Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – GC – Review

Mr. Harry Potter
has dazzled his way into countless hearts across the globe with a myriad of
products currently making the rounds that have the “Harry Potter” name
alluringly affixed to them, there is no doubt that the Harry Potter franchise is
unfathomably immense and in turn is a huge money maker for everybody involved. 
Electronic Art’s first attempt to recreate the magical world of Hogwarts was
decidedly lackluster and didn’t even make it to any 128-bit consoles. 
Nevertheless, it earned truckloads of money for EA and provided adequate
financial support to make the second release all the more exciting.  Their
newest videogame entry, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, is being
released on nearly every major platform and the Gamecube version can even
interface with the Gameboy Advance title via link-cable, something that makes
this version stand out from all the rest.  But does this title manage to get the
job done in the fun factor department?  Well, that depends, do you like lush,
detailed environments, Zelda-esque dungeons and exploration, and countless
interesting personalities to interact with?  Yeah, I thought so.


One of the best
things about Chamber of Secrets is how close the developers stayed to the story
purported in the book and movie without resorting to simple fetch quests and
lame puzzles in order to integrate all the popular elements from the original
plot.  You will (obviously) play the part of Harry Potter, wizard extraordinaire
and Quidditch player elite, as he makes his way through his second year at
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  The game starts out with Harry at
Ron Weasley’s house, so the beginning portion of the book is regrettably
absent.  But from there on out nearly every notable encounter and transgression
is faithfully intact.  For those not in the know, this second installment in the
series revolves around a mysterious force that is killing various people in the
school, in particular those of non-magical descent.  It will be up to Harry and
his two best-friends, Ron and Hermione, to unravel the intricate mystery and
hopefully get in some Quidditch practice along the


The gameplay found
in Chamber of Secrets is not unlike that of the last two Zelda games on the
N64.  Basic actions like climbing and jumping are done automatically when the
situation calls for it, spells can be easily mapped to three of the four
face-buttons on the Gamecube controller.  The big red A-button is your general
all-purpose button and allows Harry to open doors, initiate a conversation, grab
onto certain objects, and perform certain maneuvers like a Metal Gear-esque wall
shimmy.  Simplicity is certainly key in Chamber of Secrets gameplay, and the
developers did an excellent job in this regard.


Progression is
split into a day-by-day-type basis wherein a certain task or two must be
completed before you are able to call it a night and retire to your four-poster
bed.  Often you will be woken up in the middle of the night and be required to
do something.  At the end of each day at Hogwarts you’ll be shown the scores of
the various house teams, by the end of the year you’ll need to make sure that
your team, Gryffindor, has the highest score in order to win the house cup. 
Each objective that you must complete are based on events taken straight out of
the book.  For example, in part of the game you must report to Herbology class
in order to learn the spell “Diffindo”.  You’ll acquire the spell by taking the
Diffindo Challenge, which consists of Harry going through a number of different
areas where the Diffindo spell is required to progress.  There are many spells
such as this and they will all necessitate the completion of a challenge in
order to “learn” them. 


But taking class
courses in the various arts of wizardry isn’t the only thing you’ll be able to
do in Chamber of Secrets.  During the course of the game you’ll be able to
participate in three games of Quidditch against the various house teams, with
the last game being played against your team’s rival, Slytherin.  Just as in the
book, Harry will play the position of seeker and his goal will be to catch the
golden snitch.  This can be accomplished by going through rings on the Quidditch
field that the snitch leaves behind as an indication of its trajectory, after
flying through enough hoops you’ll be able to use a turbo boost to catch up with
the snitch.  At this point you must hit the A-button at precisely the right
moment in order to actually grab the snitch, if you fail to grab it you must
start all over again.  If Harry does well enough at Quidditch practice he will
be given a spanking new Nimbus 2000 that he can use to fly around the entire
school grounds.


Aside from the
obligatory main quests and Quidditch action that I am sure most Potter fans are
expecting, there is also a nice dose of extras thrown in for good measure. 
Talking to Neville outside the school’s main entrance will give you the option
to participate in various challenges that include gnome tossing, gnome dunking,
and broom racing.  There are also tons of famous wizard cards that can be found
throughout the quest and traded with other students.  Not to mention the
exclusive GBA link connectivity that allows you to travel to Gringrotts Bank and
scope out Harry’s horde of gold.  But the really great thing about Chamber of
Secrets is the fact that all this can be done at your discretion, you never feel
like you are being forced to push the story ahead further.  Diehard enthusiasts
of the Harry Potter books might be a little peeved about some minor alterations
in the story though.  For example, the magical diary that Harry comes across
audibly speaks to him rather than making the words magically appear and
disappear on the blank pages within the diary. 


As far as
aesthetics are concerned, Eurocom did a great job of recreating the original
vision of J.K. Rowling’s story.  The sheer size and scope of the various
environments depicted throughout the game are staggering, to say the least. 
Hogwarts, for example, is a seven-storey tall castle with seemingly countless
rooms, passageways, and secret areas.  It can be a little intimidating at first
since you are given free reign over the school almost right from the onset.  The
developers also included a full digital recreation of Diagon Alley, replete with
every store mentioned in the book, most of which you can actually go inside of. 
The textures used on all these areas are top-notch and an amazing amount of
attention to detail was given to every object in the game.  Animation is great,
though perhaps not as impressive as the rest of the visual package.  Some of the
most spectacular visuals occur when Harry is riding atop the Nimbus 2000, the
environments stretch out as far as the eye can see.  The on-screen action
usually runs at a steady clip of 60 frames per second, though it does have a
tendency to chunk up when a large amount of objects and characters are on-screen
at one time. 


Various lighting
techniques were also used to great effect.  As Harry wanders around darkened
corridors you’ll notice the small emission of light from his wand, and if you
perform a spell, such as Lumos, which basically allows Harry to use his wand as
a torch, the objects around him will light up and cast realistic shadows.  The
one downside to the engine Eurocom went with in Chamber of Secrets is the
sometimes-shoddy camera angles, which can easily throw your orientation off. 
More often than not, this problem can be corrected by use of the
camera-controlling C-stick or by hitting the L-trigger to align the camera in
the direction Harry is facing, but in particularly claustrophobic areas there is
nothing you can do to get a good view of the action.  But this is a minor gripe
on an otherwise excellent game.


Aurally, you can
expect a great combination of superb voice-acting, sound-effects, and music. 
The actors that EA commissioned for this title sound almost exactly like their
big-screen counterparts, sometimes you’ll get the feeling that the voice-actors
didn’t quite know what kind of mood the script was going for, but 99% of the
time it is dead-on.  The enchanting orchestrations that you’ll hear while
running through Hogwarts or outside in the Forbidden Forest are spell-binding. 
The developers really did a wonderful job of capturing the essence of the Harry
Potter universe in nearly every conceivable way.


I wasn’t expecting
this game to be as entertaining as it is, movie-to-game titles rarely receive
this much top-notch programming treatment but Harry Potter and the Chamber of
Secrets is positively a work of art that any fan of the series would be happy to
own.  It isn’t exactly a long-term gaming experience since it can be easily
beaten in two or three sittings, but there is plenty of raison d’