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