Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince ReviewBy Patrick Klepek - Posted Jun 30, 2009
Like clockwork, if there's another Harry Potter movie coming, there's an Electronic Arts-produced Harry Potter video game hitting alongside it. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is unfortunately a bit -- pardon the pun -- half-baked, with a combination of mostly brilliant wand-to-Wiimote control mechanics but a narrative that loses almost all dramatic tension and requires players to fill in the blanks on their own.
- The Wiimote truly becomes a wand
- Mini-games that actually make sense
- That catchy John Williams music
- Easy to become confused casting spells
- Character models are super creepy
- None of the subtlety of the book
I have no problem admitting I've played every single Harry Potter video game that Electronic Arts had produced, which has proven a surprisingly easy task, given the games have usually gotten notably better every time. I'm a big fan of Harry Potter's world and these games give me a chance, in some small way, play around there.
WII'S KILLER APP
The series started coming into its own when the Wii showed up a few years back, accidentally handing EA a killer application of the Wiimote. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, more so than any Harry Potter game before it, harnesses the Wiimote/wand potential. Half-Blood Prince is available on every platform under the sun, but it was clearly built with the Wii at the forefront and that's where you should play it.
In a game based on casting magic, it would be far too easy to overcomplicate the motions required to achieve active spells with the Wiimote. In this respect, EA both failed and succeeded, depending on what part of Half-Blood Prince you're playing. Thankfully, most of the game's spent doing things that make subtle, brilliant use of the Wiimote's capabilities. While running around Hogwarts, you're pointing at objects, lifting them into the air with a simple flick up, tossing them in another direction with a brush elsewhere. While conjuring potions -- a surprisingly huge part of the gameplay experience in Half-Blood Prince -- the Wiimote responds wonderfully as your hand tips and stirs. And Quidditch games, while mind-numbingly easy and on-rails, do feel natural. By comparison, the traditionally-controlled versions are overcomplicated and twitchy.
On Wii, however, it's not uncommon to overdo the required hand movements, resulting in the casting of unintended spells. That said, I'll happily take some hyper-waggling over three-step analog stick combinations to accomplish the same task. For example, a simple levitating spell is a flick up on Wii, but requires moving the right analog stick up, then left, then right (all in one quick motion) everywhere else.
MY HANDS ARE TANGLED
Half-Blood Prince's Wiimote dilemma comes about halfway through the game, when EA decided to add one too many spells to the combat arsenal. Combat begins as an entertaining back-and-forth of rock-paper-scissors, but such simplicity is ravaged when attacking spells are coming at such a fast pace that you're unable to execute the correct motions. Here, the precision of a controller proves advantageous. I can't count the number of times I accidentally executed a protection spell on the Wii version, meaning to do something else. To ensure proper hand movements, I was forced to sit up straight, holding my Wiimote and nunchuck forward, to avoid additional frustration.
There's even a mildly amusing wand-centric metagame happening as you walk around. Collecting crests unlocks in-game bonuses, and in addition to whole crests, there are mini-crest pieces scattered all over the world, highlighted by golden hues. While navigating Harry with the nunchuck, a simple swish over the highlights with the Wiimote sends mini-crests scattering. It's a lot like Super Mario Galaxy's star bits, except without the ability to have a second player point a Wiimote at the screen.
I hope you're already familiar with the source material, too. If not, hold off. Not only will the game spoil one of the series' biggest twists, but every dramatic element from the book is completely removed from this version. Half-Blood Prince makes no attempt to weave a coherent narrative, especially problematic for one of the more complicated Harry Potter books. Reading the book or seeing the movie is a requirement; it should be on the box. Like every other Harry Potter game that EA has produced, it assumes you're already intimately familiar with the storyline. I'd previously associated this issue with an accelerated development schedule, but this is EA's sixth Harry Potter game. The gameplay's advanced every year, but the storytelling remains disturbingly stagnant.
All told, Half-Blood Prince is also criminally short, unless you're obsessed with completing all the mini-games to perfection and unlocking the 150 crests (good luck!). Half-Blood Prince is an absolutely joy to control, thanks to the Wiimote, but in almost every other respect, it feels like just another licensed game. I don't know if EA needs to be lifted from the restrictions of the Harry Potter books to produce the epic Harry Potter video game adventure that's been swirling in my head, but now that it's nailed the biggest hurdle, controls, we need an equally impressive game part, too. Maybe next time.