If you draw a blank when the name Harry Potter is mentioned, you probably are a muggle in the truest sense of the word. The last decade has seen J.K. Rowling’s brainwave on a train from Manchester to London grow into a multi-million dollar franchise, and has firmly placed the author amidst unparalleled fame and stardom (not to mention, made her truckloads of money!)
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And like every other major franchise these days, the series has made the transition across media, spanning into a series of movies and video games. Warner Brothers and Electronic Arts rightly identified that the series’ affinity to green extends well beyond the colour of Harry Potter’s eyes, with the former churning out a series of movies, and the latter creating games true to the spirit of modern age movie tie-ins (that’s not a compliment).
So the obvious question here is how does the gaming counterpart of the sixth iteration of the series fare? Not as badly as you expect it to. Some of the more engaging game mechanics made it a far more pleasant experience for me than the recently released movie. But I’ll get to that later.
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Let’s start with the story first. Like the previous games, this one also traces the events of the movie via cutscenes, which means that it does a good job of turning the story into a convoluted tryst of teenage romance, while ignoring more important things like tracing Voldemort’s past or unravelling the mystery of the Half-Blood Prince. And while we are at it, the cutscenes are extremely shoddy and very poorly voiced over (comes as no surprise given that only a few of the actors – Tom Felton and Rupert Grint, to name a couple – have lent their voices to the game). If you concur with my opinion that the unveiling of the Half-Blood Prince was a bit anticlimactic in the movie, the game completely obliterates whatever little charm was left in it.
There is no shortage of technical issues with the cutscenes either. For example, one featuring Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter towards the end completely lacked the movement of the lips of the former. All this reeks of a sacrifice in quality to meet deadlines.
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In fact, the story told in this game and the previous ones, for that matter, is a huge letdown and a missed opportunity. A movie can get away with excluding portions from the source material because it has limited time to tell the whole story. However, a game is expected to be lengthier, which means that the story can be told without omitting anything. By occupying that space, the Harry Potter games could have been a great addition to the franchise, and instead of gameplay elements driving the playtime (which stands at barely 5-6 hrs), the story could have driven the game and made it a compelling experience.
Thankfully though, these very gameplay elements happen to be the saving grace of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The entire game is built around three elements: potion-making, duelling and quidditch. Let’s take them one at a time.
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The best among these is potion-making. For the uninitiated, Harry Potter turns out to be surprisingly good at potions in his sixth year. And quite aptly, potion-making is an integral part of the game, with the player being required to brew various potions from time to time to progress the story. The player has set ingredients and a limited amount of time to make the potion. The instructions keep scrolling up on the right side of the screen, with the player being required to add an ingredient in a specific quantity, or stir the potion (done by rotating the right stick), or heat it (by rapidly moving the right stick up and down) until the potion turns to the indicated colour. Overdo it and your view gets obstructed by smoke, which must first be cleared by rapidly tapping the triggers.
The entire experience has been implemented very well to make the player feel as if he or she is really brewing a potion. While the game is forgiving enough to allow a couple of errors, the perfectionist in me kept returning to the Potions Club, frantically trying to finish a potion as fast as I could without making a mistake to get the five star rating.
Next page: Verdict