Thursday, 28 March 2013

Where did the Potter games go wrong? - Part 1

So it’s the Easter Holidays. I’ve finished my Uni stuff. I’ve finished the work I need to do, and now I’m bored, with nothing else to do but count down the hours until Saturday night. Then it struck me! “Hey Jack!” said my mind, “Why don’t you get a series of games that you haven’t touched in a while, and play through them?” This wasn’t a bad idea, so I pulled out my drawers and dug right to the very back, my fingers brushing against something dusty. This seems promising. I grasped and pulled, and withdrew the gem that is “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”. We have a series. We have consoles. Let’s grab some snacks, some drinks, and lock myself away for the next few days.

Yes, it was fun. I lost myself in the magical world of Harry Potter, exploring the different adaptations of Hogwarts, and watching the virtual Daniel Radcliffe grow up whilst obeying my commands. There is also something else that caught my attention whilst playing through the 8 games. It’s rare to see the quality of games deteriorating before your very eyes, but it would seem that despite a few high points here and there throughout the series, the Harry Potter games went from great, to decent, to...well, less than that. Over the next few days, I’m going to be going over these games, and hopefully unmasking what went wrong with the video-game franchise that started out on such a high. Before I put in the first game, I was expecting to be bored, as it amused me when I was still in primary school. Surely nothing can withstand the test of time for this long?

I've never been more wrong in my life.

In my eyes, the first Harry Potter game (and I mean the first, the PS1 masterpiece, not the PS2 do-over), is an absolute gem; an instant classic. Before the curse of the movie-video game tie-in (cough cough, THOR, cough cough, TRANSFORMERS) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was one of my favourite games. Not only because it followed my favourite book and film franchise of the time, but because of how well it immersed you in the world of Hogwarts. You could go to classes, you could cast spells, fight monsters, you could play Quidditch! What’s not to love? I was living the dream! -and playing through this, from the opening cutscene to final battle, all the good memories of this game came rushing back, in a flood of multi-coloured beans and nostalgia.

If you can look past some dodgy voice-acting and cheesy dialogue (which you should be able to, it’s an old game), you will find a game overflowing with things to do. It follows the plot of the first film/book, so there’s nothing new story-wise, but playing through this is made enjoyable by the additions that have been made. Certain aspects remain true to the film, but this is only for the key points. Most of the game has you running around Hogwarts, exploring, finding collectibles, grabbing as many beans as possible to give to Fred and George in exchange for a unique upgrade to one of your items, and of course, the mini-games. Philosopher’s Stone is full of little things, hidden behind bookshelves. You’ll find everything from puzzles, to arcade-shooter themed games, all of which hold a reward. This really gives an incentive to explore Hogwarts to the full, and check every nook and cranny, rather than follow Ron (who acts as your guide for most of the game).

As you play through the game you get various spells to help you on your way, taught to you by the different teachers in different classes. This really helped to bring you in to the universe, and make you feel like a true Hogwarts student. Charms, transfiguration, potions, and more, each with their own segments of the game. Each segment also has its own look. You’ll find yourself in a variety of colourful locations, from dungeons, to the gardens, and even to Gringotts. There is plenty of variation in where you go and what you do that will easily keep you interested.This is just scratching the surface. There's lots of action, tricky platforming and challenging puzzles to have you playing for a decent amount of time!

So after facing the Dark Lord and watching the credits roll, I found myself grinning from ear to ear. I couldn’t help it! I didn’t even realize it until I finished playing because of how much the game drew me in! I brushed the box down and carefully laid the disc back to bed, swearing never to allow it to gather dust again. The roll downhill is made most obvious when you compare this to the steaming ball of *insert violent word here* that is the Deathly Hallows games – but we’ll get to those later.

So for the first time I ask, what went wrong?

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