reviews\ Jun 23, 2004 at 8:00 pm

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - XB - Review

You have to hand it to author J. K. Rowling, she not only created a beloved series of books but also a franchise that spawned three wonderful movies and a few games crossing multiple platforms.  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban marks the young wizard-in-training’s third year at Hogwarts and as you can see from the blockbuster film, this one’s much darker and--dare I say it?--probably the best Potter movie so far.  As for games, EA gave us a really good Harry Potter game with Chamber of Secrets so will Prisoner of Azkaban bring more good magic to the series?


The game’s plot follows closely in the footsteps of both the book and the film, although many of the scenes are nicely pulled from the pages of the book itself (complete with descriptive narrative).  On their way to Hogwarts, Harry, Ron and Hermione are attacked by a specter-like presence called Dementors that are somehow connected to the escape of a dangerous inmate held in Azkaban prison.  As Harry soon finds out, the prisoner has a name and its Sirius Black who is a dark magic-user that was rumored to have killed thirteen people with a single curse and is, in some way, responsible for the death of Harry’s parents.  But that’s not the half of it, it also seems that Black has a grudge against Harry and is out to kill him.  It’s up to Harry and his two loyal and trusted friends to put a stop to Black and unravel the mystery behind his escape.


So you see, that’s quite a story and -- for the most part -- the game tries to be true to it.  I say “tries” because there are factors that distract gamers from enjoying the storytelling but we’ll get to that in a minute.  Moving Harry around once again plays a lot like the N64 Zelda games and baby, that isn’t a bad thing.  In fact, this is one of the most enjoyable aspects of Prisoner -- the character’s interaction with the surroundings and the scripted events that occur during exploration.  Harry can still move around easily, look at things and you can even assign spells to the controller button for easy access to them.  The majority of spells found in Chamber of Secrets are back (Flipendo being the one you start with) but thanks to the current situation he has opted to learn new useful ones like Expecto Patronum (which fends of Dementors).


Harry isn’t alone in this game, though.  This time around EA has opted to include Ron and Hermione as playable characters and they’re not included just to give the game a new point-of-view but to bring a neat sense of collaboration.  There are many scenarios in the game that require Harry receive a helping hand and there are even more that require the help of all three.  For instance, in order to open a gate, something heavy is needed to be placed on the floor switch.  There’s a huge chest but Harry can’t push it by himself so with the press of the B button you can take control of Ron or Hermione and help Harry pick up the chest and place it on top of the floor switch.  There is also a situation that has Harry and Ron lifting a gate open for someone as small and slender as Hermione to slip through in order to press the button that lifts the gate up completely. 


There’s nothing like a good dose of teamwork to spice up a game and it works excellently here but there’s more to Ron and Hermione than just lifting boxes or pulling switches.  Ron, who is just way too curious for his own good, is great at spotting things Harry might miss.  He’s also great at using stink pellets and has mastered a lighting spell called Lumos Duo.  Hermione, on the other hand, is something of a bookworm and as a result she’s mastered some really useful spells such as Glacius (a spells that creates ice blocks or turns water to ice) or Reparo (a spell that repairs broken items).


There’s also plenty to interact with, and fans of the books and films will enjoy exploring every little corner that will seem nicely familiar to fans.  Still the game revolves around the story and you’ll often be hurried along by your companions to keep the story rolling.  In Hogwarts you’ll be doing what is expected of you during class and this mostly consists of getting certain objects for a professor until you move along to investigating the mystery behind Sirius Black.  This brings us to the puzzles in the game and, unfortunately, the game’s biggest flaws.  Some puzzles are cleverer than other and some are pretty obvious (move a few reflective crystals around to shine the light on an object that will open a door).  Yet what brings this game down considerably is the fact that the game gives you too many hints even for the easy puzzles.  Talk about leading a gamer by the hand . . . these constant reminders and hints just bring no real challenge even to the much younger gamer.


Here’s another complaint; the targeting system just doesn’t work as well as it should.  There was one point in the game that a book suddenly came to life and attacked Harry and Ron.  I must have spent close to twenty minutes trying to Flipendo the darn critter to the ground with no success until Ron accidentally hit it.  This makes battles somewhat frustrating to go through sometimes.  And, although I do love a good mini-game during the game’s main action, it really shouldn’t interrupt the flow of the story, which it does in this game.


Prisoner, though, is great-looking Xbox game and has slicker graphics than the very visually appealing Chamber of Secrets.  The surroundings and background are beautifully detailed and rendered colorfully . . . even the game’s darker environments look stunning.  The character models are nicely handled as well and they look a lot like the actors that portray each character.  It’s cool to see Professor Snape look so much like actor Alan Rickman.  The visual effects are also great to look at, although they’re nothing as amazing as the effects found in the movie.  All is not great, though, because the camera sometimes doesn’t offer the best angles.


As for the sound, the score is so beautifully cinematic that it just makes those tense moments all the more dramatic.  The sound effects are also so much better than its visual presentation and the atmospheric background sound just adds to it.  As far as the voice acting is concerned, the voice talent behind each character is just so spot-on.  


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban has all the makings of a classic Harry Potter game but it just doesn’t quite make the grade.  If it wasn’t for the poorly executed lock-on feature and the constant nudges that point to the obvious puzzle solution or the bad camera angles this game could have been a fan favorite.  If you’re a fan of all things Potter, by all means give this one a good rental.  If you’re not, this one won’t make you one.


#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 6.0
The gameplay should have scored a 4.0 but the Zelda-like feel, the ability to assign spell to the buttons and explore/interaction are just too good.  The constant handholding just won’t sit will with older gamers that Potter franchise is aimed at, though. 


Graphics: 8.0
Beautifully rendered backgrounds and locations mixed with amazingly well detailed and colorful characters make this one of the best looking Potter games available.  You’ll hate the awful camera angles but with neat visual effects and character movement, it’s possible to overlook this flaw.


Sound: 8.2
The cinematic score is dramatic and rightly dark like the book and film.  You won’t be able to tell that these aren’t the actual actor’s voices doing your favorite character -- that’s how good they are!


Difficulty: Easy
There are lots of clever puzzles tossed into the game and you’ll have fun solving them . . . if you can ignore the hints that keep you from the joys of solving them yourself.  Still, much younger gamers might appreciate the hints.


Concept: 7.0
It’s fun exploring Harry’s universe and all the places you see in the film version as well.  The teamwork aspect of the game also deserves kudos. The three Mini-Games are nicely appreciated (the owl race isn’t good but the Dueling Club is pretty fun) even though they’re not as great as the PS2 version’s EyeToy fun.


Overall: 6.8
Prisoner of Azkaban is a step down from the enjoyable Chamber of Secrets and that’s unfortunate since EA handles the franchise well enough.  There’s a lot to like about this game and die-hard Potter fans will love to play through levels that they’ve seen in the movie but the flaws are too abundant to ignore.  There’s always the next one like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Above Average

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