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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Wii)

Rated: 12+. Given that the film is a 12A and much scarier and more violent, this is somewhat bewildering. Certainly, any child who can read the book is pretty unlikely to suffer mental trauma from playing the game (due to the content anyway - the repetitive gameplay is perhaps a different matter).

Story: Teenage wizard attempts to keep up with his school work as the world crumbles in the face of the return of He Who Must Not Be Named.

Events whizz along at dizzying speed, though, re-told through a scattering of computer animated recreations of scenes from the film. If you haven't got a fairly firm grasp of the plot beforehand, you won't have the foggiest notion of who anyone is or what on Earth is going on.

Gameplay: Most of the gameplay revolves around three mini-games:
  • Potion making. Choose and pour ingredients with the wiimote in order to finish the recipe within the time limit.
  • Broom riding. Point the wiimote at a trail of stars on the screen to travel in the correct direction.
  • Duelling. Wave the wiimote and nunchuk in different directions to fire spells while dodging incoming attacks.
Beyond that, there's not much besides wandering the halls of Hogwarts to locate hidden crests using a mix of exploration and spell-casting.

Save System: Frequent autosaves.

Comments: Most movie tie-in games aren't very good but have the excuse that they were rushed to meet the release date of the film. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is different. It's not very good but there really isn't any excuse. The book has been out for years and Electronic Arts have five previous Harry Potter games behind them, meaning they've had a while to plan and haven't exactly been starting from scratch. The movie was even held over for several months, allowing plenty of opportunity for polish.

Clearly, however, there's been no long-term vision devoted to the series because Half-Blood Prince is little more than three mini-games coupled with a virtual tour of Hogwarts. Mix a potion, run down some corridors, play Quidditch, fight a couple of duels, run down some corridors, fight another duel, mix a potion, run down some more corridors. Repeat.

The potion making at least uses the motion-sensing controller well, as you pick up, shake and pour ingredients and then fan the flames under the cauldron, but the hardest part is trying to match the stylised pictures and colours in the recipe with the actual versions around the cauldron. It all wears rather thin very quickly.

The broom riding is initially exhilarating until you realise how little control is possible over events. It's merely a case of pointing the wiimote at the centre of glowing stars as they rocket towards you. There is, however, a modicum of extra fun (and difficulty) to be had by holding the thing like an actual broomstick. (Although you may want to close the curtains before putting the wiimote between your legs and waggling it.) Since nearly all the flying takes place in and around the Quidditch pitch, it gets repetitive even more quickly than the potions.

Duelling is more interesting but the controls aren't particularly accurate. In the heat of battle, movements can be entirely misinterpreted, leading to shields instead of fireballs. In the end, it tends to boil down to dodging about until the enemy is open to a stun and then running in to spam them with a succession of Stupefy spells.

There's not much else to the game. Hogwarts is open to explore but the story is nearly always advanced by making a potion, playing Quidditch or duelling. It's like they made a Harry Potter version of Zelda or Grand Theft Auto and forgot to include the missions. Thus, what would pass for a handful of side-quests in other games becomes the main event.

Collecting the crests hidden around the school involves a little bit of puzzling and spell-casting. Finding them all is more hard work than fun, though. There's plenty of traipsing along endless corridors required to complete the story as it is. Shaking the wiimote at everything which glows to harvest mini-crests to trade for proper crests becomes tiresome after five minutes. On the plus side, it's impossible to get lost, thanks to the ability to summon a friendly ghost to lead you to whatever destination is required. This cuts down on plenty of frustration.

Ultimately, Half-Blood Prince is sadly lacking and doesn't even have the charm of Night at the Museum 2. It's fairly harmless, however, and works well with jOG, making a rental worth consideration if you're a Harry Potter fan who fancies some mindless exercise (but the combination of frantic arm-waving and running on the spot this brings to duelling makes closing the curtains absolutely essential...)

Conclusion: A very small collection of mini-games connected by a very large number of corridors and a selection of dubious cutscenes.

Graphics: Hogwarts looks nice but its inhabitants don't. Dodgy animation, non-existent facial expressions and poor voice acting combine to unfortunate effect.

Length: Short. The main adventure can be fairly easily completed in 5 hours, even with a bit of sight-seeing along the way. Collecting the bulk of the remaining crests and badges probably adds two or three fairly laborious hours to that.

Rating: 2/5.


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