A game like Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is maddening to review. To get “inside reviewing” a bit here, I got my copy of the game last Monday, and I’ve been picking at it since then. I wrote about three different drafts, consulted other professional reviews and just generally agonized about how to tackle it.
Developer: EA Bright Light Studios
June 30, 2009
The thing is, I’m not a Harry Potter fan. I haven’t read any of the books or seen any of the movies, which is hard to do, I’ve been told. Should this matter? I’ve never seen Goldeneye either, but it’s still my favorite Nintendo 64 game, and I never even liked football before falling in love with the game based on my experience with Tecmo Super Bowl as a seven-year-old in 1991.
Most of the other reviews I’ve read give the game an extra few points for appealing to fans of the book and movie series, except that I’m not entirely sure if this is true. My friend Danielle is one of those nuts who dresses up for premieres, and when her and I played this, she was bored by the end of the hour.
She’s only a casual gamer, but again, should this matter? Harry Potter seems like something that should be ideally suited for a casual gamer “" wander around Hogwarts and cast spells by shaking the Wii-mote like a wand! Fly around on a broom from time-to-time! Mix liquids in a cauldron to create spells and magic! Duel with other wizards and friends in a two-player mode!
Don’t get me wrong, these things don’t totally suck. I mean, they’re not great or anything. But the experience doesn’t suck. That is kind of a good way to describe the entire experience of The Half-Blood Prince, although “doesn’t suck!” makes for a rather poor ad campaign.
I’ve been told that the book series does take a rather dark turn around this installment, so the tone of the game fits the book and movie well. Hogwarts is dark, moody, and gothic, with a constant gloom hanging over your every movement. Urgency, not so much “" characters don’t shut up, and you can’t skip dialogue. Sigh.
If I seem a bit dispirited and somber myself, I blame the dreary tone of the game and an existential crisis on my part. The one question that was constantly on my mind while playing The Half-Blood Prince was, “Why bother making this crap?”
Now, the game isn’t crap; it is solidly average. The 21 reviews cataloged on GameStats are between 4.0 and 8.0. Take out the two highest scores and the lowest, and the remaining 18 professional reviews all fall between 4.9 and 7.2. The average critic score is 6.0. Since my score is a 5.0, I am united in the cartel labeling Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince as average. It is a bit dull, but no major deficiencies or outstanding moments, which are the biggest problems.
As a member of the Harry Potter universe, the Wii version of The Half-Blood Prince reminds me of a paint-by-numbers coloring book. It follows the source material so faithfully that it makes no attempts to really excel past it. Hey, this is a video game, so you know what would be cool? If I could chose to join up with Voldemort or Severus Snape or deviate from the plot of the book and movie. Of course, you can’t do any of this, so the whole experience feels like an on-the-rails, no-risk ride. At least if everything about the game sucked, it would be interesting material for the Angry Video Game Nerd or Internet trolls, but there is a base level of competence throughout. So really, what’s the point?
If you are a die-hard fan of everything Harry Potter, then you’d probably rather see the movie multiple times than play a watered-down version of wizard dueling and potion-making, even if they do use Wii controls. If you’re not a fan of Harry Potter, then you probably have zero interest in playing this when there are so many better games out there competing for your time. Young kids might be able to handle this, but the dark tone and acres of text and dialogue don’t make it as engaging as it could be. And heck, if you have young kids, make them read the freakin’ books instead.
Blast Factor: I can’t really justify anyone spending $50 on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Just go see the movie four times, and save a 10-spot to buy the DVD when it comes out. Or, just rent it, or wait until it inevitably gets shipped to the $20 and less bargain bin. I can’t really fathom anybody who would be completely satisfied with this game, or who would completely hate this game. This is a satisfactory but ultimately unimaginative product that exists solely to cash-in on the Harry Potter trademark a bit more.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is available for the Nintendo Wii at a suggested retail price of $49.99