Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Bright Light
Release Date: June 30, 2009
Making a video game, even when it's based on a movie, is tough work. You can't just wave a magic wand at a screen and have a decent, playable game come out. It seems like that's all EA has attempted to do with its latest iteration of the Harry Potter franchise, and all that "apparated" was an incredibly short and boring adventure game with very few clever or appealing quirks.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince does its best to follow the movie plot, and at least it does this moderately well. Told mostly in unplayable cut scenes, the graphics are about what you'd expect from the Wii's hardware, and the audio impersonators are mostly spot-on, especially when it comes to the game's leads, some of whom are voiced by the real actors. Other characters — like Snape, McGonagall and Nearly Headless Nick — are tolerable if not lovable, and the soundtrack is perfectly ripped from the movie, all lending to an enjoyable viewing experience.
The almost intolerable parts are the repetitive segments that you actually play. When you're in the single-player campaign and not sitting around watching the cut scenes, you'll wander around Hogwarts Castle or the Weasleys' garden, gathering crests and trying to find objectives. These are usually simple things like "Go to potions class" or "Meet Ginny Weasley outside the Quidditch pitch," and you can always call on Nearly Headless Nick to lead the way if you're not sure where to go. Along the way, you can stop and shake the Wii Remote at shiny glowing objects to shake out mini-crests, which eventually add up to big crests. You can also sniff out normal crests, which usually require at least one spell to be cast before you can pick them up. It seems odd, though, to have this collection mechanic in a game where you're almost always following someone or leading someone. The situations call for you to hurry, but if you're playing the game for completion, you're going to be wandering meaningless hallways and always hearing Hermione or Ron mutter about how you really have to be moving along.
The few spells at your disposal are barely befitting of a Hogwarts student. Right from the start, you have Wingardium Leviosa, which makes objects float with an upward flick of the Wiimote. You can then control anything you pick up and even throw it with a downward flick, which is essential for collecting some crests that are up on the wall. The mechanic would work if it weren't for the wonky camera angle, which suddenly becomes fixed when you start casting, and the uncontrollable nature of the objects. When you throw, it's a crapshoot as to whether it'll fly far, high, wide or long, and whether or not it will land on a hapless Hogwarts student and send you into a fit of giggles. The other spells are Reparo, which lets you put broken objects together again by wiggling the Wiimote, and Incendio, which burns a few specific objects with an upward flick. These spells feel like specific puzzle keys that are only used on a few items in the whole castle. While you can lift almost anything you can target, you can only burn cobwebs and plants. What's the fun in that?
Even with spells and crest-collecting, adventuring is easily the most boring aspect of the game. Each and every time, it boils down to pressing the minus button (-) to call Nick and following Nick. The tasks in between are better, but there still isn't much variety. About half of the time, you'll be mixing potions, and the rest of the time you're "dueling" or flying through hoops on the Quidditch field. The potion-making is a series of escalating challenges, where you try to follow vague shape and color instructions to mix up the ingredients in a pot. You may be instructed to grab a triangular flask and pour it until the mixture is purple, or you might have to flap the Nunchuk repeatedly to fan the flames and heat the mixture to a bright pink. It's tiring, repetitive and toward the end, just a little unfair. The story pulls one clever twist by dropping the difficulty, increasing your time limit and making you invincible thanks to a stroke of luck, but there is almost nothing else to bring a smile to your face in potion-making. It's just as boring and dreadful as the characters in the movies make it out to be.
Dueling can be fun at first, before you or your enemies grasp higher concepts such as blocking and incapacitation. However, as a few spells are added to the duel, it quickly becomes a mess. To cast a temporary shield, you cross the Nunchuk and Wiimote in front of you, but the game picks up just about every motion with the Nunchuk. If you want to cast anything other than stupefy (the weakest spell), you have to wave the Nunchuk, and about half the time, that means that instead of doing any damage, you will block at the wrong time and probably get hit as soon as the shield drops. The quick and easy solution to this is to just get off one powerful spell and then run up and waggle the Wiimote furiously to knock as much away health as possible. It therefore devolves into an extremely simple waggle-fest occasionally interrupted by frustrating miscommunication.
The last distraction available to you is Quidditch, and you can only play the role of the Seeker. To win, you just have to make it to the end of a repetitive guided path and pass through star outlines to gain time. For most of the game, the rings are apparently fixed at the center of the screen, so guiding Harry around does more harm than good when the broomstick is veering wildly down its uncontrollable paths. When they start shaking things up and scattering stars to every point of the screen, you realize how unwieldy and slow the broom is, and you have to start leading your Wiimote a second or two ahead of the moves you want to make.
There are only enough of these mini-games to make the title last a few paltry hours, but you can continue them ad infinitum from the main menu, taking on harder and harder challenges until you want to pull out your hair in frustration and boredom. There's little incentive to perfect your potions, flying or dueling other than peculiar badges that would be Trophies or Achievements on other consoles. You unlock dueling matches and other clubs by collecting emblems, so nothing is unlocked by doing well in the actual clubs.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for the Wii simply does not have enough magic in it to fly on its own. Wandering around Hogwarts might be novel enough to draw in dedicated Harry Potter fans, but everyone else should avoid it. It's not a cringe-worthy game, but it's more useless and boring than Cornelius Fudge.Score: 5.5/10
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