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 spell casting system that's unnecessarily complicated and a narrative that loses almost all dramatic tension and requires players to fill in the blanks on their own.
- The world feels alive, magical
- Mini-games that actually make sense
- That catchy John Williams music
- Spell casting is unnecessarily complicated
- HD 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.
UP, DOWN, LEFT, RIGHT, WHAT?
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. If you're playing it elsewhere, however, there's some issues to be aware of.
In a game based on casting magic, it would be far too easy to overcomplicate the motions required to achieve active spells. This is definitely an issue with Half-Blood Prince. I shouldn't have to think too much when I want to do something as simple as levitate an object. 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. It's a small mental hurdle that's overcome rather quickly, but in these versions, it simply feels unnatural, compared to the physical simplicity found in the Wii version. This only becomes more of an issue as more spells are added to your arsenal. 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 a few instances of hyper-waggling over three-step analog stick combinations to accomplish the same basic task.
THE EYES, THE EYES!
One problem I didn't expect? I'm in the same boat as everyone else who wishes the Wii was capable of high-definition graphics, but in this case, maybe it's a good thing the Wii can't pull it off. Half-Blood Prince certainly features the most realistic looking versions of the Harry Potter cast to date, but the eyes -- oh lord, the eyes -- are supremely creepy. The eyes twitch all over the place in Half-Blood Prince, creating an easy vibe as characters talk with one another. The uncanny valley effect is in full force here.
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.