"You should be skeptical of almost any game that is based on any form of popular entertainment. Be it a new game version of your favourite gameshow, or a game-version of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Chances are, it'll be a rapidly assembled game with no innovation nor fun at all. This is entirely true in the case of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Never before have I played a tie-in game that has reached such heights of unplayability. I don't know what annoys me more: the fact tha..."
You should be skeptical of almost any game that is based on any form of popular entertainment. Be it a new game version of your favourite gameshow, or a game-version of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Chances are, it'll be a rapidly assembled game with no innovation nor fun at all. This is entirely true in the case of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Never before have I played a tie-in game that has reached such heights of unplayability. I don't know what annoys me more: the fact that EA couldn't attempt to make the game remotely enjoyable, or the fact that it's permitted to be on the shelves.
Ditching the classic style of the handheld Harry Potter games, The Order of the Phoenix dons a new graphically superior and more realistic moniker in which it hides. I've got to say, it looks pretty sweet, and all the walls of the castle are shown in their pre-rendered glory. The sheer size of Hogwarts school is gobsmacking and it's an achievement that such a large free-roaming environment has been delivered on the DS. Unfortunately, you'll be seeing far too much of the massive space to appreciate it fully, as the entire game seems to be centered around exploring every nook and cranny in the place.
You take on the role of a certain Harry Potter as he is about to enter his fifth (and most dangerous yet) year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There, he gets involved in numerous mysteries, games, sidequests, and adventures, none of with have anything to do with the overall plot whatsoever. In fact, without having previously seeing the movie or reading the book, you won't have a clue what's going on in this game. The method of storytelling is quite poor, and is told through text and some still images. I wouldn't mind as much if they included fully what was happening but EA have scrapped almost everything relating to Harry Potter and have opted instead for an unfollowable version of the plot of the book.
If you already know the basic premise, you'll want to jump straight into the gripping game-play. But, this is yet another disappointment. I'm not kidding when I say that the whole game revolves around you going on an errand for a particular character which involves you traversing the entire maze of passageways and corridors in search of whatever it is you may be looking for. For example, there is one quest where you have to find specific characters to give them a message. No idea where they are? Simply look at the top of the touch screen for a white arrow pointing where you have to go next. It always points in the immediate direction you have to go, so there is no thinking involved, just moving Harry round like he's a puppet on a stick. Still not bad enough? Throw in some extremely dodgy camera positions and you're in for a hair-pulling experience. The camera is always pre-set for every room you're in and it works quite well on it's own, but couple it with Harry's movement speed and you've got a camera angle that changes every 2-3 seconds. You could be walking one way, then the camera shifts so quickly, that you lose your sense of direction (well you would if it weren't for the trusty arrow).
Just when you feel like smashing your DS up with a sledgehammer, hold on! It isn't all bad. After a while, you'll begin the art of spellcasting. To cast a spell, a shape must be drawn with the stylus. It's pretty innovative and works well, which is a plus. It's used way too often in the opening of the game, so it gets old not even five minutes after the concept's been introduced. There are other mini-games to keep the player occupied too. Quests sometimes involve some unique games like keeping balance on a wooden beam, stepping lightly to avoid prying eyes, and a friendly game of gobstones (marbles). These are a fresh break from all the frantic running around, so all games are welcomed with open arms, even if they are a bit short.
I've mentioned the mini-games, spellcasting, and the horrible camera controls, but there's one aspect of the gameplay which I've not yet mentioned. Wizard Duelling! Sound fun? Well, you're right. It is fun, at least for the first one or two duels. To duel, the DS is turned sideways to what we know as the 'Bran Training' positions, and your allies are shown on the touch screen with the enemies on the other screen. To cast a spell, you select which character you'll use, then which spell they'll perform. It's a turn based system, and downright simple. As you start duelling, each character only has a select few spells. More can be unlocked by attending DA meetings (a secret club run by Harry & co.). The magic is taken out of it when you realise that by unlocking more spells, every character has exactly the same stats and spells to use, which is upsetting, as it offers no variety during duels. Speaking of which, the duels are always against the same characters and occur at pre-determined locations in the game, so there is no way of progressing without sitting through the same linear duel for five minutes at a time.
Once you complete the story, you're dumped back down in the middle of the school to collect the hundreds of items you missed during the game. Items are found in chests, and by lifting rugs. To do this, a spell must be used, but by the time you collect all 400 or so items, you'll have had more than enough repetitive gameplay to last you until next christmas. If you're a completionist like me, which means you must get every single item there is to get before announcing that you've completed the game, you'll be disappointed. Some items can only be received at certain points of the game when certain passageways are open, and you'll always get lost, forgetting where you have and haven't checked for items. If you somehow manage to collect everything there is to collect and get high-scores in every mini-game and class, tears will flow as you find there is no reward at all for your efforts. Very disappointing, EA.
While playing, you get to enjoy a great soundtrack to breathe some life into an otherwise dead title. It's refreshing and never gets old, in my opinion. All the tunes are catchy, and realistically emulate a full symphony orchestra. There are some recognisable themes in there too if you listen out for them and the music really puts some authenticity to the magical castle of Hogwarts. It's a shame that there aren't voiceovers for the main characters sections of dialogue. It would make the game more lifelike and more bearable. Perhaps it's a good thing, because the inclusion of voiced dialogue would probably have been another thing for the developers to mess up.
On the plus side, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has a more lifelike Hogwarts and a more in-depth world. Some mini-games are great fun and are addictive, but the experience as a whole is a let-down, and you should avoid the title at all costs. It's frequently annoying, confusing, and frustrating. Along with the most simplistic gameplay possible, this is surely one of the most disappointing movie-licenses to date. It's a pity.
Community review by bodo_parkour (December 08, 2007)
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