Review by Crestfallen Dreamer
Reviewed: 02/27/04 | Updated: 10/16/08
"Accio bargain bin!"
Every-year-EA tries it once again - tries to bring out an adventure game that does Harry Potter some justice. Perhaps if they stopped putting out one a year they could greatly accomplish that.
If you've played Chamber of Secrets, then consider this an upgrade of sorts. If you haven't, well, how wonderful for you, but you'll still be getting some leftovers, as what was found there can be also be found in this game as well - very little was added to the actual gameplay to make it better. You still have to go to ''classes'' where challenges await for you to enter them and find spells to use. You still collect Famous Witches and Wizards Cards that net you extra health storage, and Bernie Bott's Every-Flavor Beans that while used for currency, actually become useless since you can find similar and scarce items instead of buying them, so you don't really need the beans. And the one game of Quidditch you play still has you flying through rings, more for story advancement than anything else.
Hogwarts also remains mostly the same. Although there are more rooms to visit, they are usually empty, save for a jar of beans to bust open. It's funny, you can hear a lot of voices but hardly anyone is around. I really wish Hogwarts had a more visible atmosphere to match its sounds. For instance, there should be more students at least to interact with and not solely to trade cards with. You can't even race them over Hogwarts anymore.
However, the bright spots of the game are some good additions to this new installment (how 'bout that?). I found the challenges are better this time around and seem to last longer. It's in these that your spells are put to the test, be it cutting a log bridge to advance, or taking down a mountain troll to do so. These levels won't put those in Zelda to shame, but they are fun in their own way and you can play them over again if you want. It's these that make the game worth playing and make up for what was horribly given in Chamber of Secrets.
Like in Chamber of Secrets, the spells can be grafted to the face buttons making for easy, Zelda-like control. You can manipulate the camera with ease, and pull up your inventory with a press of the Z button. Beware, however: the left analog stick is sensitive to your press. If you've put it through a lot of use and abuse (damn you Super Smash Bros.!) it may not register your movement. If you press all the way up, for example, instead of running you may only walk and it can be really frustrating when trying to run over a gap and auto-jump.
Other new and mixed improvements than what came before make the game feel more polished such as the ability to fly over Hogwarts in day and night, the additions of more types of creatures, including more ''Boss'' type creatures (albeit with an annoying fixed camera when you battle), more use for spells to find some secret areas, and more things to do like find ingredients for potions that can help you heal (aside from collecting Cauldron Cakes, Chocolate Frogs, and Pumpkin Pasties to do so). The loading times have also been, thankfully, greatly reduced; they are not a problem anymore.
What's here is kind of fun, I just wish it was better. Hogwarts is supposed to be a grand castle filled with secrets. Why not let us explore more of it in a non-linear way? Maybe with extra hidden spells, areas, and levels to be found. There should also be more items, and items that are useful and better implemented. For example, when you receive an invisibility cloak you can only use it for a limited time before it's taken from you, and you can still be seen by prefects while wearing it! Absolutely ridiculous.
Now, the reasoning for the adventuring in this game is a bit better than the "story" told in Chamber of Secrets, as there is actually some...story. It does point out scenes of the book and movie; however, cut-scenes usually go by fast and scenes can be inaccurate, such as meeting a certain someone at Hogwarts first and not in Diagon Alley. I felt at times I was playing a game, based on the movie, based on the book. In fact, some scenes look like they were taken directly from the film version. It would have been nice if a new perspective to the story had been taken.
Graphically the game looks simply gorgeous. The game has a nice crisp look to it. The enemies are well animated such a the large mountain trolls that lumber about (there's more than one here), as are the environments such as The Forbidden Forest with some great looking, low-hanging fog that rolls beautifully down some embankments. There are a bit of problems in the visuals, though. Aside being able to see some programming seams, the bad also includes once again having the characters shown with a sort of rough edge, and a glitch that can have some of the students, outside, floating in the air. Such things could have been easily fixed, I'm sure, but they led me to believe the game was rushed for the 2003 holiday season in which this game was released.
The voices are pretty well done. A couple I found off, but overall they had a nice quality. I liked the spoken description of every Famous Witch and Wizard Card, for instance - great voice over by Jim Dale. Many may grate their teeth, however, at Harry's overused sayings when he walks over an Every-Flavored Bean or casts a spell (students also repeat sayings a lot). Also, I found it hard to distinguish between the prepubescent boy/girl voices since many voices tend to sound alike.
And I would have liked for the students to have some memory when they speak to you. A Slytherin student hating Draco Malfoy, a member of the same house? A student forgetting he just talked to you in a story sequence and reverts to general sayings after you talk to him again? Yep, you'll find inconsistency here as well. The background audio of the music is sometimes non-existent, relying on sounds more for ambiance and can, in the case of flying over Hogwarts, loop then fade away. Some of Chamber of Secrets' music (why leave that out?) makes a return as well.
This game is not horribly bad, but not wonderfully good, either. I would say it's the best of the Potter adventure games on the 'Cube (I do think Warthog's development did help a bit with some former members of, of all series, the Colony Wars team), but there are so many things that could have made this game better. Like maybe a multiplayer, or more things to do with the cards you find for some longer gameplay (Trading Card Game?).
With some minor replay to speak of, like entering challenges over again (well, at least you can), and some other un-pleasantries I don't think the game will appeal to the non-Harry Potter gamer. If you are a fan, I do recommend a rental, or even as a bargain bin, dirt cheap purchase (used/new) which it should be now. Try it along with Quidditch World Cup, as the games do provide some enjoyment while they last for the often letdown Harry Potter fan, who is also a gamer.
Product Release: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (US, 12/09/03)
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