Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is available in stores now, which means that the much older Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix can be had for some cheap, nostalgic entertainment. We found our copy for $8.86 at Fry's Electronics. How does it fare at its clearance price?
The player guides Harry Potter primarily through Hogwarts and its environs, with a couple brief stops at 12 Grimmauld Place. Movement is controlled by the left stick, while the right helps you to brandish your wand and perform spells. With wand in hand, you point at an object, move the right stick in a specific way, and voila - magic. However, it can be frustrating to hone in on a specific object. The triggers are your friend in this, so use them to toggle between items around you. Spells that don't work on a given object will result in a red light and fizzle. The same move of the wand will have a different result when dueling: Accio will pull a table toward you, but become Expelliarmus when you need to disarm an opponent.
It is impossible to fall off ledges, which is probably for the best as Harry must climb seven flights of stairs up and down from the Griffindor common room. That is, until the secret passages are unlocked. Expect to wait for the Escher-like stairs to move back and forth before proceeding. This is initially charming but becomes somewhat annoying every other time you must traverse the grand staircase.
While moving around the castle is mostly trouble free, there are a lot of characters, and they tend to get in the way. It's not like Half Life 2 where the other characters apologize and meekly sidestep you - your classmates are rather rude and immovable. To get around this, talk to them and they will say their token phrase. After that, just as rudely, they will scuttle off - opening a path down the hallway.
Holding down A while moving will cause Harry to run, which is crucial as there is a lot of distance to cover. X will permit you to converse with your peers and teachers or use/examine an object. Make sure the correct person is glowing before pressing X, because there's no point in suffering the snarky comment of a Slytherin if you meant to talk to Ron.
To move from one part of Hogwarts to the other, or to find characters, open up the Marauder's Map with the Back button. Once a destination is selected, footprints will appear, pointing in the right direction.
Control of Harry is yielded during animated cut scenes, which inject little bits of story into what is essentially a seek-and-find game without much that relates directly to the film. Sometimes what you do has no real influence on the game - you CAN'T defeat Voldemort, but you can throw some spells at him until the game decides that you're done.
As the game progresses, other characters offer new tasks to complete. The biggest mission is to find all the members of Dumbledore's Army and ask that they go up to the Room of Requirement for lessons. This will often lead to more missions - so and so wants to, but they have to complete an assignment for a class - can you help? Except for Luna Lovegood and her difficulty feeding a large ball of meat to thestrals, they are all relatively painless to complete. If you have a mission in progress and opt to search the ground for hidden items instead, Ron and Hermoine will inevitably offer you hints, assuming you are uncertain about how to proceed. There is no limit to the number of times Hermoine can ask you about gargoyles.
The most enjoyable (and sometimes repetitive) aspect of the game is discovering all the secrets of Hogwarts. The large portraits provide access to secret passageways, but first the password must be discovered. Some are more easy to figure out than others, but you feel incredibly accomplished when the way is opened up to you. Each area of the map has a certain number of items you can interact with, and the total percentage found is displayed in the upper right corner when B is pressed. B will also reveal the items that Harry needs to investigate further with a pulsing glow, and the controller will vibrate if there's something in the area. Each item discovered results in discovery points, which will make spells stronger with each level. You might need to repair something, mop something up, find a hidden chess piece...what have you. It's perfect if you're the kind of person who likes playing Doom to discover all the secret rooms...but instead of randomly walking up to walls and clicking it's a little more obvious where the secrets are located.
These come in the form of Exploding Snaps, which is like Memory but more spastic, Gobstones, which is like pool but more frustrating, and Wizard chess, which is like chess for wizards. Wizard chess is certainly the most fun. If you're not too familiar with the order of the back row, it can get a little confusing because the shapes are different than your standard chess pieces. Is that the queen or king? These things are important. At least you only have to beat your opponent once to win, unlike Gobstones, which requires three times to defeat the champion.
Graphics & Sound
There are no qualms with the graphics - they are truly stunning and mostly realistic representations of the characters. It looks like a majority of actors from the film voice the characters in the game as well. Go ahead and turn on the English subtitles, though, as it can be difficult to make out what they are saying otherwise. Also, the soundtrack will occasionally swell to a ridiculous volume even as people are talking.
It's relatively easy to get all the achievement points on this one, but you must start out at the hardest difficultly level unless you want to play more than once. And...you probably don't. Once you "beat" the game you are sent back to Hogwarts to explore, so you can pick up the rest of the achievements by revisiting all the areas and finding everything that's left.
Is it worth buying as a bargain basement game?
Despite the aggravating aspects of the game, it's still addictive and ideal if you're looking for a large area to explore in depth. It's also slow paced, for the slow paced among us. If you're looking for exciting battles, this game doesn't deliver. If you're looking for achievement points, this will do the trick. It's arguably not worth buying at full price, but it's easy to get more than $10 worth of game play into this one.
|LOTS TO EXPLORE|
August 17, 2009