Back when the Wii was first announced my instant thought along with many other nerds was I cannot wait to see what they do with a Harry Potter game. Casting spells with a real “wand” seemed it would be the coolest thing in a long time to really deliver a satisfying nerd experience. So just how did this first run on the Wii turn out for a Harry Potter game?
Presentation: Good integration with the daily prophet leading to the menu screens. I like that it captured the dark feel of a now older and more gritty Harry Potter. The menu systems are well done. However, the integration portion of it seems incomplete. This is something that is unfortunately common with this game, it has an identity crisis like the middle child. It doesn’t know if it wants to be a game for kids or if it wants to grow up and provide a full on adult-ish Harry Potter experience and it shows all over the game. Another annoying thing is, you cannot load the game at all without sitting through the annoying EA and Warner Bros interactive logo every single time.
Graphics: I whipped out the component cables for this one to play in 480p. The school grounds are magnificently recreated from the book and movies to a tee. Better yet, it’s loaded all at once so loading is minimal between sections of the grounds. EA spent a lot of time making the grounds expansive because they really want the player to explore around the castle grounds and discover things, more on that later. Going through the grand staircase for the first time in a Harry Potter in that scope was something special. There were some frame hiccups in certain parts of the game, the game would slow itself down if you were entering a new bigger area such as going from the entrance hall to the outside. The character models are however well done to the movie and it’s very apparent who is who unlike in prior Potter games. However there was an overall inequity in graphical quality throughout the game, some environments were able to really wow like the Ministry of Magic and incumbent fights and some were less than stellar like the surroundings around the castle and some of the castle itself. They’re not the best visuals in the whole wide world but they get the job done. I know the Wii is not supposed to be about graphics but if overall visual appeal is important to you at all, I fear for the Wii if this is one of the best looking titles to date on the system.
Gameplay: The gameplay of this game was a major miss for me. I really thought the wand would lead to a more engaging experience, a new level of interactivity with the Harry Potter universe through your TV. But so many things fell short. The mechanics of the game were a slam dunk, I am pretty sure EA didn’t have to think too hard about Wii+Wand = Wave your hand in different motions to cast spells. They did an adequate to less than acceptable job in the number of spells they included. However, all the most famous and mostly used spells in the books up to this point in the Potter saga are present such as expelliarmus, protego, and stupefy. While the controls responded well for most spells ones that required a left to right movement did not respond all that well during my play through of the game which made a few quests an exercise in frustration.
As I mentioned before, EA really went for the explore Hogwarts angle in this title with expansive environments designed to give players points for unlocking and discovering new things which is a typical EA staple to reward the game no matter what you’re playing. Most of the rewards are behind the scenes videos and the like. While EA did provide the Marauder’s Map to help you locate tasks and quests, which such an expansive ground I really have to question the decision to make a player walk/run from place to place rather than a teleport system to help speed up the pacing of the game which is incredibly slow.
The quests themselves scream of tedium and rush job to get out in line the movie. I would estimate 75% of the game quests, if not more are “Meet person A, A complains about item X, fetch item X for person A, Run throughout ground for item, run all the way back”. Dumbledore’s Army included 28 members which thankfully did not translate to 28 quests, but it seemed every time you would run into someone new it was yet another fetch quest. Same with the quests for the teachers included in the game such as Flitwick, Snape, and Sprout. You literally had to find 3 books for 3 essays…..I mean come on, you can easily do better than that EA. Add in the fact that almost every cool moment of the book/movie was sped through as a cut scene, and overall it was really disheartening. It felt like Harry Potter Metal Gear Solid or something. The game heavily relied of many quests through the use of one spell, wingardium leviosa which would be fine if you could get Ron, Hermionie, and the camera out of your way to actually complete your task.
The dueling, of which there were few was also poorly done. You end up in 4 duels during the game and I can’t tell how you were supposed to win one. The game seemed to arbitrarily let each side fire spells until your opponents went down and couldn’t get up. It felt extremely shallow. Some spells wouldn’t even travel far enough to attack your opponents and spells that were bounced off a shield would go firing in every direction. The AI for the computer and your teammates wasn’t exactly Crytek either. Ron, Hermione, and friends aren’t the most careful bunch and they did successfully cast many a offensive spell on me from behind.
The game did take a unique look into how to deal with occlumency since it was such a central part of the events of Order of the Phoenix. The occulmency lessons with Snape centered around you with the wii mote trying to move the wand in an opposite direction of Snape’s so that he could not see your memories. This felt sort of shallow and maybe these lessons should have been the cutscenes as opposed to some of the other choices for cut scenes. The disappointment was enhanced big time when in your final battle as Harry with Voldemort possessing your mind you are made to play this mini game. I broke a sweat swinging that thing from left to right because the Wii mote was so unresponsive.
The game did redeem itself a little however letting you take control of the central characters at their peak moments in OoTP. You get to play Fred and George as they make their escape through Hogwarts. You get to play as Sirius fighting Bellatrix in the ministry. AND you get to play as Dumbledore against Voldemort in the ministry final showdown. These were all nice changes of pace, but again, they seemed to be half heartedly done and were thrown in together toward the end. I am not sure if it was worth the time it took to get this far for these pay off sequences. There did not seem to be a rhyme or reason to any of these duels. You would aimlessly wave your wand firing spells at your opponent for a few moments with no recourse and then it seemed the game would flash to a cutscene to move the story along.
Sounds: EA did manage to license Hedwig’s theme from the game which was nice. Most of the voice actors were the kids from the movie which was a real treat and a lot of the sounds were definitely Hogwarts. The only notables that I noticed were not the actual voice actors were Harry, Snape, and Dumbledore. I am also sure pretty certain Voldemort was not Ralphe Fiennes but he’s in the game in such a limited role they didn’t matter. Cannot complain about the audio a bit. Even the stand in for Harry did a good job.
Lasting Appeal: I don’t think there is any on the Wii unless you are desperate to play and unlock all the extras. The overall experience was pretty tedious and boring and only the hardest of the hardcore potter fans who also happen to have an exceeding amount of free time on their hands will want to invest another 8 to 10 hours in this game.
Closing: This game got stuck in an identity crisis. It’s nice to see the more grown up side of Harry Potter and the Hogwarts universe. The visuals did not feel as childish as in previous Harry Potter games, however the gameplay and the quests certainly did. I really wished this game had gone all out to really be a fully featured and in depth Harry Potter experience. Perhaps the 360 version in HD and with a controller rather than a wand will alleviate some of the graphical and gameplay down sides with the Wii version. This one I am really distraught over, I hate to say it, but it’s one of the main reasons I bought a Wii and it turned out to be very disappointing.
Presentation: 7 Generic stuff, but it gets annoying after a while. I still don’t want to sit through 800 cutscenes and have to stop and wait for each portrait to say the same damn 2 catch phrases every time I ask to go through them.
Graphics: 6 HD console or not, I really hope the Wii is capable of more in the visuals department. I know some other outlets claimed this to be one of the better looking titles on the console….. boy I hope that isn’t true. Great job however loading the entire castle grounds with very little loading times (Just because you mask your loading times doesn’t mean they’re not there.)
Gameplay: 5 So much potential, so little done. Pick an identity and stick with it EA. Either you’re going to make a full on kids game like Prisoner of Azkaban was (It was 2 to 4 hour at max game but it was fun as hell with a ton of cool mini games – how that concept got left out for the mini game hodge podge king console of all time I don’t know) or you’re going to go out and exceed expectations with a big time HP RPG. Games like Goblet and OoTP that are somewhere in the middle suffer badly because of this indecision. The wand controls need to be re-fined and whoever directed the game and oversaw what parts were cut scened and what parts were game play I hope does not return for the final two installments of the series. Gamers in 2007 need something more than 50 fetch quests, don’t care what you are, who you are, and what you’re playing. It’s next gen, show more creativity.
Audio: 7.5 Nice to see a lot of the semi-majors lend their voices to the game. Music was also spot on with the HP universe.
Lasting Appeal: 4 Only the biggest fans will see any reason to play through again. The rewards are nice and all, but watching a ton of very softball interviews with the cast has only been done about 10,000 times before.
Overall Score (Not an Average) 6.5 Fans of the series should give it a rent. If you’re super curious to see how the wand works in action in a world in which a wand is the primary weapon, rent this one for the Wii. Otherwise, the 360 and PS3 versions of the game may be better suited for the audience at large. I cannot recommend anyone buy this game, not even the biggest HP fans. Save your money for the popcorn and soda at the movie theater in 2 weeks and for the 7th book a week after that.