Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Bright Light
Release Date: June 30, 2009
Playing the DS version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in tandem with the Xbox 360 version kind of surprises me in the gameplay differences, but at the same time, both manage to take a pretty exciting and engaging world and dumb it down into a series of mundane tasks. The DS version is definitely the worst, removing some of the more interesting aspects of spellcasting and wand duels and simplifying it (perhaps out of necessity for the hardware). At the same time, if the developers hadn't felt the need to adhere to such a uniform style of gameplay, I think we could have had something more interesting here.
I realize that with licensed games, there's only so much freedom that a developer has in what it can do. I'm sure that there are all sorts of unwanted cook in the kitchen when it comes to the creation of a Harry Potter title, but it doesn't mask the fact that I didn't find this game to be that enjoyable, and while I'm sure there are fans out there that will be willing to excuse the boring gameplay, I couldn't get into this game for the life of me, even though I'm a fan of the film and book series.
The story adheres closely to the film, and while the dialogue differs from the X360 version I played, the overall plot points are pretty much spot-on between the two versions. Harry arrives at Hogwarts with his friends in tow once again, and you get the standard appearances of the cast mainstays, along with the underlying plot of who the Half-Blood Prince is and why Harry has managed to get himself mixed up in another adventure. It's been a while since I read the sixth book, and I noticed that in this title, there is really zero involvement from Voldemort. You get the Death Eaters to a limited degree, but aside from Bellatrix, they're hardly featured in either the X360 or DS iteration. I can't remember if the book was so lax on its villains, but that might be part of the reason why I had a hard time staying interested in the game; there's just not a great deal of involvement from an antagonist until the end.
Harry Potter's magical adventures are pretty much relegated to a series of mundane fetch quests in the DS version, which is the source of my overall apathy for the game. While the 360 iteration felt like a series of plot points strung together by mini-games, the DS version is all gameplay, but that gameplay is little more than running back and forth between a series of points to fetch items for forgetful students. For instance, at the point in the game that involves getting ready for Slughorn's party, Harry invites Luna Lovegood to attend. However, to get her to attend, you not only need to find the dress that she's managed to lose, but also a pair of shoes and a handbag. The troublesome part comes from when you actually manage to find an object or locate a person who has the object because they'll typically ask you to swap for another item that you don't currently have, and then you're stuck searching down that item to get the original item. Then you can finally return to the person who gave you the request in the first place. It's a major hassle, and I grew tired of the fetch quests after a few hours.
Thankfully, Harry comes equipped with a Remembrall, which is basically the game's way of showing your quests, but through the Remembrall, you'll have certain words that are highlighted, usually names or locations. Tapping these highlighted words with the stylus will show you where that particular location or person is on your map, and you'll get a pointer for the doorways to let you know which direction to head in. It's a useful tool and replaces the Headless Nick function in the console versions of the game. You'd be surprised how easy it is to get lost in the portable version of Hogwarts, especially considering how often you'll be walking around the school grounds.
Once you've got a bearing on where to go, you can control Harry's movement via the d-pad or the touch-screen. Movement actually feels a bit clunky; it's far more fluid — and less taxing on your thumb — to move him around with the stylus. You can have limited interactions with anyone you see, and you'll often need to speak with students to offer up clues about the location of a particular object that you're trying to find. Other students will want to play a game in the form of a few variations on Memory, marbles, etc., but you'll also run into those who wish to duel you for some reason.
Duels work out on a 2-D space on the top screen, with you on the left and your opponent on the right. On the bottom screen, you'll have a blank space with small circles in the corners. Tapping the top right or bottom right of the screen will issue an attack that either goes in an overhead arc or straight ahead. Pressing top left or bottom left will pull out a shield, which you can use to deflect shots back at your opponent, provided your timing is right. It's a really simple combat system, and it's incredibly easy to defeat any opponent in the game. You can't get away with spamming attacks, but the pace is slow enough that you can easily deflect and follow up constantly. Without any challenge to it, these duels are hardly worth the effort, and unfortunately, you do get forced into them from time to time.
The developers did a pretty good job of bringing the interior of Hogwarts to the small screen. There's a lot of ground to cover (minus the outside bits from the 360 game), and the ability to travel through paintings as a shortcut is present here, but the paintings lead to a hub room that has all of the paintings in a row for quick access. The 3-D models are somewhat indistinct; you can easily tell that Ron is Ron based on the red hair, but characters like Hermione and Lavender tend to blend together. The 3-D bits animate pretty well for the DS, and while they're not particularly pretty, I didn't really mind them either.
When you get down to it, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is absolutely boring to play on the DS. It's a constant series of fetch quests that's rarely broken up by the wand duels, potion-making and Quidditch matches. There are a series of mini-games that you can opt to play outside of the main game, but they're not particularly fun, and some of the later challenges are ridiculously tough. The game has some legs to it, and it'll take a bit of time to finish the story mode, but good luck with being able to put up with the monotony of it all. I'd advise against picking up this version, and while I wasn't particularly fond of the X360 rendition, I'd say that it was more entertaining than this game.
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