Over two years since the seventh and final book was released, Harry Potter hype and hysteria is as rife today as it was back then and this is certainly reflected in current media offerings for those that just can’t get enough of the infamous wizard. Accompanying the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on Nintendo DS is obviously designed for loyal fans, with publishers Electronic Arts (EA) believing that no introduction to the characters or previous story-line is required. Heaven-forbid there should be a homo sapient on the planet today who does not know the ins-and-outs of Harry Potter’s thrilling life. EA seemingly believe they are onto a winner amongst devotees, however Electronic Theatre asks how has being released simultaneously with the sixth film and being heavily confined by the parameters that the film dictates affected the notoriety of the game as an individual piece of genuine entertainment. Quite simply, has quality been compromised in an attempt to drag yet more cash out of the Harry Potter franchise or is this more than just a piece-meal offering?
Adapted from the film rather than the book, predictably the player assumes the role of Harry Potter as the plot unfolds. However, the storyline is stilted and difficult to follow with much more emphasis given to the activities required in Harry’s daily life than a clear grasp of where the character is going. As aforementioned, there is very little character introduction or any hints as to previous story developments. EA, clearly do not expect this game to be picked off the shelves by anyone other than familiar Harry Potter fans. Each phase of the game requires Harry to complete a series of tasks, and the storyline does not progress until these tasks are complete. Once the tasks are complete Cut-Scenes conclude the mission and introduce the next part of the game. Tasks in each phase feel menial and laborious and the Cut-Scenes are often poorly directed, which is perhaps why the impact of storyline is often lost. The first couple of hours of gameplay feel especially painstaking due to the amount of running around Hogwarts the player must do in order to orient themselves and locate requisite people and objects.
However, once oriented gameplay does become somewhat smoother. If the stilted story-progression is ignored gameplay can sometimes become quite rewarding. One of the games better features is the attention paid to the detail of Harry’s world. As well as completion of the obligatory missions players are required to learn spells, Accio to retrieve objects and Wingardium Leviosa to levitate objects, however these simple spells do little more than retrieve items and yet again do not aid any story progression. Once spells are learnt players can manipulate their environments with a flick of the Stylus on the Touch Screen. They can also chose to partake in mini-games such as Gobstones and Wizard Skittles with fellow students in order to win objects that can be swapped with peers in order to attain more important objects needed to progress in the game.
Another activity which Harry partakes in, that of duelling with other students, is well represented on the Nintendo DS screen and players can learn how to cast and block spells with just a few well placed taps of the Stylus. Perhaps the most enjoyable and greatest anticipated aspect of any Harry Potter game is Quidditch and it is in this wizard game that the game redeems itself a little. Players get to play as chaser until the snitch is spotted and winning a match may take several attempts. Unlike the rest of the game Quidditch offers the opportunity for the player to feel a sense of achievement when they win their first match in an otherwise emotively flat experience. This aspect of the game alone is perhaps its greatest redeemable feature.
The pre-rendered environments in which Harry moves about are impressive and give the game a well-constructed sheen. Coupled with the slick movement of characters and objects, the aesthetics of the game are pleasing despite the lack of good content. The control method is generally well devised, if becoming somewhat commonplace, with players directing Harry by simply touching the space on the Touch Screen with the Stylus into which they’d like the character to go, and he will dutifully move there.
Despite the efforts put into constructing the Quidditch matches and mini-games, and the impressive aesthetics of the games’ environments, this game is frankly disappointing. Harry Potter fans, especially those familiar with J.K. Rowlings richly colourful descriptive writing style will be dismayed at the poor means by which the story has been portrayed. EA’s lack of introduction to the story suggests a disregard for non-Harry Potter fanatics; however the redeemable features mentioned above will do little to console the fanatical target market when there is such a blatant disregard for the story-telling legacy J.K.Rowling has created. EA has missed the mark with this Harry Potter offering and placed too much emphasis on the wrong aspects of gameplay, compromising the opportunity to deliver a complete entertainment package worthy of any notoriety.