reviews\ Jun 20, 2004 at 8:00 pm

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - PS2 - Review

Harry Potter.  Who knew?  Who knew that when a little book known as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was released that it would become such a cultural phenomenon?  Never has a book series, especially a series aimed predominantly at children, become so popular and beloved by young and old alike.  Generally speaking, in the past it’s been rare (although it’s become much more common place as of late) to find a game that captures the feel and soul of a movie, much less a book.  However, EA has been doing an admirable, if at times slightly flawed, job at capturing the spirit of both the movies and the books since the very beginning, and their latest effort does not disappoint.  As a matter of fact, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, is the best Potter game to date.

As in the previous games, you control Harry in a very Zelda like adventure as you try to survive the current year and storyline at Hogwarts.  EA could have taken the easy route and pumped out another game just like the previous ones, with updated visuals and of course story, and most of us would have been satisfied.  We Harry Potter fans are a fanatical bunch; chances are if it ties into Harry, we’re going to like it, but EA actually tried to do something different by allowing the player to also control Harry’s cohorts, Ron and Hermione.  This is the biggest difference from this game and those that preceded it, and it adds a surprising amount to the gameplay.  Each character has specific strengths and even spells, exclusive to them, that you must use in order to solve the puzzles and mysteries of the Prisoner of Azkaban.  The ways in which you use each character’s strengths never seems forced, flowing with the natural progression of the game and environments, which really adds to the enjoyment of the game.  For example, Harry is the most athletic of the bunch, so he is more adept at jumping wide gaps and climbing ropes, ladders, etc.  Ron on the other hand, uses his curiosity to his advantage by being able to see secret doorways and passages his friends can’t.  He’s also a master at using the various wares sold at his brothers’ secret shop.  Finally, there is Hermione, the brains of the operation.  She’s especially useful as a spell-caster, and her diminutive size allows her to squeeze into places the others can’t.

As we’ve already established, this game plays an awful lot like the Zelda series, which as most of us know, isn’t a bad thing at all.  From the auto-jump, to the targeting, to assigning different actions/equipment to the face buttons, it’s all here, lending itself beautifully to the subject matter.  It’s a very intuitive setup, making the game instantly accessible and fun for gamers of all ages and skills.  In addition to the Zelda style adventuring and puzzle solving, you’ll also take flight as both Hedgwig and Buckbeak in timed flying events, that are fun and challenging in themselves.  Also new to the gameplay this time around is the use of the Marauder’s Map, an integral part to the story of this chapter.  As in the previous games, stealth plays a part in certain sections, which is where the Marauder’s Map comes into play.  The map is presented very much like the radar from the Metal Gear series allowing you to see the movements of anyone in your immediate vicinity.  It proves to be a pretty good way of incorporating the Marauder’s Map into the game, allowing it to be almost as useful as it is in the book/movie.

Finally, the biggest addition to this game (for PS2 and Eye Toy owners) is the inclusion of Eye Toy mini-games. Now before I get started, let me send a great big THANK YOU to EA for including this feature.  It does my heart good to see a third party developer taking advantage of this very nifty, groundbreaking little piece of hardware.  What’s really great about these mini-games, other than the fact that they are there, is that they don’t seem to be a tacked on afterthought.  They’re actually really well done and fit in with the Harry Potter universe.  Really, the only drawback is that they are mostly continuations of some of the games that shipped with the Eye Toy, but they are fun nonetheless.  Included in the Eye Toy games are Exploding Snap, De-Gnoming, Zonko’s Joke Shop, Chocolate Frogs, Gobstones, and Seeker Practice.  In Exploding Snap you are presented with a card at the top of the screen with which you must quickly match from several other cards on the screen.  De-Gnoming is pretty self-explanatory; you must whack gnomes from Hagrid’s garden.  In Zonko’s Joke Shop the goal is to explode as many Dungbombs as possible by slapping them, to get the window as dirty as possible, before clapping on Stink Pellets and little pieces of candy which clear the screen of dung.  In Chocolate Frogs you must clap on as many of Hogwart’s most favorite candies as you can.  Gobstones is a pretty cool little game where you must hit Gobstones as they flash across the screen; the catch is that it is possible to blow up a whole chain of Gobstones if you time it correctly.  And finally there is Seeker Practice for aspiring Quidditch players, as you attempt to catch the Golden Snitch while avoiding the Bludgers.

Graphically the developer has pumped up the graphics by a considerable amount from the last game.  Textures are much sharper, lines are smoother, and the lighting and particle effects are outstanding.  The character models are great, markedly better than the previous games, and this goes for both playable and non-playable characters.  The school itself is suitably vast and impressive, capturing the atmosphere from the books possibly even better than the movies have, which is no small feat in itself.  On the sound side of things, the developer has used voice actors that do an admirable job of mimicking the voices of the actors in the movies.  Sometimes when a game developer tries to use “sound alikes” the results can often times be more distracting than anything else, but whoever they’ve hired for this game deliver their lines naturally and with the same inflections and emotion as their big screen counterparts.  The sound effects are what you’d expect, especially if you’ve played the previous games, and the music is suitable to the various scenarios you’ll find Harry and friends in.

All told, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one slick package that does justice to both the book and the movie.  For those of you caught up in “Potter-Mania” you’ll no doubt find a game worth owning, as it is the best game in the series yet.  And if you’re not caught up in all things Potter (all three of you), there’s still hope for you if you enjoy adventure games with a compelling story, i.e. Zelda.  It’s a very solid game that is a lot of fun to play, and the inclusion of Eye Toy games is just Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans (minus the booger, vomit, and ear wax flavors) in the proverbial icing on the cake. 

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 9.0
If you’re going to mimic a game’s gameplay, why not mimic the best?  Which is what EA has done here with a Zelda like adventure.  The control is intuitive and responsive, and the puzzles compelling.  Playing this game proves to be a very enjoyable experience.  The camera can be a bit troublesome at times, but it rarely costs you health.

Graphics: 9.0 
Graphically, this is the best Potter game yet.  From the main characters, to the enemies, to the environments, especially Hogwarts itself are all top notch.

Sound: 9.0
The voice talent does a great job of mimicking the actors from the movies.  The sound effects and music are suitable to the game, but they will sound familiar to veterans of the earlier Potter games.

Difficulty:  Medium
Just like steaks, there are degrees of “medium” in games.  This game should be considered “medium-easy”.  It’s a relatively easy game, but not so much as to turn off experienced gamers, but there is enough challenge there that inexperienced or younger gamers will have to be on their toes and they may need periodic help from older siblings or mom and dad.

Concept: 9.5 
In the Potter universe, Ron and Hermione are often equals to the “boy who lived” and this game illustrates this fact.  While there is no doubt that Harry is the focus, the developer found an ingenious way of incorporating his partners who are such vital parts of the story.  Just as in the books and life, you won’t get too far without the help of faithful friends.  Also adding to this score is the inclusion of Eye Toy games that fit with the story, which does wonders for deepening the immersion.

Multiplayer: N/A for the main game, 9.0 for the Eye Toy

There is no multiplayer support for the main game, which would have been nice for controlling all three characters at once, but they make up for it with the Eye Toy, which supports up to four players.  When you begin any of the Eye Toy games, each player has their picture taken, at which time the Sorting Hat sorts you into your “house”, which is a fun addition.  From there, the real strength of the Eye Toy comes to the front as a great party game.  There’s not much in gaming that’s more fun than watching friends or family make fools of themselves.

Overall: 9.0
The greatest test of a licensed game is to ask yourself if the game would still be compelling without the license and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban passes with flying colors.  But the fact that it does in fact do justice to the license and the beloved story, only adds to it.  It’s a very solid game that allows fans to enter the Potter universe in a more interactive fashion than the books or movies allow, while always staying faithful.  The inclusion of Potter specific Eye Toy games only adds to the magic.  Fans will find a lot to love here, while non-fans will still likely find a good time.


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