Xbox Review - 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'

by Nathan Mourfield on July 5, 2004 @ 2:02 a.m. PDT

In the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban videogame Harry Potter and his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As teenagers back for their third year of study, they are engaged in the mystery surrounding Sirius Black, who has recently escaped from the infamous wizard prison Azkaban.

Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Games
Release Date: June 2, 2004

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the player is Harry Potter and his gang of magical miscreants in the third year of Hogwarts School of Magic. The killer Sierras Black in on the loose, having escaped from the much-feared Azkaban prison, the most fearsome place on Earth. Harry must survive his third year dodging Dementors, Sierras Black, and Finials among other dangers.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is based off of both the Book and Movie of the same name. The game stays true to the graphical design of the movie, abet in much brighter colors, or should I say colors. I am not sure how close either the game or the movie is to the book since I have not read the book.

The first thing that I noticed about the title is the quality of the face mappings on the three main character, Harry, Ronald, and Herminity. Some of the other characters do not get as much justice, noticeably Professor Snape. Unfortunately, my friends and I started referring to Prof. Snape as Prof. Jellybelly. The model does have a vague resemblance to the actor, if that actor had gained 100 lbs. Most of the models were at least recognizable as who they were suppose to be.

The game follows the story line of the movie relatively closely. It does add more subplots to flesh out the game quite a bit. This is to be expected. Also, some of the scenes from the movie are slightly different, allowing the player to use any one of the three main characters to complete a particular scene.

The bulk of the game mechanics is made up by puzzles of one sort or the other. Most puzzles involve a mixture of using the right character (usually because of some skill or spell) or combination of characters to solve the puzzle. Some of the puzzles are a bit difficult, but the characters themselves offer quite a bit of hints on how to solve the puzzles. I personally like the 'Ron, what about the big box?' hint. Some of the hints are not that subtle. Some of them are not that subtle once you realize what they are talking about.

Tossed in with the puzzles is combat via spell. The combat also tends to be a puzzle. Trying to figure out the combination of spells required to send something into the either can be very frustrating.

Speaking of spells, the spell effects are fantastic. They lend the impression of excessively powerful magic at the tips of the fingers of teenyboppers. I personally would trust your average 13 year old with a peashooter. The kids will be kids though, so expect some horrible practical jokes on each other. I would hate to see these kids with a fireball or finger of death spell.

The game also has three minigames in it. They are dueling club, owl racing, and hippogriff riding. I did not take to the owl racing, due to the flaws of the flight controls, which I will discuss later. I did enjoy the other two games.

Dueling Club is a three on three combat which is standard within the game. The three characters have two spells, a standard attack spell and a standard reflect spell. The characters are essentially the same and the minigame is not that difficult with very little practice.

Owl racing is probably the most annoying of the three minigames, due to the flight controls. The objective is to fly the owl through the rings, with a time limit to get through the rings.

Hippogriff racing was my favorite. The objective is to have the hippogriff eat some bats within a certain time limit. I used it to go flying around Hogwarts. The scenery is amazing.

The cinematics do nothing to improve the game. They are shot in the same quality as the rest of the game, so there is nothing additionally amazing about them. They convey information and can be mildly amusing.

The controls of the game are probably the weakest part of the game. The right thumb stick controls the movement of the character while the left controls the camera. The main issue with this is the left thumb stick is backwards from what is intuitive. Moving the thumb stick right spins the camera to the right, moving the view to the left. I view this as a significant bug, and with 10 hours into the game, it still annoys the living heck out of me.

The flight controls have a functional flaw in them that drive me nuts. The player must hit the b button to make the wings of the owl/hippogriff flap. I think this was to allow more control over flight, but I think it would of been easier to the player to implement either the button to one of the triggers or make the button 'press and the bird flaps on its own until button is released.' I found the timing on the flapping difficult at best.

There are some problems with the functionality of the game. Several of the dialog scenes have the character's talking with no sound. Sometimes the sound comes out a little later in the scene. Sometimes the sound never appears in the game. It does distract with the game, but not a major issue.

My overall impression that this game is a lot of fun. It would have been a little better if the thumb controls worked more like Halo. I believe that the controls are counter-intuitive. Besides that and some minor glitches, the game is a blast. It takes a little getting use to the controls, but it is not too bad. I was surprised on how much fun such a title was.

A person who loves the Books and/or the Movies should enjoy this game. Their love of all things Harry Potter will get beyond the game’s few shortcomings. If a player does not mind a slightly annoying learning curb and a few glitches, the game is a fun day or two.

Score: 7.5/10

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