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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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NDS Review - 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix'

by Tom Baker on Sept. 23, 2007 @ 2:33 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: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Games
Release Date: June 26, 2007

A game which focuses on homework, menial tasks and private school would normally fail to inspire many gamers to even look twice at the title. Add magic to the formula, and the interest in education suddenly increases. If you think about it, Harry Potter has a pretty good thing going. Sure, you have a lizard-like archenemy hunting you down, but the ability to accomplish everyday tasks with magic has to improve the situation to no end. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for the NDS, you control Harry through a story which is more reminiscent of a day in the life of a public school boy and focuses more on what needs to be done around the Hogwarts campus, instead of the fight against "he who shall not be named."

Whether this is a wise move or not is debatable, since movie tie-ins are typically lacking in proper narrative depth and rely on the film's success in order to sell copies. Order of the Phoenix may use the film as a basis for character models and focus on certain events, but for the most part, what happens in the game is far more tame and "everyday" (if indeed that could be said about a school for witches and wizards). Tasks will include helping classmates with their homework in order to pass the O.W.L. examinations, foiling Slytherin bullies as they pick on other students and causing trouble for the psychotically strict Mrs. Umbridge.

The game stays true to some of the major plot points. You are charged with the task of assembling Dumbledore's army in the hopes of fighting the newly resurrected Lord Voldemort. To do this, you must earn students' trust and repair Harry's tattered reputation. This is usually accompanied by a variety of mini-games representing spells, or even actions such as scaling walls. These sections are entertaining enough, and each spell or activity requires use of the touch-screen, making the whole experience feel more interactive than using preset lists of automated spells. Your success in an activity is determined by how well you can utilize the stylus, and you're rewarded for skill rather than simply memorizing which spell is used for which situation.

The innovative use of the stylus in the interactivity of spells aside, Order of the Phoenix leans on these sections quite a bit, meaning any novelty of helping to fix a broken statue or retrieving a classmate's lost scarf tends to wear off after the first few hours of playing. Thankfully, the introduction of classes keeps this title varied and fresh for at least the first half of the game by introducing a plethora of new mini-games, from mixing potion ingredients to drawing constellations. By not relying too heavily on the movie events, those who have seen Potter's big-screen escapades won't feel like they're retracing their steps when they play this title.

The gameplay is split into mini-games based around the tasks mentioned above, but for the most part, you'll be running around the vast halls of Hogwarts in search of certain people who need your help or who can help you. Hogwarts certainly lives up to the scale represented in the books and films; this place is huge, and the majority of your time will be spent sprinting, in a rather comical fashion, from point A to B to solve problem X. This can get extremely irritating when you have to backtrack through the ever-changing, pre-rendered backdrops. The mini-games are usually over quickly, but they do provide a challenging and rewarding experience when completed. Their brevity, however, means that this can often be unfulfilling considering the lengthy amount of time it took to get there. Actual mini-games such as a wizarding version of marbles, snap and catching chocolate frogs can be played from the Gryffindor common room, which acts as a home base for your characters and saves your game after tasks. Additionally, the ability to play Quiddich in the style of a GBA soccer game against the other houses is incredibly novel and a welcome break in the game's task-based main portion.

You'll also be asked to attend classes, which calls on your stylus skill to attain a passing grade. The introduction of grades and a record system allowing you to view and retake certain classes is another nice touch which will keep you occupied for hours; despite the extremely informative tutorials making the learning curve almost non-existent, it will still take you a while to master and ace some of the classes. Order of the Phoenix's ability to keep you hooked in this respect while still being one of the most accessible DS games I've ever played makes this an extremely enjoyable experience. It's comparable to the addictiveness of WarioWare mini-games — with about just as much plot depth, too.

Order of the Phoenix also has an intuitive dueling system. The action switches to a close-up, sideways view which forces you to hold the DS on its side, as in Brain Training. Your characters then take turns firing spells at the opponents until one side has run out of combatants, which is accomplished by reducing their hit points to zero. Then, your character can perform a finishing spell by tracing a shape on the touch-screen. This feels like a watered-down Final Fantasy moment, and even though it uses the stylus well — casting spells requires you to hit flashing dots that appear on the touch-screen — it lacks the true RPG strategy element and boils down basically to who can get out the most powerful spells the quickest.

There is a limited number of spells, and all can be learned in the Room of Requirement, the meeting place of Dumbledore's Army. Since you must learn all of the spells to the final degree, the "ability" to learn spells seems to be more of an indicator of character progress, rather than as a gameplay addition. It's a nice enough feature, but had it been given time to develop, it could have been so much more; you have the same three dueling opponents for a majority of the game, and the inability to duel over Wi-Fi in multiplayer mode is a huge missed opportunity.

To reproduce Hogwarts to the ambitious scale that Order of the Phoenix for the DS has is no easy task, but EA has done a fantastic job in using pre-rendered backgrounds to fully capture the scale without adversely affecting the frame rates. Other games have managed to render interactive 3D environments on the DS, and in some respects, the photographic backdrop format feels dated.

The layout feels very much like Resident Evil and allows a small machine to create graphically more advanced level designs; the top and bottom screens work in synch to create a whole view of areas around Hogwarts. With some set pieces being extremely large, it definitely makes you feel as though you're actually roaming the halls yourself. The only major downside to this is that when moving from one frame to the next, there is a second of black screen, and it's also common for camera angles to switch between frames, so you can sometimes get turned around with the controls and end up switching rapidly between where you were and where you're headed. Character models, on the other hand, are all well represented and appear with a nice level of detail for the DS. You can instantly tell who's who because character models appear distinct, even if the animations are all fairly similar.

Audio is slightly disappointing and never really captures the air of mysticism and grandeur which the film promises, often falling into irritating, MIDI-style bleeps roughly resembling the film's iconic score. It never really builds to anything, although it matches the main plot of the game in that respect, since there isn't really any tension or riveting plot twists in either the corresponding book or film up to which the music could have built. There are very few ways to spice up the music accompanying the chores of fixing vases and helping with homework.

The multiplayer aspect is present in Order of the Phoenix for the DS but is shallow at best. You can play against an opponent in games which are intrinsically not meant for two players, which is a shame considering the presence of Quiddich and a dueling system which would have made a far better multiplayer experience. The ability to play most of the multiplayer games with a single cartridge is a plus, but it feels randomly inserted and a matter of obligation rather than an earnest attempt.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for the DS delivers an enjoyable game experience but is not really what many fans of the film may be expecting. It feels limited, and your powers seem squandered on simply fixing statues or any of the other humdrum tasks you're instructed to complete. Even the final battle sequence, where you actually get to see the Dark Lord himself feels rushed and secondary to the more important task of retrieving a classmate's lost marble. Order of the Phoenix is enjoyable for the first few hours, but after the novelty wears off, there are only so many cats in trees you can save before you start wondering when the game is going to ask more of you. Hardcore Potter fans will no doubt be disappointed by the title's lack of plot, and fans of the genre will find something in the mini-games and various activities. Although there is some magic to be gleaned from this average title, there is hope that the next game in the franchise will provide a more fulfilling experience.

Score: 6.5/10

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