I don’t know if you’ve heard of Harry Potter. A lesser-known British series of children’s novels, the titular character and his adventures in the magical school Hogwarts has earned somewhat of a cult following amongst school children. Oddly enough, the series has also spawned a few movies and video games; the latest in the series of cash-ins is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on the Nintendo DS. So in an attempt to spread the word a bit and hopefully get more people interested in Master Potter’s magical stories here is our review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for DS.
If you believed the box then the game of the film of the book follows the story from beginning to end letting you step into Harry’s emotionless shoes to experience it first-hand. Well in reality it hops in and out of it with glee occasionally doing a bit of a jig around the major plot points. If you haven’t read or watched Half-Blood Prince lately, you might struggle following the plot. The game presumes you are familiar with the structure of the tale and throws you from scenes and locations without any explanation as to what you’re actually doing. Still, this is refreshing to players well-versed in Potter lore who don’t need spoon-feeding. Even for me, the rushing around between each locale was only mildly jarring, and I haven’t read the book for years.
The game is definitely a treat for the senses. While the sprites are typical fuzzy N64-looking DS fare the backgrounds are lush and detailed. The soundtrack is good enough to whisk you away into the series’ world of wonder too.
The Harry Potter world is rich with its own mythology and culture, and the game developers have populated their digital world with as much material from the books as they could manage. All the characters are here; the games, the spells. To say it’s loyal to its source material will be like saying Ronald McDonald is loyal to burgers.
The Half-Blood Prince is an isometric sandbox adventure which charges the player with being skilful at its many mini-games and collecting stuff scattered around Hogwarts. Sadly, a lot of the gameplay does come from running about picking up certain items and trading them with people for more useful items. Exactly the same thing happened in Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy but the difference is that you didn’t notice. In Harry Potter’s game this rather stilted approach stands out like a thumb that looks like Jethro Tull. While the ‘run here, swap marbles for book, run here, use book in mini-game’ approach will probably work wonders for kids, an adult might look down his nose at the rather elementary approach.
To its credit, like Canis Canem Edit, Harry’s wanderings around school are broken up by some curricular, extra-curricular and not-so-curricular activities, represented by a variety of sweet little games.
Quidditch – the game with brooms ‘n’ balls – is represented so badly that it made me feel for people like my grandfather who played Quidditch with the Germans on Christmas Day in the trenches. Still there are card and marble games that are fun if terribly easy and a magical duel system that takes the form of a 2D one-on-one beat ‘em up. Match your opponent’s moves with counter-spells if you can keep up. Plus, there are the lessons. By far the most challenging of these is Potions which requires some decent reflexes and timing. I was getting cocky with the mini-games by then so it shocked me so much when I didn’t win first time.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan exploring Harry’s world is going to be like opening up a treasure chest. The characters are all there, the music is warm and inviting, and being in the school will feel like a treat. While the gameplay might strike a few blows against originality and competitive difficulty, this is made up by the massive sense of immersion the game provides. I’m not a child, regardless of how many children’s books I read so I can’t speak for them, but I imagine this game would be a joy for younger, less experienced players.
The story is of a decent length and the mini-games will add a couple of hours of extra play, so if your children need something to lose themselves in after they’ve read the book nine times and the film fourteen, go and treat them to this.
Harry Potter’s latest gets an enjoyable 7 out of 10.