reviews\ Jun 30, 2004 at 8:00 pm

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - GBA - Review

Harry is back in his third adventure from EA, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This third outing offers a completely different approach to the franchise on the GBA, with a turn-based RPG-style of play instead of the action-mode of play in the previous games. The result is a more leisurely adventure through Hogwarts.

There are other changes to the gameplay, namely the ability to play as either Hermione and Ron, besides Harry. Choosing a character depends on which spells and special powerups are needed for a particular task. Toggling back and forth between characters is made simple by the use of the L/R buttons on the GBA, which lists special action spells available and the character who controls each spell. Hermione can cause ice blocks to form across passages with the Glacius spell; Ron can open locked doors with Alohomora; and Harry can light up dim passages with Lumos, among other spells.

The turn-based RPG mode of play is implemented quite well, and in my opinion at least, is a much more successful method to explore Hogwarts on the GBA, rather than having to worry about platform-action elements and fighting enemies in real-time. The turns are designed nicely, and there are even little icons at the top right of the screen that show the order in which the enemies will attack.

It's all about making the characters as strong as possible to defeat Voldemort at the end of the game, and there are many chances to level up. Fighting every enemy is the key to leveling up quickly, and successful outcomes will result in increased levels of power, agility, defense and better, stronger spells. In each battle, the characters can choose to use a special power (Harry can use card combos for special attacks, Hermione can give instruction to her friends to make them stronger, and Ron can use stink pellets to damage the enemies), flee, use the Informus spell to gather information about the enemy's vulnerability to certain spells, use a potion to gain back spell or health points, or pick a certain spell to use. Some of these actions use up points, all use up a turn.

Of course, Ron's brothers are again running a thriving magic store on the black market, and Harry and friends can buy many items to improve their defense skills, like special boots, cloaks, potions and charms.

The enemies are plentiful, but also easily avoidable. The only forced battles are with certain bosses at designated points in the game; the other enemies are clearly seen and can be avoided by just going around them. However, to level up quickly, most will need to be fought. This game is extremely forgiving, though, and if the entire team is defeated, they will simply start over fairly close to the point of death with complete power points restored. This actually sometimes makes losing the first time around a desired thing, especially against a strong boss enemy.

This game is mostly a type of dungeon crawl, with lots of quests that require certain items to be fetched back and forth. There are also collectibles, namely wizard cards, potions and money, but strangely, no chocolate frogs or beans. There really should have been beans to collect. The game is very linear, and requires the tasks to be completed before advancing.

Although there is plenty of fighting, it's designed to be pretty forgiving, which really opens up this game for younger fans of Potter. If a battle is lost, the players will only be moved back a trifle, retain all their present power, and actually gain back all their lost health and magic points. Leveling up the team is quite fun, as is purchasing items at the Weasley brothers shop.

The game looks good enough, but could have been better graphically. It's hard to say exactly what could be improved, it's more a matter of visual blandness than anything else. There just aren't many special touches.

Other features include four unlockable mini-games, a three-slot save game, and a virtual pet Owl game if players have the Gamecube version of The Prisoner of Azkaban.

The change to an RPG style of play has worked very well, and we've had a great time leveling up our teams. While sometimes the dungeon crawling can get repetitive, there is enough variety in the different quests to keep interest high, especially with the magic shop and mini-games. And of course, exploring Hogwarts is a hoot for fans! This is the best Harry Potter GBA game yet, and one that will provide a satisfying experience for Harry Potter fans, although non-fans may find it a little tame and short.

Gameplay: 8
Playing as Harry in an RPG is very entertaining. The RPG elements have been tweaked into a basic format, but still provide quite a bit to do. The ease of the interface really adds to the enjoyment, as well.

Graphics: 6 
Nothing special here.

Sound: 6.5
The music is adequate, but not annoying.

Difficulty:  Medium
The game is not a difficult one, but it's not all that easy, either. There is strategy involved in choosing fights, and what actions to take during the fights for the optimum outcome.

Concept: 7.5 
There's nothing really innovative in the RPG mode, but it is well designed and presented. The information in the menus during battle is especially nice.


Overall: 7.5
A really fun romp in Harry's world! Fans should be well-pleased.


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