A Look at the Latest: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Wii)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the penultimate book in the Harry Potter book series and the third to last movie in the film franchise thanks to Deathly Hallows being split in two, and while it’s not the most action-packed installment, it certainly has some potential as a video game. The Harry Potter series has received many video game adaptations across a variety of systems, but the Nintendo Wii had one advantage the other systems did not. Thanks to the motion sensing Wii remote, players could more closely interact with the wand-waving magic of the Harry Potter franchise, but this title seems to have scattered its focus too much in an attempt to capture different aspects of Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts and as a result left us with mostly shallow Wii remote waving minigames.

 

Gameplay in Half-Blood prince is neatly segmented into four distinct types of play, the first and most common one being… walking. As Harry Potter, you advance the story by moving around points on the grounds of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but it’s not just simple navigation. All around the campus are opportunities to collect crests and minicrests, these collectibles making you more potent in the other sections of gameplay or helping you unlock new characters and areas for multiplayer dueling. Minicrests are the easiest to find, objects in the environment glowing to indicate you can flick the Wii remote to free the little crests. Once you have enough of the tiny ones, they combine into one of the major crests. The larger crests can also be obtained by using some of the spells you acquire during the course of the game and are pretty much the closest the game gets to that promise of wand movements creating magic. The spell effects are fairly simple in effect and simple to execute, although the earliest one you get, the levitation spell Wingardium Leviosa, seems finicky due to the Wii remote’s troubles with reading detailed motions. Most of the time, you’ll flick your remote to collect minicrests or shake it in very minor puzzles to get the big crests, and this is mostly done as an optional diversion from the task of getting from Point A to Point B. The only really break from this simple task of moving about the castle are some slightly fun twists caused by the characters taking some special potions before they head off into Hogwarts. The grounds of Hogwarts are free to explore at many points however, but it’s not quite as open as you might have hoped. A few famous locations like the constantly moving Grand Staircase, Hagrid’s hut, and the Great Hall are accessible, but for the most part you’re relegated to roaming fairly plain and duplicated halls and courtyards. Your access to classrooms is also surprisingly limited, with only Potions and Herbology really open to entry or playing any role in the story, and the game is afraid to let you visit any location outside the grounds of Hogwarts save two visits to the area around the Weasley house.

Speaking of potions, brewing them is perhaps the highlight of the title’s gameplay. A set of ingredients is set out for you and you must add them to the brew properly to turn it to the color indicated in the recipe. A successful action will add more to the time you have to create your potion, but failures will cause your concoction to spew out smoke and make it more difficult to complete in time. As the game progresses, potion making grows more complex, with new ingredient types, stirring, boiling, and shaking ingredients all added to the originally simple task of just identifying which ingredient to grab and adding the right amount. The motion controls are a tad touchy in regards to making the cauldron boil, but for the most part the motion controls both make potion making more interesting and add to a sense of immersion that the rest of the game can’t match, although I wouldn’t say that the potion making ever reaches the potential heights its format could hit. It does get more challenging as the game progresses, but it is itself just an ingredient of a greater game and thus feels more like a fun minigame than something that could make up for the subpar implementation of the title’s other features.

 

Quidditch is the third major gameplay type, and if you are unfamiliar with the Harry Potter series and its broom-flying sport, you won’t really have to worry about that here. Point your Wii remote at the screen and move it around to fly through large stars, the game doing all the forward flight and major navigation for you. This is perhaps the most dull of the four components of Half-Blood Prince, primarily because of how easy and uninvolved it is. Flying into the large stars isn’t hard and the few obstacles you can bump into barely slow you down. Even if you miss a star, it’s not the end of your flight as you simply have to make sure you hit enough that a timer doesn’t run out. The easiness of the activity ensures that it doesn’t get too grating, although it does go on overly long since usually it comes in pairs, you first doing a practice run and then playing in an actual Quidditch match. The two don’t feel much different and you’re always flying around the same area, so putting them back to back only highlights how bereft of variety this diversion ends up being. It’s almost laughable to hear other players and the announcer praise you for incredible maneuvers and excellent play when you’re really just lightly drifting around the air on a path the game is in full control of.

The wizard dueling is the last major gameplay type found in Half-Blood Prince, and while spell combat sounds like it should be the most exciting style of play, it’s only slightly more thrilling than the basic Quidditch matches.  Right out of the gate the game gives you the Stupefy spell, a rapid fire attack you activate by just shaking your Wii Remote up and down that can rack up damage easily as long as it hits. You and your opponent can both dodge and eventually gain a protection spell, but you immediately get a way to bypass that worry with Expelliarmus, which will incapacitate your opponent for a bit if it hits and let you whittle down their lifebar with guaranteed hits from a flood of Stupefys. Your spells only get better for this task as you take on more dueling clubs, with Levicorpus and Petrificus Totalus making it impossible for a target hit by it to move for a fair bit of time. You’re essentially leaving them hanging in place like a punching bag as you unload a stream of weak spells that total up to be enough to even finish off the story bosses fairly quickly. I usually only had to stun an enemy once or twice to achieve victory, and although the enemy might dodge the stun spells sometimes, it’s not to hard to eventually peg them and get in your easy win. Multiplayer dueling ends up being the same with wild waving and stun battles, although if you do try to get saucy, you’ll see the same issues you might face with Wingardium Leviosa elsewhere cropping up here. I almost never wanted to use Protego to make a shield, but it often triggered when I wanted to do my stun spells, and even if that did lead to me getting hit by an enemy’s stun spell, humans are able to get out of the stuns much quicker and the AI doesn’t know how to capitalize well on a debilitated opponent.

 

These four gameplay styles are cycled through as the plot takes place, the game sometimes taking unnecessary detours into them just to ensure it maintains a fairly basic rotation. While Half-Blood Prince does adapt the story of the book and movie, it does not do so in a way that would be legible to someone unfamiliar with the series or someone who didn’t read the book or see the film. There are quite a few abrupt cuts between story scenes that make no sense in the context of the game and concepts and series history are mentioned but not explained. The Marauder’s Map, Aurors, the Weasley family, the rules of Quidditch… everything comes with the assumption you know how things work already, and when it does follow the events of its source material, it’s a fairly basic adaptation that doesn’t add a whole lot to the gameplay. It’s hard to step back and see what even is explained by the game and where my prior knowledge fills in the blanks, but you can certainly glean that Voldemort is a bad guy you want to stop and you’re at a wizard school learning magic and interacting with friends between doing that. It does at least have to explain the situation involving the mysterious Half-Blood Prince’s homebrew spells and potions in a textbook Harry finds, but it feels like you’re getting a summary of the story rather than getting a fleshed out recreation of it. The game is clearly a supplement to Half-Blood Prince rather than a substitute, most likely meant for younger fans despite the E10+ rating. The repetition and simplicity are a bit easier to ignore if you’ve been pulled in by the mere fact that you’re playing a Harry Potter game.

THE VERDICT: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a run-of-the-mill licensed game for the most part. It copies just enough of what inspired it to pass as an adaptation and it has just enough parts to be a complete video game, but it does that knowing that greater effort isn’t required since most people will decide to purchase it based solely on the franchise it is tied to. While potion mixing is a fun and slightly complex experience, every other aspect of the game clumsily integrates motion controls into tasks that are too simple to be upset with. Sure you might cast the wrong spell or struggle to get it to read your motions properly, but the duels and Quidditch are too simple to lose and easy to power through despite their lack of engaging hooks. Ultimately, it’s a poor adaptation with very little going on in it, but its control and design flaws aren’t really grating since they have hardly any content to meaningfully disrupt.

 

And so, I give Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for the Wii…

A BAD rating. Potions is certainly the saving grace of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, but it’s not enough to bury how mediocre most of the other activities are. Potions has a clear path of evolution, a variety of elements, and proper pressure on the player, something most every other form of play in this game is lacking. Quidditch is so straightforward that new elements and difficulty increases barely register, Dueling is too easy to break from the start and only get easier once you get more spells, and Hogwarts exploration is a mostly thankless task and barely captures what people love about the fictional magic school. So much of the game can be easily completed or ignored and optional engagement isn’t very rewarding, meaning Half-Blood Prince falls below the ranks of averageness. Even a touch more depth or a few complicating factors could make the modes outside of potion-brewing interesting rather than barely tolerable.

 

Whether you are looking for an immersive Harry Potter experience or hoping to find a faithful video game adaptation of the Half-Blood Prince, you won’t be finding that with this Wii title.

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