A few weeks ago, the video game tie-in of the latest Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was released, although the movie just came out this week. I played through the Xbox 360 version of the game upon release, and this week, during the height of Pottermania, I did the same with the Wii version. Though the story is the same, as is the focus on three main mini-games, the motion controls change up the gameplay a bit, more accurately depicting the magical feeling of spellcasting, potion-making, and dueling. Despite being able to use the Wii remote as a wand, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince still can’t be saved from the curse of tie-in video game mediocrity.
Now that the movie is in theaters, the game will probably make a lot more sense to those who have never read the Harry Potter books. One of my biggest problems with the game is the way it treated the plot like an afterthought, turning the entire narrative into a disjointed string of potions, duels, and Quidditch practices. The same is true of the Wii version, making it feel more like a companion piece than a standalone game. Big story events are breezed through, and the plot really doesn’t make any sense without having seen the movie or read the book beforehand.
When you’re not following Nearly Headless Nick around the castle, most of the gameplay is broken up into three chunks: Quidditch, dueling, and potions. All of these activities can be practiced through their respective clubs, which you will join throughout the course of the game; completing optional club tasks will unlock more playable characters for two-player dueling. Once again, potion-making was my favorite of the three games. It’s a little more intense, shaking the Wii remote and nunchuk to heat or stir, and using the motion controls to pour ingredients into the cauldron, but it also made it more interesting. Quidditch, on the other hand, remained a simple game of moving through targets in the air until the Snitch is caught, which quickly gets repetitive.
As you would expect, dueling also uses the Wii remote and nunchuk to replicate spells, giving the experience a more lifelike feel. Sure, I might look a little silly swinging the remote around trying to stun my opponent, but again, these little touches shake up the gameplay. Despite the controls, dueling was still usually reduced to some cheap disarming and quick stunning, and again never felt particularly challenging. Two player duels are more fun than playing the computer, and are good for laughs if you have someone nearby to play with.
Graphically, the Wii version of the game definitely falls a little flat. Whereas the developers could have gone the way of Ghostbusters and given the Wii version a more stylized look to better mesh with its graphical capabilities, Half-Blood Prince looks like an early PS2 game. Again, I feel myself growing very tired of developers using the Wii as an excuse to be lazy with a game’s presentation. The character models are recognizable, but not great. During one close-up, I found myself staring at Harry’s forehead, and realized I couldn’t tell the difference between his hair and his trademark scar.
The version of the game you play depends on which you’d prefer: somewhat better graphics or interesting controls. Either way, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince isn’t worth buying at full price for any system; five hours is far too short, especially for a game this repetitive. The almost complete absence of plot is another glaring problem, and although the mini-games can be entertaining, you’re better off renting it for a weekend or borrowing the game from a friend. After a couple of days, you’ll have done almost everything there is to do, and as a huge Harry Potter fan who has now played through the game twice, I was completely underwhelmed. Perhaps for the seventh movie adaptation, game developers will finally be able to turn the franchise into a great gaming experience, but it hasn’t happened yet.