"Yet another eerie hallway looms in front of you. You creep down it - ever so slowly - daring not to make a noise. Hideous gargoyles and grotesque oil paintings line the walls, making you wish you hadnít left your invisibility cloak tucked away in the sock drawer. Itís quiet...too quiet. You canít hear a thing above the frantic racing of your heartbeat, its rhythmic pounding even managing to drown out the chattering of your teeth. You extend a cold, clammy hand and grasp the doorknob in front of ..."
Yet another eerie hallway looms in front of you. You creep down it - ever so slowly - daring not to make a noise. Hideous gargoyles and grotesque oil paintings line the walls, making you wish you hadnít left your invisibility cloak tucked away in the sock drawer. Itís quiet...too quiet. You canít hear a thing above the frantic racing of your heartbeat, its rhythmic pounding even managing to drown out the chattering of your teeth. You extend a cold, clammy hand and grasp the doorknob in front of you. The door opens slowly, letting out a small groan that sends a chill down your spine. But thatís nothing compared to the horrors waiting for you on the other side. Youíve been caught!
Is it Percy the pencil-necked prefect? You wish!
Is it Severus Snape the terrifying teacher? In your wildest dreams!
No! Waiting for you on the other side, ready to crush you in its vice-like grip is the evil, inescapable, unavoidable and diabolical HARRY POTTER MARKETING MONSTER!!!
Making its way onto the shelves to accompany a barrage of books, pencil cases, broomsticks, jelly beans, lunch boxes, vacuum cleaners and inflatable dolls is the first of what is sure to be a large number of Harry Potter games. This particular chapter - Harry Potter and the Philosopherís Stone - details the exploits of our pint-sized protagonist that occur in the book of the same name. Naturally, you star as Harry Potter. And as the guiding force in the game itís up to you to see him through his first trying year at the Hogwarts School of Wizardry. Youíll be given the opportunity to catch up GBA style with the magical cast of characters from the Harry Potter series - from the malicious Malfoy to the hairy Hagrid - and ultimately thwart some Voldemort style evil in true Potter style.
It becomes blatantly obvious within minutes of play that the enchanting world that hosts Potter in the books is going to be missing in action in this incarnation of the franchise. The severe limitations of the GBA ensure that the charm and the atmosphere that runs rampant through J. K. Rowlingís series wonít be appearing in the game. The general gist of the story is delivered here - from Harryís muggle origins all the way through to his liberation and eventual triumph over evil - but much in the style of the modern stand-up comedian the delivery is flat and ineffective.
Harry Potter and the Philosopherís Stone is in most regards an action/adventure title. With little emphasis on either action or adventure at any stage during the game itís very easy to be disappointed with this tale of wizards and wild wand waving. The developers are giving you the chance to run through the tight corridors and open fields of the Hogwarts grounds and learn all kinds of ďniftyĒ magic spells. But whether you can be bothered seeing this slothful adaptation through to its finale is another matter entirely.
It appears as if our developing team was a little too eager to cash in on the marketability of the Potter name - and everything that goes with it - rather than try and shape the game into something more playable. What weíve basically been given is a guided tour of Hogwarts, with a large number of puzzles thrown in to delay the gameís completion by a good hour or so. Ideas of fun and playability have been tossed out the window here in favour of names and places designed to send the younger contingent into cardiac arrest. Favourite locales such as Diagon Alley and the Quidditch Pitch make their token appearances, but at no stage of the game does it ever threaten to become something entertaining.
There are few facets to the gameplay of this particular title. Much of the time is devoted solely to running between different parts of the school. In an effort to increase the challenge some genius decided to ensure that a lot of this travel takes place after dark, a time when our plucky Potter can be penalized (house) points by prefects for wandering the corridors. And of course rather than sending Harry straight to his bedroom (where he is generally headed anyway) these erudite hall monitors would rather return him to a random spot on the same floor. Much disgust will be expended by the player as they battle to navigate the labyrinth of rooms and hallways that make up the school. These midnight adventures are fairly commonplace and easily the most annoying part of the game.
More frequent and slightly less annoying are the puzzles that constitute the bulk of the game. Managing to find one of the well-concealed doors to your class will set you on an ACTION-PACKED course of action. To be honest, that last sentence is probably more exciting than much of this game. First you get to challenge the teacher in a brain-dead duel of wands in an effort to learn a new spell or two. This spell will then come in handy as you embark on your puzzles. Flipping switches, maneuvering statues and the like and riding moving platforms towards your goals is not new ground as far as videogames are concerned. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone shows little innovation as you endeavor to solve these puzzles and find the useful artifacts behind them, and will leave you wondering at many stages of its short lifespan why youíre even bothering to play it.
Occasionally a fun little event or two may just pop up, such as a game of Quidditch. This simple little tale of little kid chasing golden snitch is surprisingly playable, and easily the highlight of the game. Unfortunately it plays too little a part in the grand scheme of things. With the vast majority of the game being hogged by wandering the corridors and solving silly puzzles youíd have to ask if thereís any kind of replay value on offer here. Sure there is the added incentive of collecting the chocolate frogs, or aiming for a victory in the house cup, but nothing about this game really motivates you to stand up and be counted in such inhospitable arenas. Sure there were the limitations associated with the handheld nature of the platform, but at times it appears as if the developers werenít even trying!
Letís take a look at the graphics. They look quite good in some parts, but too much of the game is spent with the graphics too dark for their own good, and the story is often told with washed-out and corny still pictures. Thatís no way for a nice set of visuals to go about their business, and in that respect they fail miserably. The sound is good in essence, but lacks variety and comes out of the GBA speakers in a very muffled and disappointing manner. Itís nice to hear sound-bytes coming from Mr. Potter, but other than this the sound effects are disappointing. With such a lackluster effort coming from the audio/video departments itís hard to be sucked into the world of Harry Potter.
Itís impossible to say that this game has had a lot of effort put into it. It comes across as unimaginative, derivative claptrap in all respects. Whilst it isnít likely to give you any major heartache or frustration, neither is it going to provide the slightest semblance of fun. Itís one of those games where youíll just plod along, practically comatose, and rue the 3 or 4 hours of your life that this game used up that could have been better spent elsewhere. Steer clear of this one, and pray that these terrible mistakes arenít repeated in the second chapter of Harry Potterís handheld adventures.
Community review by kingbroccoli (July 09, 2004)
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