Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Review
Posted by Damien McFerran
Can EA atone for the shameful lineage of Harry Potter games with their latest instalment on the Nintendo DS, or will this particular spell fizzle out like the rest?
If you’ve had the forethought to read our recent preview of the Wii version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (let’s compress that down to HP:OotP from hereon in) you’ll be aware that we were pleasantly surprised following our initial play test. After a string of lacklustre Potter-related titles, EA finally seem to be putting some effort in with the highly prestigious (not to mention lucrative) licence. Taking this into account, we were justifiably optimistic about the DS entry – surely the developers would be willing to put in as much effort with the portable edition?
Sadly, the answer to this question becomes glaringly apparent within the space of a few minutes play. It would appear that the DS is now becoming the spiritual successor of the Gameboy Advance in the most unappealing of ways – HP:OotP is low-quality shovelware of the worst possible standard. Nintendo’s previous handheld was swamped with terrible licensed games and we at NintendoLife had sincerely hoped that the same would not happen to their dual-screen portable.
Obviously it would be incredibly naive to expect the DS to replicate the experience of the Wii version given the massive gulf in the respective power of the two machines, but that doesn’t excuse the stupefying lack of imagination displayed in this lamentable release. The developers have decided to adopt a viewpoint similar to that of Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil, where each scene is pre-rendered and only the characters are displayed in three dimensions. Sadly, they’ve hit the same problems those two games faced well over a decade ago. Moving from one room to the next abruptly switches the viewpoint, often leaving the player running in a completely different direction due to a change of orientation. This problem is amplified by the already sluggish controls and the fact that Potter-pals Ron and Herminie – who remain at your side for the duration of the adventure – are continually getting in your way.
The game structure consists of running from one location to the next, speaking to a character, collecting an item, performing a mini-game task and then repeating the entire process until the game is finished. The design is hilariously poor – on several occasions the player is forced to traverse the entire length of Hogwarts just to speak to one person, who then prompt tells them to return to the part of the castle they’ve just come from. In terms of game structure, it’s inexcusably lazy.
The touch-screen sections manage to elevate the game slightly. The potions class is especially well handled, requiring the player to drop various ingredients into a boiling cauldron and fan the flames at certain points by blowing on the DS microphone whilst furiously stirring the mixture with the stylus. However, even this minor moment of enjoyment becomes tiresome after a short time and the actual level of skill involved is minuscule. Other touch-screen sections are handled less effectively – spell-casting is achieved by tracing various shapes (anyone who has played Lionhead’s seminal Black and White will be aware of this kind of context-sensitive gesture system) which isn’t too bad in itself, but often the player has to cast the same spell several times in short succession, so things get old extremely swiftly. Duelling – easily the one part of the game that had the potential to be truly excellent – is handled in the same ham-fisted manner, and is to much of chore to be truly entertaining. Potter addicts will no doubt be over the moon when casting famous spells from the books, but everyone else will be wondering what the fuss is all about.
EA boast that the game allows you to experience all the key scenes of the movie, but even this is handled badly – major scenes are played out using grainy, static rendered images accompanied by snatches of almost incoherently written dialogue. To anyone who has yet to read the book or see the movie, these cut scenes are practically incomprehensible as they only touch very briefly on key plot points before zooming ahead to the next section of the story.
Graphically the game is also well below average. The 3D characters lack any kind of detail and animate awkwardly, lurching from a walking to running stance with all the fluidity of a sumo wrestler with rickets. The pre-rendered backgrounds are low quality and lack any colour or detail (obviously a trade off given the relatively small storage space granted by the DS cartridge format). The sound isn’t much better, with a decidedly ‘retro’ sounding rendition of the famous Potter theme. If this soundtrack accompanied a SNES game you probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid.
As you may well be aware by this point in the review, we didn’t really like the DS version of HP:OotP. However, our opinion is unlikely to stop the thousands of DS-owning Potter fans out there from snapping it up, which is a crying shame. With a licence as lucrative as Harry Potter you can’t blame EA for wanting to make as much cash as possible – it’s just a shame that they have produce such astoundingly poor software in order to do it.
After the relative highs of the Wii version, we were brought back down to Earth with a disappointing bump by the tragic Nintendo DS edition. It exhibits few redeeming features and even hardcore fans of the teenage wizard will surely be exceptionally disappointed. The unique features of the DS aren’t utilized in a particularly convincing manner, the visuals often approach amateurish levels and the general game structure is depressingly archaic and unimaginative. DS owners and Potter fans alike certainly deserve much better. Avoid like a rampant cave troll with a fungal foot disease.