Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 8, 2005
Something Not Quite Wicked
The 2004 film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the first cinematic treatment of the series that felt like a unified work on its own terms, full of glowering moodiness and a sense of the epic potential of Harry's growing powers. The Azkaban movie, lacking the distracting awkwardness and made-up adverbs of J.K. Rowling's prose, even surpassed its source material as a compelling realization of Harry, Hermione and Ron, and the simultaneously nurturing and threatening environs of Hogwarts.
The Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire film takes a small step down from the heights of Azkaban, but still outdoes the book in terms of excitement and dramatic storytelling. Yet, while the movies have come to challenge the literary achievement of the books, Potter fans continue to wait for a game adaptation that even exceeds the quality of the middling Potters 1 and 2 films. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on the Xbox doesn't bring that wait to an end.
Goblet is largely a visual delight compared to earlier installments' cartoon style, with levels that occasionally surprise with their varied scenery and atmospheric flair. Relentlessly repetitive action and a deadly lack of decision-making and engaging puzzle-solving, however, sink the gameplay. The storytelling, which could buoy the whole enterprise with the more menacing atmosphere of this fourth Potter adventure, only reinforces the monotony with an erratic narrative flow and contrivances that contradict the logic of Goblet's plot.
Where's the House-Elf Liberation Level?
For any of you who count yourselves among that peculiar species of folk interested in the Goblet game but unfamiliar with the Harry Potter series, here's the briefest of introductions. Harry is a teenaged, fourth-year wizard attending the Hogwarts wizarding school with his best friends Hermione and Ron. Each year, with the guidance of headmaster Dumbledore, a rotating cast of Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers with questionable histories, magical-creature wrangler Hagrid and others, the young wizards face down the powers of darkness. The specter of supremely evil Lord Voldemort, murderer of Harry's parents, forever haunts the goings-on as Harry unravels secrets and learns new powers on his way to the final confrontation with the dark lord himself.
In Goblet, Voldemort's machinations land Harry in the Triwizard Tournament, an event intended for older wizards-in-training to prove their magical mettle in three somewhat dangerous tasks. Harry doesn't know how his name got into the Goblet of Fire in the first place, but once the goblet spits out your name, you're a Triwizard champion bound to participate in the tournament. Voldemort's designs, of course, are much grander than the Triwizard Tournament itself, and the Hogwarts elders decide the only way to uncover You Know Who's plot is to let the tournament proceed. That leaves Harry — and you — with much jinxing, charming, and collecting to be done.
You begin with a few basic challenges, under the tutelage of Dark Arts Professor Mad-Eye Moody, to learn how to cast jinxes to stun creatures and use charms to put out fires, levitate rocks and open gates. From there, it's on to familiar Potter locations like the Forbidden Forest, the Prefects' Bathroom and Professor Sprout's surprisingly chaotic Herbology compound, as well as the murky Black Lake and other tournament settings. As you make your way deeper into the game (and deeper is relative here, as conscientious collectors can finish Goblet in eight hours at most), you have to handle more dangerous fauna and flora, including a few blast-ended skrewts among the hordes of stinging mosps, pus-spewing bubotubers and mumbling erklings.
A modest pleasure awaits Potter fans eager to see their favorite wizards realized once again on the small screen and in slightly more enchanting form this time around. You can play as Harry, Hermione or Ron as you venture around Hogwarts. Two players can join you, letting you combine magic to move large blocks with Wingardium Leviosa, levitate dugbogs to render them helpless while a pal jinxes away, and open the heavier gates that impede your progress. The friendly AI does a serviceable-enough job helping you out when you're playing on your own, though your sidekicks tend to climb atop blocks you're trying to levitate and hang far back as you charge into combat, wand at the ready.
Whatever fun fans may find in simply returning to the Potter universe soon crumbles under Goblet's debilitating repetitiveness and one-track action. You have to collect Triwizard Shields to open up each new level and the three Triwizard tournament tasks. This is a particularly grating contrivance in Goblet, as the entire plot only works if you accept that Harry's in the tournament because the Goblet of Fire itself granted him that particular privilege/curse. The tournament demands no object-collecting prerequisite. Having to stack blocks and cast the Herbivicus spell hundreds of times to find Triwizard Shields and Mini-Shields feels all the less entertaining because it makes little sense in the context of the tournament story.
Jinxing and charm-casting form the bulk of the combat action, with Accio thrown in to collect the Bernie Bott's Beans that pop out of downed enemies (though it's often just as easy to run through the bouncing beans and not bother with the spell). Goblet doesn't require any real targeting, relying instead on a system of simply pointing Harry or Hermione or Ron at the creature you want to jinx. The controls allow effective aiming for the most part, though movement often feels sluggish. Reversing direction or coming to a stop before running through dangerous obstacles like salamander fire also tries your patience.
This one-note magic system might make spell-casting easy for kids, but it also eliminates most decision-making and problem-solving from the proceedings. Look at a launchable bubotuber, for example, and X casts Carpe Retractum to fling it at a patch of poisonous mushrooms. It's always that easy, no matter what creature or puzzle you encounter; thanks to the context-sensitive charm-casting, X always gets you through. As the clever use of magic is a Harry Potter trademark, not embedding that quality in the demands made on the player is a lost opportunity for more interesting gameplay.
The levels themselves, while simple, are moderately sized and well-varied in atmosphere and enemies, though the basic button-pounding gameplay rarely lets up. The Prefects' Bathroom is full of exploding boilers and huge spigots blocking your path, and brightly lit Herbology boasts a convincingly diverse stock of magical plant life. While a few paths are available from your starting point, invisible walls line each trail to keep you on track (just try jumping off that ravine-spanning log in the Forbidden Forest).
All the scenery winds up as little comfort, though. Dread sets in the moment you spy a Triwizard Shield you can't reach, and you realize you'll be heading back to familiar turf later on after learning the Herbivicus spell (a key charm you need to make bulbs all over Hogwarts grow into big, leafy platforms to get at some of the later required shields). If Herbivicus were somehow more spectacular than the other charms, it might be worth it, but it boasts some of the less visually impressive magic effects in your arsenal.
It might also help if the Triwizard events themselves were truly something worth anticipating. The first is a simple boost-hunt as you try to outrun a Hungarian Horntail dragon on Harry's Firebolt broom, like Panzer Dragoon, except you're on a broom and without the shooting. The maze event is particularly disappointing, as the visuals revert back to a more cartoony style, and the camera works against you among the confines of all the shrubbery. A trumped-up battle with a pair of blast-ended skrewts also mars that level's climactic moment, but at least once you're done, you know it's time to duel Voldemort. You Know Who drops pretty easily for a newly reanimated master of the dark arts, but the gameplay does offer a last-minute change-up to (slightly) reward your commitment to persevere to the end.
A card system lets you increase stamina and boost magic power, but the cards' interest lies mostly in the graphical upgrades they grant your jinxes. The Bernie Bott's Beans you use to buy the cards are so plentiful, though, that the cards lose their value by virtue of being too easy to obtain. What's worse, after you secure a decent mix of stamina, jinx and Magicus Extremos (Goblet's version of a rage meter) cards early in the game, deciding what cards to equip is more a matter of visual preference (do you like the triple jinx effect or the ricocheting jinx effect?) than gameplay necessity. It's just another example of the game thumbing its nose at the material that's supposed to be its inspiration.
The storytelling itself assumes you have either a close familiarity with the book or film, or that you have a complete lack of interest in the story, period. Revealed mostly through voiceover narration and stylized, semi-animated scenes, the story pokes through in disjointed tidbits barely plentiful enough to justify each new level's narrative conceit. It doesn't really pay, then, to give too much thought to why Hermione and Ron follow Harry into the Prefects' Bathroom, or to wonder why this Cedric fellow seems so important later on when he's barely been a presence in the rest of the game.
The graphics fare better than the narrative elements. Ron is a bit too googly-eyed (even for Ron), but beyond that, the characters share a decent, detailed likeness to the actors. Herbology, with its huge greenhouses and overgrown vines curling about staircases, is Goblet's visual peak. The Prefects' Bathroom and Voldemort's cemetery come close, but Herbology's mossy greens win out. The visuals don't redeem the plainness of the gameplay, of course, but at least they pretty it up with a wealth of flourishes in most levels, with the sad exception of the Triwizard maze.
The dull roar of a thunderstorm over the turrets of Hogwarts signals early on that the audio doesn't reach the level of the graphics. Dominated by Harry et. al. shouting charms and jinxes, the voice acting stands out against a background of hissing sound effects for fire and rushing water. The writing comes off as less-than-careful, contradicting itself when Hermione complains to Ron that he talks too much about beans, then shouts for everyone to "Cast Accio on the beans!" as if they're quite precious to her after all. But she's right. Ron does talk too much about beans.
The Dark Mark
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is not the title that will earn the game series the growing acclaim enjoyed by the last two film adaptations. A satisfying approach to the visual aspects of world-building hints at the possibility of a more complex adventure, but Goblet never delivers. Wasting the amped-up drama of the Triwizard Tournament on simplistic tasks that are actually less enjoyable than the levels you have to complete to arrive at them, Goblet is a likely disappointment to Potterites young and old.
More articles about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire