Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 8, 2005
Another day, another licensed title. The Game Boy Advance's spotlight was stolen at the beginning of the year by the sleeper hit Nintendo DS, and now that developers are truly getting intuitive with the new handheld's intricacies, the poor old GBA is being left by the wayside, finding only a few sub-optimal games and a veritable flashflood of movie and television licenses. Most of the licensed games are the typical quality expected of their genre (lackluster if not downright terrible), but the newest addition to the line of Harry Potter games, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, strives to break out of that mold.
Goblet of Fire follows the plot of the book, or more directly, the plot of the newly released movie. The Triwizard Tournament, a kind of Olympics of Magic, has come to Hogwarts Academy, sending the whole school abuzz with teenage glee and perhaps a bit of teenage angst as well. Meanwhile, lurking sinisterly behind the scenes, the Death Eaters — lackeys of Voldemort, the evil wizard who killed Harry's parents in his infancy — have returned, aiming to resurrect their infernal master. The people who claim Harry Potter is a series steeped in the occult should stop reading this review right now; the fourth installment does nothing much to disarm those claims, though it certainly isn't sacrificing goats or drawing pentagrams, either.
For the rest of you who stayed — there are still a few, right? — Goblet of Fire, as a game, breaks the mold of the prior Harry Potter titles. Instead of being a psuedo-RPG focused on exploration and puzzle-solving, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a level-based action-adventure game... focused on exploration and puzzle-solving. Okay, so some things never change. At the beginning of each stage, you can choose to play as Ron, Hermione, or Harry. They all have mildly different stats (Harry has a stronger attack, Hermione has higher defense, and Ron is the fastest), but upon playing, these stats are largely irrelevant, as enemies do the same damage to all characters and take the same damage from all characters, leaving it largely a popularity contest as to which wizard to use as frontrunner.
All three characters are around at pretty much all times, save for the levels where Harry must fend on his own. They're far from useless appendages, however. Some objects are too large for one fledgling wizard to manipulate and will require the work of two or all three of the group to use. Likewise, your AI-controlled allies will help gun down enemies, though the AI there is slightly flawed. Against certain enemies, your partners will stand there uselessly until you disable the critter, only then to pelt it with magic ineffectively as you try to finish it off in a way that involves something that isn't quite pelting.
Controls are thankfully simple, perhaps too simple. There's a command to call your buddies to you, but it's only really used when you need to lift something and they're off powdering their noses. Aside from that, one button shoots out a generic ball of magic, and the other shoots out a generic beam of magic. Said ball and beam are contextual in use. Point your beam at an empty bucket and you might fill it with water, but point it at a rock and you'll instead lift it above the ground, since, you know, nobody has any use for a wet rock. It turns the puzzles into something even a three-year-old could manage, as it all boils down to "toss a beam/bolt at something until it works." Find an empty bucket, fill it with water, freeze it, and then use it to bridge a gap or make a stepstool. Why you couldn't just use the empty bucket is beyond me, but that's the way things work at Hogwarts.
Hogwarts is one enormous castle, by the way. Due to the sprawling nature of the levels, the Defense Against the Dark Arts class is larger than some mansions I've seen in video games, and the house prefect's washroom is a labyrinth of nightmares. Standing as both a good point and a bad point in the game, the levels are LONG. Past the first two stages, each individual level may take anywhere from a half-hour to an hour to complete. This is a good thing because it makes the possibly 10 levels seem like more, but a bad thing because aside from a choice few stages, there's practically no difficulty. Levitate a few things, open a few chests, and shoot fireballs at mostly harmless enemies, and you're done. The length of the levels only makes the tedious ... erm, more tedious.
Visuals are surprisingly good; you can't make out details much, but the sprites are fairly crisp and clear. The level palettes range from dull to bland, however, making the otherwise good graphics seem far worse than they are. Sound, on the other hand, is solid yet wince-worthy. The music is forgettable save for a few jaunty tunes at the Yule Ball stage, but the voice acting is apparently snagged from the Harry Potter kids circa five years ago. Ron's voice is particularly grating, and his voice-cracking, high-pitched cries of "Come HERE" and "HeEeLp ME" are enough to make ears bleed.
The most depressing aspect of the game, however, could easily have been its one redemption, had EA spent a little more time on the title's development. There's a menu for bonuses unlocked on the starting screen, and there's an easy method to unlock them, as you collect trading cards and Triwizard shields throughout the levels. The only bonuses in the game are a few stills from the movie and an ability to replay all of the pre- and post-level cut scenes in the game. As another negative point, the game forces mandatory rhythm-action sequences. Perhaps it's understandable during the dancing-oriented Yule Ball, but having to play mock-Dance Dance Revolution to defeat a major boss seems to be both anticlimactic and rather inappropriate.
Overall, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is full of tiny victories for the realm of handheld licenses, but it has a few shortcomings that overwhelm the positives. The title was obviously rushed to sell before the movie came out, as shown by the lack of quality unlockables and rather arbitrary wanderings. With a little more time, it could have been something far greater, but as it stands, this game is a rental at best. With overly long levels, it's built for road trips, but will quickly become played out within a few days. If you have to buy a Harry Potter game for the road, consider getting the DS rendition of Goblet of Fire. If you want to kill a few hours, go ahead and give the Game Boy Advance Goblet of Fire a chance. It's entertaining for a little while, and if taken in small doses, could last quite some time.
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