Hogwarts: Year Six
Product: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Company: EA Games
Date: 06/12/2009
Avaliable On:

With the coming of a new Harry Potter movie, there is of course the requisite Harry Potter game to follow its plot. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will take Harry, Hermione and Ron through their darkest story yet since Voldemort is no longer in hiding and has basically declared open war against good wizards and muggles alike.

The Half-Blood Prince features three main gameplay styles especially suited for the Wii (and exactly how well these modes will transfer to the other systems has yet to be seen). While exploring the massively open and complete Hogwarts, and advancing the game's story, you will often need to take part in wizard duels, broom fights or mix potions. And these are the three areas the developers have put a lot of time into.

Dueling pits you against an A.I.-controlled opponent, and the two of you trade magical-blows until one gets knocked out. In the demo I was playing, Harry had Petrificus Totalus (the Body-Bind Curse), Protego (the Shield Charm), Levicorpus (which causes people to hang upside down by their feet), Stupefy (a light attack stunning spell) and Expelliarmus (the Disarming Charm). Each spell is associated with a wave of the Wii-mote and Nunchuck and can be performed while moving around the fighting area. Some of these spells appear to be charged a bit to make them more powerful.

The demo gave me access to four Dueling Club locations, one for each of the houses. These clubs are used to hone your dueling skill outside of the normal gameplay and let you take on students of the house as you climb through the ranks in hopes of eventually making it past whomever is the best in the house.

The second type of gameplay involved flying. Instead of taking a full open sky approach with flying, something the developers felt was too much for their target demographic to get a handle on... especially little kids, your job is to fly through a series of stars as you chase the snitch around the field. The closer to the center of the checkpoint you fly through, the more of a speed boost you gain, and when an opposing Chaser or other player gets close enough, you can bump them with your stick and knock them around. And no, the game doesn't penalize you in any serious way if you miss a checkpoint. Instead of forcing you to double back and fly through it again, you simply don't get the speed boost from it. Like the Dueling Club, you can practice your flying outside of the normal storyline in the Quidditch Club.

And finally, potions. As you would expect, this is like Cooking Mama, but nastier and with much more unusual ingredients. Taking the foreground of your screen is your cauldron with its swirling colorful liquid and smoke stewing within. To one side is a list of instructions shown as icons. One icon shows an ingredient (noted by the shape of the flask) being poured and a color. This means you pick up that flask, and tilt it over the cauldron until the concoction changes to the desired color. Another instruction has you stirring until its a certain color. What I liked about this system was that if you messed up, you didn't simply fail the task (you only do that when you run out of time). Instead, it just changes the recipe. Your next step might have been to pour in ingredient A until it turned blue, well now its the powder in jar B until it turns yellow. And, like the previous two modes, the Potions Club will let you try your hand at these recipes outside of the story.

The last big aspect of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that the demo team was excited about was Hogwarts itself. The developers apparently poured over the books and stared at the movies to learn just how every aspect of the school looked and how the castle was laid out, and then faithfully reconstructed it in the game. From the Owlery to the training grounds, Quidditch Pitch, dungeons, Great Hall and of course the common rooms, it's all here for you to explore, and it is supposedly accurate right down to which corridors connect and what classes are where. So, while previous Harry Potter games have tried to do the same thing, none has gone to quite the lengths this one did to give you the whole Hogwarts experience. I guess a lot of that is the fact that the final book has come out so the different parts of Hogwarts should be pretty set in stone at this point.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will be released a few weeks before the film, so look for it at the end of June on every system.

J.R. Nip aka Chris Meyer

GameVortex PSIllustrated