’ antagonists. This can be frustrating, at times, but never to the degree that it detracts from the experience. In fact, I’d say the entire game is actually too easy on the whole. Most sections can be completed on the first or second try. In a way, this feels almost like an interactive story experience more than a game, which meshes so weirdly with the way the game tries to tell the Harry Potter story.
The game is relatively short, which is a good thing. You will be doing a lot of standing and moving, which means you will get tired and sweaty very quickly. I was never comfortable playing the game for long stretches because of the physical element of the game, and there wasn’t much forcing me to go onward considering I wasn’t very attached to the story of Harry Potter. The game is best when played in short spurts between your other gaming sessions. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of replay value outside of co-op, so you’ll pretty much be done after your first playthrough.
I can’t stress enough how much this game was designed for Harry Potter fans and Harry Potter fans alone. Though it tries to get you into the Harry Potter universe, it doesn’t have a sense of pacing. This is very obviously meant for fans of the series who want to re-live some of the series’ best moments. I would not recommend this game as your first Harry Potter experience, that’s for sure.
Harry Potter was a book series designed for children that just so happened to attract a much older geeky fan base. I can’t help but feel this game was going for the same effect and missed the point a little. The quickly changing gameplay, short length, and active tiring controls seem to be built for someone with a lot of energy and a short attention span. It’s probably great for a younger child who is really into the series, but any older fan who is looking for a deep and involved Harry Potter gameplay experience should probably look elsewhere.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.7 Graphics
The whole game has a creepy uncanny valley vibe that freaks me out. 4.1 Control
The Kinect controls actually work really well, and the game gets extra points for letting you actually shout your spell names. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
They didn’t get the original voice cast, but I, as a non-fan, couldn’t tell the difference. 3.4 Play Value
It’s quite fun, but I feel like I wasn’t getting the full effect considering I’m not a real Harry Potter fan. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|