Unless you’ve been living in a shack in the woods for the past three years, you’ve probably heard of the extremely successful Harry Potter franchise by now. Originally a series of children’s books, the Harry Potter phenomenon has carried over to toys, card games, video games, and of course the movies. The latest movie release follows the plot of the 2nd book as Harry races to figure out whom or what is attacking and petrifying his school mates, before it’s too late. In true Warner Bros. fashion, there is the obligatory media and marketing blitz, which includes a video game. Critics are already praising the latest movie as wonderful, but how does the game fair? Read on to find out...
One of the reasons for the success of the Harry Potter series is that it’s not just kids who enjoy Harry Potter. The books are well written stories of fantastic and magical adventures that inspire the imagination and entertain adults as well as children. According to some critics, the latest movie may even be too frightening for some younger kids. Rest assured however that this game is in no danger of frightening anyone. Providing a good hearted and innocent romp through the halls and grounds of Hogwarts School of Wizardry, the game closely follows the storyline of the book and movie. The game begins with a cut scene which introduces you to some of the main characters and eventually brings you to the main hall of Hogwarts.
The game is basically in third person chase style. The camera follows you as you take control of Harry and begin making your way through the school. You’ll have to meet with instructors for lessons in their individual classrooms, and you’ll learn magical spells you’ll use to make your way through the game. For most of the levels, you learn a new spell by completing a pattern of timed button entries as a wand passes over the commands which “cast the spell”. Once you’ve learned the spells, you’ll have to complete a challenge course set up by the instructors to practice your new acquired skills. Throughout the courses (which feel very reminiscent of the levels in N64’s Mario World) you’ll search for hidden stars as you make your way to the end points. While the majority of the game’s action involves completing the relatively simple challenge courses, there are a variety of other less essential challenges and interactions to participate in.
You have the option of making your way outside to the Quidditch Fields for some friendly Quidditch competition against the members of other Hogwarts’ dorms. In Quidditch, you fly around on brooms trying to be the first to capture what looks like a flying tennis ball. Another mini-game involves using the spells you’ve learned, as well as a few extras, in a friendly duel against other wizards. Both games are very simple and award you house points which can be accumulated to enter the “bean room” during house point ceremonies. Beans are equivalent to money and are hidden all over the grounds of Hogwarts. The students collect and trade them with each other to obtain items such as potion ingredients and armor or broom upgrades. The “bean room” is basically a bonus level full of jelly beans where you’ll run around collecting as many beans as possible, within the allotted time. There are also cards detailing the works of historically important wizards and their claims to fame hidden throughout the grounds. None of the mini-games or card and bean collecting is necessary to complete the game, but it does add a little extra to do around the academy.
In fact, it’s a good thing there are mini-games and other such quests to be completed since the main levels are fairly short, and would be easily completed even by a 7 year old. Even with the extra mini-games, this is still a very short game. The play controls are very simple and easily learned. You use different spells to push away enemies, slice through twigs and ropes, illuminate hidden passageways, and jump from launch pads to areas that would have otherwise been out of reach. The level designs are pretty linear and spells are automatically selected when useful. Whenever a spell can be used, icon displaying the symbols of an individual spell appears over any area that is responsive to any spell. This makes finding most of the game’s secrets very easy. In fact, the hardest thing about the game can be trying to find your way around the Hogwarts’ hallways as you move from class to class.
It’s hard to judge the graphics of the game because it is such a kid’s game. With so many games coming out recently striving to push the limits of today’s CPU’s and graphics cards, The Chamber of Secrets seems to be a little outdated. Textures could have had more detail, models could have had more polygons, and levels could have had better lighting. The look of the game is very cartoonish and somewhat flat, which is again reminiscent of Mario World on N64. When a spell is cast there are lighting effects that follow the spell, but overall things are a little bland.
However, the game is again aimed at a less discerning age group, which questions whether or not EA Games intentionally chose this look for the game or simply settled for good enough. The characters all look fine and are instantly identifiable to anyone familiar with the series, but they all move rather jerkily, and just could have been done better. Although playing the game at some of the lower graphical settings actually produced some rather disappointing graphics, it doesn’t take a powerful machine to run this one with full settings enabled. While older gamers may find themselves let down by the game’s graphics, younger players will probably be more entertained by the characters and storyline and less picky about the game’s look.
One of the things that helps to bring the movies to life is the wonderful job the actors do portraying the characters. From body language to voice acting, the little things help to make the world of Harry Potter feel real and alive. The same is true of the game. While I’m not sure which if any of the game characters are voiced by the original actors, they are all done very well. From Ron’s whiney and desperate tone, to the sniveling and snobbish mannerisms of the Slytherin students, the game makers have done a good job capturing the feel of the characters and portraying them well. Characters' voices match their looks and the voice actors manage to clearly express the personalities of each character without going over the top. Although the models’ mouths don’t shape to the words, the lip syncing is still fairly well done.
The music and sound effects are bland and for the most part subliminal. The quality is fine and the score sounds like much of it may have been taken directly from the movies. The only real problem in this category is the repeated shouting of the names of spells whenever they are cast. It can quickly become quite annoying to hear Harry repeatedly shouting 'FLIPENDO!!!!!!’ (Which seemed to be the most commonly used spell...) as you make your way through the levels. As for the music, while there is nothing especially notable about it, there are no complaints either.
There are no multiplayer options available in the game. Although typical multiplayer modes wouldn’t work with this type of game, it would have definitely helped the replay value if EA Games could have come up with something to add here. Maybe online wizard duels or Quidditch matches?
Overall, this game is a bit disappointing. With the high budget of the latest movie and the name recognition of Harry Potter, you’d expect a game worthy of the franchise. However it seems that rather than trying to make a truly impressive game, EA Games has quickly thrown this one together in order to capitalize on the movie’s success. Although the plotline is entertaining and true to the movie and books, all in all the game is very formulaic and generally seems to be geared towards a younger audience. This will probably end up disappointing some of the older fans of the series. If you’re a die hard fan of the series or have kids who are, then check this one out, otherwise, you’ll probably want to let this one go.