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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Platform(s): Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, PC, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: EA
Developer: EA

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Wii/PS3/X360 Preview - 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'

by Alicia on June 1, 2007 @ 6:17 a.m. PDT

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry returns for his fifth year of study at Hogwarts and discovers that much of the wizarding community is in denial about the teenager's recent encounter with the evil Lord Voldemort, preferring to turn a blind eye to the news that Voldemort has returned.

Genre: Adventure
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Games
Release Date: June 26, 2007

Everybody loves Harry Potter (more or less), and likewise, everybody loves the Wii. So, a movie tie-in game for the upcoming Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix film is a very natural fit. There are versions of this title streeting for virtually every gaming hardware out there, but the Wii version features unique controls involving the Wiimote that make it especially noteworthy. As a bonus, players who purchase the Wii or DS versions get a free movie ticket good for one viewing of the "Order of the Phoenix" film with a pre-order of the game.

Harry Potter is basically a fantasy about having magical powers, so the natural implementation for Wiimote controls is to make the players move the remote as a magic wand. Moving the wand in certain patterns lets you cast traditional spells from the Harry Potter universe. The patterns are not excessively difficult, usually a matter of moving the Wiimote once in a particular direction. The simple controls are obviously intended to make sure the game is easy for younger gamers to play. There are no confusing button combos required, only simple Wiimote motions that anyone could easily learn. The variety of spells is surprisingly wide, reflecting virtually all of the spells cast by the protagonists in the course of the Harry Potter novels. The preview build focused largely on the "charm" spells, showing off Accio, Reparo, and Wingardium Leviosa. These spells let a player pull objects around, repair them, or levitate them, respectively.

Gameplay for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is shaping up to be the absolute best of EA's long line of Harry Potter efforts. Instead of the workmanlike 3D platformers and action games EA has been cranking out, Order of the Phoenix offers players an adventurous simulation of life in Hogwarts. You can easily think of the game as a Harry Potter-flavored Grand Theft Auto, or perhaps more correctly, a magical version of Bully, with a big world to explore and lots of activities to participate in while you're there.

Your mission in the game is simply to explore Hogwarts as thoroughly as possible, while fulfilling missions that involve interacting with fellow students and teachers. These missions can be as simple as going and fetching a student who needs to go to class with you, or as complex as facing off against Draco Malfoy and his thuggish friends. One example shown during the demo was a game of gobstones, basically a glorified wizard's version of marbles. You played by simply pointing the camera in the direction you want your gobstone to go and flicking the Wiimote while you hit the B button.

Characters you collect can become followers, who help you solve puzzles or beat mini-games. To find them, you have to track their locations using your map, which works similar to the Marauder's Map magic item introduced in the plot of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." A given character's path is traced by footsteps, which you can use to hunt him/her down in any part of Hogwarts you can access. To appease players who might think this feature makes the game too easy, EA has included the option to turn off the footsteps. For a few short sequences during the game, you'll even get to play as other characters, like Ron's brothers and Sirius Black.

During the course of Order of the Phoenix, you get to attend the various classes and play mini-games keyed to the lessons you learn there. Some quests have to be earned by carefully coaxing the quest-giver (say, a portrait or teacher) into trusting you enough to let you have the task. Everything you do in Hogwarts amasses Discovery Points, which unlock more of the map and more areas to explore. This includes shortcuts to make it easier to cross the campus quickly, and side-quests that let you enter the game's magical living portraits. The goal is simply to amass all of the possible Discovery Points, allowing you to completely explore Hogwarts.

The gameplay goal is consistent across all of the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix games on all platforms, but the Wii version has custom-made controls and mini-games to fit the Wiimote. Arguably, the title could be viewed as simply a collection of mini-games, strung together by the framework of exploring Hogwarts. Before you worry that the game might be plotless given its quest-based structure, EA assures players that they will visit locations outside of Hogwarts, like the Ministry of Magic, and follow the film's adaptation of the "Order of the Phoenix" plot.

The best Wii games have graphics carefully designed with the limitations of the hardware in mind. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, on the other hand, tries to make itself look as much as possible like its companion titles on other hardware, despite obvious polycount limitations. The results are distinctly mixed. The various characters bear extremely striking resemblances to the actors who play them in the film, but contrasting that with the relatively stiff and unrealistic body movements is unpleasant to watch at first. The environments vary from absolutely stunning, like the cafeteria area, to bland and unimpressive, like many of the dull stone corridors and towers. Clipping was a problem in the demo build, but this issue seems to plague Wii graphics in general. It's probably the sort of things fans could slowly adjust to over the course of playing the game, and the sheer realism of the resemblance to the actors' faces is, by itself, an impressive technical feat.

There's so much content in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix that what's missing is almost conspicuous. The biggest omission is the ever-popular game of Quidditch, which has been left out of the game entirely. Likewise, there isn't any indication that players can fly in this title. Certainly this would be counter to the gameplay conceit of making Hogwarts into a huge world to explore. Whether or not fans can accept the loss of these features, which have been in previous Harry Potter titles, is probably a matter of how engaging Order of the Phoenix's gameplay manages to be on its own merits. It is true that "black magic" spells like Crucio and Avada Kedavra aren't included in the game's spell selection, but Harry casting evil spells like that would be a distinctly odd gameplay decision. While fans may request them, it would hardly fit the source material.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is shaping up to be a fun game, with more depth than previous Harry Potter titles. Certainly, the Bully formula is one easily and sensibly applied to adapting the Harry Potter license, and spell-casting with the Wiimote looks incredibly fun. The title streets at the end of this month, so gamers should be ready to issue the final verdict soon. If nothing else, it seems EA really deserves an "A" for effort with this one.


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