Harry Potter and the Sorcerer

If there’s one thing that
has been able to get kids to read again it’s Harry Potter.  Harry’s delightful
stories have been so popular that they pulled its author out of poverty and
have earned her more than $200 million.  That’s just the author’s cut — the
book publishing, toy and movie companies have made billions.

With Harry Potter begging to
be given the interactive treatment, how could anyone resist making a game
about this hot commodity?

Not waiting for another
publisher to beat ’em to the punch, Electronic Arts quickly swooped in and
obtained the license necessary to make Harry Potter video games.  Several
Potter games have been released on all of the platforms, from PSone and Game
Boy Advance to the PC and PlayStation 2.  I never got the chance to try out
the previous adventures, so I was glad to get my hands on the latest chapter
in the series.

Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer’s Stone is, of course, based on the book of the same name.  It’s also
based on the movie, though I’m not sure that this is considered to be an
official game of the film.  However, many of the real-time movie sequences are
polygonal recreations of scenes from the film.  You won’t get to see two hours
of footage, but there is a bit of watching involved, giving every Potter-lover
a reason to grab a snack and a comfortable beanbag to lean on.  (A large
pillow will work just as well.)  Of course, these scenes might drive some
players mad if they’d prefer to have a mostly interactive experience with the
game and leave the movie sequences for the DVD.

That is the least of
Harry Potter’s problems though.  Like many of the games released in 2003, The
Sorcerer’s Stone starts off on the right track.  The controls are awkward at
times and clunky almost every step of the way, but can be learned and
tolerated if you wish to do so.  Three of the four face buttons on the
Dual-Shock 2 controller are dedicated to casting spells.  You can assign a
spell to any of three buttons (square, circle or triangle) via the
usually-easy-to-use menu screen.  This probably sounds good to the Harry
Potter faithful, and it is.  This part is fine.

What isn’t fine is what
the X button does and what it doesn’t do.  Its actions change depending on the
situation (you want to talk, pick up an object, etc.).  However, when you come
to a ledge and wish to jump, the X button does nothing.  None of the buttons
function at this time.  The game expects you to have faith in it by employing
an automatic jump feature.  Potter will jump off any ledge so long as two
criteria are met: 1) the edge is meant to be jumped off of; and 2) he is
running as he approaches the edge.  If he is walking he’ll leap down and grab
hold of the edge.

I would be fine with this
feature if it didn’t impair my ability to succeed.  Lining up a jump is not
always an easy thing to do.  You have to try and keep Potter straight,
otherwise he’ll jump at an angle and possibly miss his target.  If you’re
walking instead of running he’ll fall and grab the edge of the platform.  This
can be pretty tedious at times, especially when you’re in a hurry and all you
want to do is get from the beginning of the level to the end.

That’s a
gameplay-altering issue, but the real problem is what Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer’s Stone has to give to gamers: nothing.  Nothing they can’t get
elsewhere.  Nothing they can’t get in a better form.  And nothing they haven’t
already experienced.  Case in point: this game isn’t very exciting.  The
puzzles are a drag, and the in-game conversations are too long and too boring
to stand.  If the game was really addictive I could see myself sticking it
out, but all things considered that is not going to happen.  Not for me and
not for anyone but perhaps the most devout Harry Potter fans.  Even they will
be frustrated at times, and even they will get bored with this game.

Reviewer’s Scoring Details

Gameplay: 6
Two words keep
this from being a great-playing game: menial tasks.  The puzzles aren’t
clever, they’re just silly, and oftentimes confusing because of the clunky
controls and the sub-par camera.  This game might be worth checking out if you
consider yourself to be one of the biggest Harry Potter fans on the planet. 
But the rest of you would be wise to let this one sit on the shelf.

Graphics: 8.5
Aesthetically the
game shines in both graphical beauty and in design.  Fans will enjoy exploring
the classic Harry Potter locales.

Sound: 7
This game has a
decent soundtrack, but it’s not my kind of music.

Difficulty: Easy/Medium
As frustrating as
the game can be, it still isn’t very challenging.

Concept: 5
The story is
beloved for its original characters and its unique style.  This game will be
disliked for its indistinctiveness.  It copies what others have done in the
most basic form, but failed to copy the most important element —

Overall: 6.3
Harry Potter and
the Sorcerer’s Stone isn’t the magnificent game it could have been.  It has
some good things going for it, but they don’t have much to do with the
gameplay.  The graphics are pretty and mostly detailed, looking more like a
top-tier PS2 game than one of this caliber.  It’s a shame because the game
could have been great.  The framework is here…it just needs more polish. 
And more exciting things for us to do.