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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (PlayStation) artwork

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (PlayStation) review

"Actually playing the game itself isnít quite so bad, though it is horrifically easy. Youíll likely require only a few hours to beat it, and only a very small portion of the obstacles you face during that time will prove even remotely challenging."

I first became a fan of Harry Potter when my cousinís enthusiasm for the fourth book convinced me to start reading. As an impressionable eleven-year-old at the time, I naturally found myself immersed in the series. Having read the first novel in just a few days, I couldnít wait to catch up. Itís no real surprise, then, that when the Sorcererís Stone debuted in theaters, I had to see it. And when I heard about the video gameís release around the same time, I had to play it.

Back then, the gameís simplistic design, easy quests and cobbled together story really didnít bother me. I was, after all, playing a Harry Potter game, for crying out loud, and that was just too awesome for belief. Over time that initial experience faded away, but its departure left a lingering sense of nostalgia that still itches periodically. I was only able to scratch that itch just recently.

Unfortunately, the sheer enjoyment my childish fandom brought to the experience as a preteen couldnít crack the shell of cynicism and harsh reality Iíve slowly developed over countless hours of gaming. The first thing I noticed upon starting a new game was the awful voice acting, which sounds much like a group of prepubescent American kids throwing out fake English accents. Thankfully, most dialogue can be skipped by pressing a button after a couple of seconds pass. The second thing I noticed was how lazily and disjointedly the plot was thrown together. Everything up to the point where Harry becomes a member of the Gryffindor house is briefly summarized in two-sentence lines narrated by an invisible storyteller holding up a large picture book. Itís almost as if the developers decided to target kindergartners instead of preteens. Needless to say, this approach also ensures that actual character development is nonexistent, so really anyone looking to play this game needs to already possess a clear understanding of the story.

Actually playing the game itself isnít quite so bad, though it is horrifically easy. Youíll likely require only a few hours to beat it, and only a very small portion of the obstacles you face during that time will prove even remotely challenging.

The structure is fairly straightforward. Harry can only travel to a handful of locations in and around the castle. Doors unlock after he completes specific tasks, such as attending Charms class or defeating Malfoy during a ďfriendlyĒ game of Wizard Crackers. Harryís adventure is also divided roughly into quarters. House points will be totaled after each section, new areas will unlock, and a new flavor of magical jellybean can be collected. Mini-games scattered throughout the adventure serve primarily as a means of collecting all the wizard cards. Most of these odds and ends really do nothing beneficial other than to add to your completion value, though I will admit that gathering all the beans yields nice bonuses, such as the Nimbus 2000 or an improvement to your basic attack spell.

Enemies you encounter throughout the adventure consist mainly of animated suits of armor, petit trolls and various outdoor critters such as fire-farting turtles and aggressive plant life. The venomous tantacula canít poison you, but it does spit out spiky little impish things that chase you, and you have to kill them all before you can target their mommy again. Knocking out most enemies requires that you hit them only once or twice, so your odds of dying at the hand of monsters are quite minimal. Youíll likely find yourself injured more by falling into lava pits, bottomless depths, or un-navigable water.

Even if you do find that youíve been hurt, youíll never lack for a cure. Chocolate frogs may only heal a little bit, but theyíre sufficiently plentiful that youíll never require anything else. Healing potions completely fill your health meter and can often be found right before a boss or prior to a long stretch that lacks any save points. If you manage to kill yourself due to an unforeseen accident of fate, youíll merely have to restart at the last checkpoint.

Instead of fighting, youíll spend the majority of your time solving puzzles and traveling between areas. A lot of what you must do involves simple platforming, but since no actual jump button was programmed into the game, all you ever have to do is push forward. Rather than viewing this as another lazy cop-out on the part of the developers, however, I found that I actually preferred the approach because it allowed me to quickly get from place to place without worrying about making precision leaps (which is a difficult feat to manage with a wobbly camera, anyway). I was particularly grateful for the automation when I had to cross a slimy river using several floating cauldrons. Because of the current, these platforms kept moving from one side to another. If I had to engineer each leap with a timed button press, I think Iíd still be there today, especially since the camera liked to reorient itself midway through some jumps.

Puzzles, unfortunately, are a complete joke. Most of them require you to push boxes together so you can ascend them to reach a higher ledge. Others require you to use your levitate spell to place statues on pedestals to unlock doors, or to quietly retrieve a key from a sleeping troll without waking it.

You could say that most of the ďpuzzlesĒ arenít really puzzles at all; theyíre tricks that require a slightly different solution, or theyíre mini-games that break up the otherwise tedious action. I mean, really, using your Incendio charm to burn up plants and spider webs hardly requires much puzzle solving skill, nor do scenes when you must outrun the poltergeist Peeves along rooftops, or transfigure a huge stone bird into a living canary so that the table it previously occupied can act as a makeshift elevator. Youíll find more genuine puzzles in the completely optional mini-games, such as those that require you to push several cauldrons onto their respective vents within a certain time limit.

Donít get me wrong; all this added variation makes the game much more enjoyable than it really should be. Running from the troll in the girlís bathroom is exciting, if you can overlook the fact that all youíre doing is leaping over gorges and collecting beans. Even flying after Malfoy to retrieve Nevilleís Remembrall is fun in short bursts. I especially enjoyed ramming into the spoiled brat in an attempt to knock him off his broom.

One of the gameís most redeeming factors is the liberal amount of creative license the developers threw in as a means of lengthening the adventure. On more than one occasion, youíll wander through forested areas that require you to fetch such things as Snapeís missing sloth brain, or fire seeds to help Hagridís dragon hatch. The latter quest will require you to battle a Gargoyle, cross a river of flowing lava, and lure cute little puffskeins into eating the thorny vines that get in your way. While none of these sequences occur directly in the book, they feel like natural extensions of the mythology.

The trial at the end of the game proved quite fun, too, and it serves as perhaps the only truly challenging sequence in the game. The series of events begins as you are put the Cerberus Fluffy to sleep and ends, as you would expect, with the final climactic confrontation with Voldemort. At least five other tests await you between these two events, and each of those tests has its own tricks to master. In a way, itís unfortunate that the game took so long to finally realize its potential. Too much time is spent on things that donít matter, and only two or three of the many spells you learn have any significant value. In fact, one of them is single-use: Verdimillious allows you to climb invisible platforms, but Iíve only ever seen this ability prove useful in the dungeon.

Had the Sorcererís Stone been fleshed out better or made a little more difficult, or if it contained smoother transitions between the various plot points, I believe it could have served as a model for all future Harry Potter games. Instead, it was a decidedly a rush job, forced to release around the same time as the film whether it was ready or not. Overall performance definitely suffered as a result. I can only hope that if I revisit future titles in the series, I will find that the developers were able to significantly improve the experience they offered.

wolfqueen001's avatar
Freelance review by Leslie Dickson (December 29, 2012)

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