Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 8, 2005
I don't find it particularly embarrassing to tell you that I'm about as into Harry Potter as a grown man could be. Actually, that's not exactly true – I still have some semblance of wanting to keep my friends and loved ones, and that tempers my love for the franchise somewhat. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed nearly everything Harry Potter-related I have experienced, and that includes several of the previous video games.
This was not the case with the PSP version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. This is a game with a built-by-committee feel and a somewhat lazy port feel – the result is a rather clunky, unexciting game powered by a remarkable property. While the Harry Potter look and feel of the game will make it playable for fans, there are far better choices for the player who doesn't dream about days in wizard school.
That's not to say this game is completely without quality – the visuals are great throughout and do a very good job of capturing the movie's ethereal magnificence. In one particular level, which has Harry being chased above the school grounds by a dragon, the fluidity of the graphics, the well-rendered architecture, and the look of the enemy Hungarian Horntail are nothing short of impressive. The audio is also very good, as the voice doubles that take on the roles of the principle characters sound quite a bit like the film's actors. The excellent movie theme also remains intact for this video game outing. These aesthetic elements are the high point of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
It's once you get past this that the game starts to show how weak it really is. The game doesn't even try to be a scene-for-scene recreation of the film. Instead, it goes for recreating the most important scenes, like the Triwizard tournament events that were the action centerpieces of the story, and the final battle that changes the tone of the series. Just about everything else is new material, and it's in these levels where the bulk of the gameplay lies. In these new areas, the goal is to find Triwizard shields – getting enough of them unlocks the next scenario. There's more than one shield per level, but you are kicked out to the menu screen every time you pick one up; all this seems to mean is that you have to endure more loading as you try to get back into the level.
Of course, once you get in ther,e things aren't that much better. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire's primary gameplay mode is mashing the hex button in a mostly brainless way, with the occasional context-sensitive charm button used to levitate things or spray them with water. The game also pretends to encourage exploration, but it always feels less like you're discovering a new route to a new prize and more like you're just moving down another linear path – there's just no subtlety to the level design. The clunky, slow-feeling controls also add to the player's general lack of enthusiasm for exploration, and besides, even if they find another shield, their reward is being kicked out to the menu screen to endure more loading.
To the game's credit, this "reward" is in addition to actual real rewards, of which there are a sizable number. There are a handful of rather unexciting single-UMD multiplayer games to reveal, including some simple children's card games – there's certainly nothing wrong with that. There's also some short single-player trials that are typically time-based and surprisingly enjoyable; victory in these nets you a rather large sum of beans, the game's primary collectible. Beans are of nearly insignificant worth, and you get at least a few of them for doing nearly anything in the game, including hexing inanimate objects over and over again. Grinding collect-a-thon elements aside, these beans can be traded for magical cards which can be equipped to each of the three characters before entering a level. These cards provide stat bonuses, additional abilities, or make your hex attack ridiculously strong. While that's all well and good, this game is pretty easy without the bonuses – your AI friends do a decent job of crowd control and nothing is particularly dangerous in the face of your wands – and these equipped abilities bring the game down from "easy" to "mindlessly simple." Along with that problem is the fact that there are a lot of cards to buy, but when equipping them, you can only see three of them at a time. It's menu snafus like that just add more minor aggravations to endure to play this title.
Fortunately, the Triwizard levels are different and better – there's no card-equipping, no "search for every last bean." Instead, one is a race, the next is a rails-shooter that feels a lot like Panzer Dragoon, and the last one – well, it's a rather aggravating maze, actually, which isn't much fun no matter how accurate to the story it is. Nevertheless, these levels brighten up the game, though they don't represent a great deal of game time compared to the many backtracks you'll have to endure in all the other levels.
And, unfortunately for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, at the end of the day, a Harry Potter game should evoke the magic and wonder that the books or recent movies do. Instead, this just wrapped the look and feel of the Harry Potter world around a rather unpolished children's action game, not even seeming to care about the real reasons the Harry Potter series is so well-established. These are reasons like, "it gives life to the real world wonder of learning," which other Harry Potter games have managed to evoke. Even the series' love of exploring magical places is marred by the ineffective controls and simplistic levels. The game succeeds in the arcade-inspired mini-games it uses as distractions, but I do expect more from a series I enjoy this much.
I am well aware that Harry Potter in all its iterations is a tantalizing money train, that the temptation for shameless cash-in is high. The thing is, this series succeeds because of its heart. Its books have heart, the heart of their loving author, and the movies have grown one through the skill of their new director. I would like the games to be shown equal care; in this case, it has not. Even despite this, there are probably a great deal of Harry Potter fans, mostly young ones, who will take more away from this game than I did. To those people, I leave these words – you can keep it. Me, I expect more.
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