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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PC, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: EA
Developer: EA Bright Light Studio

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Xbox 360 Review - 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince'

by Dustin Chadwell on July 29, 2009 @ 3:54 a.m. PDT

In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince you return to Hogwarts to help Harry survive a fraught sixth year. Engage in exciting wizard duels, mix and brew magical ingredients in Potions class, take to the air to lead the Gryffindor Quidditch team to victory, get sidetracked by Ron’s romantic entanglements and journey towards discovering the identity of the Half-Blood Prince.

Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Bright Light
Release Date: June 30, 2009

I've been a Harry Potter fan since the first film, which prompted me to pick up the books, and I kept reading them all the way to the end.  I've enjoyed the films just as much, but this is the first time that I've sat down to play a Harry Potter game.  It's not exactly a favorable first encounter with the franchise in its game form, and while I do appreciate some of the neat potion mechanics and the overall idea of wand dueling, the elements don't feel like a whole game but more like a series of mini-events strung together with a lot of needless exploring and walking.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince mirrors the film plot pretty well, with Harry, Hermione and Ron as your featured characters, but characters like Luna, Malfoy, Neville and a few others make their standard appearances.  The player has direct control over Harry, aside from one section that has you navigating a lovestruck Ron on the way to Slughorn for a remedy.  The game pads out the narrative quite a bit, which is surprising considering how much content could be gleaned from the book, if not from the film.  Maybe there are rights issues involved, but there are definitely a few other angles that could have been covered in the game. 

Instead, you'll find yourself walking Harry from location to location on school grounds, without much variation between locations.  The staircase areas act as hubs, filled with portraits that slowly open up to provide shortcuts to other locations, like the Quidditch field.  They're definitely useful to have, but it's a bit difficult to remember which goes where, and you'll only be able to see the telltale text about which portrait links to which area by getting close enough to trigger the text into appearing.  Navigation becomes less of an issue if you use Headless Nick as a guide through Hogwarts.  He is this game's version of the glowing arrow on the floor, where you can simply tap the Back button to make him appear and guide you to your destination. 

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince tries to offer up a need for exploration through the use of crests, which are scattered around the game world.  There are 150 of them, and they tie into some unlocks for duels, potions and Achievements, but I didn't find it necessary to locate all of them within a single game session.  Once you finish the game, you'll unlock an endless day mode that allows you free roam of the castle without any story-related quests to bog you down, so at that point, you can search out the crests for completion's sake.  Another way the game tries to extend its fairly short running time is through the use of the potion and dueling clubs, along with time trial-like events on the Quidditch field.  All four of the school groups have a dueling club to attend and master, and the potion club has a number of recipes to run through and complete. 

For the Quidditch side of things, I feel like the game does a pretty poor job of representing the action, and playing this game in tandem with the DS version, I feel that the handheld does a better job of giving you a well-rounded approach to Quidditch.  In the Xbox 360 version, though, since you simply control Harry at every point, you're stuck as The Seeker, so you're chasing after the Golden Snitch throughout the entire match.  Instead of giving you the option to freely roam and catch the Golden Snitch yourself, the matches are little more than a mini-game that has you flying through the hoops; various star shapes represent the hoops through which you must guide Harry, and each hoop extends your allotted time to finish the match.  There's no ability to speed up or slow down; it's purely based on twitch skills, and unfortunately, it's completely boring.  Another annoyance with the Quidditch component comes from the fact that you'll occasionally have to practice a match right before a match, meaning you're presented with two back-to-back sequences of flying through hoops, which feels redundant and unnecessary. 

Visually, Hogwarts is well represented, with a lot of the school ground available to check out over time, as certain sections are blocked off by the Aurors until you progress in the story.  There's not a lot of stuff that happens in the areas surrounding the school, so don't expect to explore the forest; aside from a couple of scenes involving Hagrid at the very opening of the game, you don't see much outside of the castle walls.  There's still a surprising amount of ground to explore, but it's a shame that there isn't much that's worth seeing or checking out, unless you're trying to collect all the crests.  The character models don't look bad in motion, but they're downright creepy during the talking scenes.  They're trying to realistically depict the actors playing the characters, but they don't animate that well, and the spoken words don't sync up with the mouth movements.  It's a bit unsettling with certain characters, and it doesn't look particularly good. 

The music from the film pervades much of the game, but it flows through scenes and areas nicely, without any noticeable jumping or skipping, so I really enjoyed the game soundtrack.  Some memorable tracks from the films are certainly utilized, but that's about what I expect from games based on film licenses. 

The difficulty is virtually nonexistent, aside from a few challenging duels near the end of the game and a couple of the potion-making segments.  There's no permanent death in the game; if you mess up something, you'll restart right where you left off, which is nice for the younger gamers for which this title was definitely intended.  The game is still a bit on the short side unless you're going for 100 percent completion, but I was able to finish the main story and collected about one-third of the crests in well under six hours.  Depending on whether you're a dabbler or a hardcore completionist, this title may or may not be worth the $50 price point. 

Altogether, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is not a great game, but it's decent enough to be playable, and I can see the charm that younger fans of the franchise will enjoy.  There's nothing here that will hold an adult's attention for long, but it might be worth your time to rent it.  There are some enjoyable gameplay elements, but they never really came together for me; I felt like I was running from one mini-game to the next, as opposed to playing a fully featured action/adventure title. 

Score: 6.5/10

 


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