After being so pleasantly surprised by Harry Potter’s previous Wii outing we approached this latest title with a fair degree of expectation. Promises of realistic potion-making, intense Quidditch matches and generally improved presentation echoed through the office as the disc was slotted into the Nintendo Life Wii. While the end result doesn’t quite justify our heady excitement, it is at least a cut above the usual licensed tosh we’re force-fed by publishers these days.
For those of you that aren’t up to speed with the Potter universe, Half-Blood Prince takes place as Voldemort’s evil army of good-for-nothing wizards continues to assert its dominance over the magical world inhabited by Harry and his chums during their school days. As always, Harry dutifully attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but this term his life is even more at risk than ever as a titanic struggle between the forces of good and evil threatens to spill over into the Muggle-world (that’s our world, in case you were wondering).
Fans of the books generally seem to agree that Half-Blood Prince contains a gripping plot that sets the scene nicely for the final entry (which was published recently). However, translating that into a video game isn’t easy, and to be honest Electronic Arts has taken a fair few liberties with the storyline here – most of which help it to function as a more enjoyable interactive experience.
Visually things are much improved over Order of the Phoenix, and though characters still possess a rather wooden appearance they also display more detail and expression. Harry, Ron and Hermione have a worrying tendency to look like zombies from time to time but, considering the graphical power of the Wii, Half-Blood Prince is a commendable accomplishment aesthetically, and isn’t a million miles away from the 360 and PS3 versions. Sonically things are even more impressive: the music is fantastic and the spoken dialogue has been provided by original cast members (although some of the main characters – Harry included – are voiced by replacement actors).
Once again, EA has painstakingly recreated Hogwarts School in incredible detail. Striding around its dusty corridors will send Potter fans into seventh heaven; being able to visit Hagrid’s Hut or waste time in the Duelling Club is sure to hit the right note with dedicated followers of J K Rowling’s boy wizard.
However, despite the full-bodied nature of the surroundings, the much-hyped potion-making segment is curiously malnourished in terms of depth. While mixing the various concoctions together is fun for a short while, the limitations of this mode quickly become apparent. A little more variety in the selection of gesture commands wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Quidditch is a far more crushing disappointment, though. Instead of taking part in a proper match you’re merely expected to fly through a series of hoops until you eventually build up enough speed to catch the Golden Snitch. While these segments look and sound astonishing, they’re actually very lightweight in terms of gameplay. While it’s true that trying to include an entire match would have resulted in a severe imbalance between the different portions of the title, a little more complexity would have been welcome.
The other most notable aspect of Half-Blood Prince is the combat. Playing very much like a traditional FPS title, you move your character around with the Nunchuk’s analogue stick whilst casting spells with the Wii Remote. As was the case in Order of the Phoenix, it works brilliantly and puts the more traditional control method seen in the 360 and PS3 versions to shame; this really is the most faithful way of experiencing the magical world of Harry Potter.
It’s not just combat that makes use of this control method, though. Throughout the game you’ll get chance to magically interact with various objects – a good example being the ability to lift things up in the air and reposition them.
Although many of the missions you’ll embark on during the course of the game push the storyline forward to its enviable conclusion, there are optional side-quests to partake in. You can also collect the many Crests that are scattered around Hogwarts in order to achieve a perfect completion grade – a task that will keep dedicated players busy for quite some time.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince certainly improves on its predecessor in many ways; it’s visually more arresting and there’s more variety to the gameplay. Sadly, the addition of the potion-making class and Quidditch hasn’t really granted the game the depth it probably deserves, and those of you that disliked Order of the Phoenix are unlikely to be swayed by this sequel; it’s essentially more of the same, with a different plotline underpinning the action. It’s aided by the fact that it’s based on what is arguably a more exciting and epic book than its forerunner was, and if you consider yourself to be potty over Potter then you’ll be spellbound by this. It’s just a shame that this feels more like a continuation rather than a fully-fledged enhancement.