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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Score: 77%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Games
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Free-Roaming/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

Wands and lightsabers - the two objects that popped into the head of gamers everywhere the minute the Wii-mote was unveiled. While a lightsaber game has yet to materialize, EA was quick to jump on the wand thing and with great results, at least when it came to the wand function.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix looks amazing and is probably the best looking game currently available on the Wii. Though it doesn't quite match up to its HD siblings, it hits all of the right visual notes. Characters look exactly like their movie counterparts and the entirety of Hogwarts is outstanding - something that never really occurred with me until watching the movie. The level of detail is really something to be commended on. The layouts seen in sweeping overhead views in the movie match up flawlessly to the game, right down to the placement of statues, various weather effects in the Grand Hall's ceiling and shifting staircase. Even Myrtle's bathroom is correct, right down to the opening to the Chamber of Secrets (which is unfortunately off limits).

The overall Menu presentation is another high point. This is easily one of the more immersive user interfaces I have come across in a game.

Sound is good, yet iffy in some areas. Though all of the characters look like they should, not all sound that way. Most of the main characters reprise their roles in the game (though Hermione sounds off), while stand-ins handle the other characters. Some, like Snape, are pretty good, while others, like Professor McGonigal don't. Music from the movies is used throughout and presents a nice atmosphere.


Gameplay:

As a Harry Potter fan, I loved Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; as a gamer, not as much.

The entire game has a great, what I like to call "Dark Ride" feel to it. Most of the game is built around exploring the castle and discovering things to do as you progress through the plot of the movie. There are lots of little things scattered throughout the castle that fans will love. While digging around the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, you'll uncover references from nearly every movie; a blue imp who is still trapped in a desk, Lupin's movie projector and even a left-over Gilderoy Lockhart poster. You can also use spells on brooms and mops to clean up the school, take practice O.W.L.'s or collect passwords from the various portraits. So, for fans of the series, the game is the next best thing to actually being at Hogwarts - at least until the recently announced theme park opens.

From a gameplay perspective, the game really isn't that much of a game. I had fun, but again, I am a Harry Potter fan and I like these types of immersive experiences. When you get below all of the fan service, gameplay is pretty shallow. Narrative is the driving force behind the entire game and the only thing that pushes you along. Most of your time is spent finding students to join Dumbledore's Army, most of which require small fetch quests or other tasks. A few puzzles pop up in different areas, though they are very easy to complete and very light on challenge. Wizardry duels, which should be some of the more challenging and exciting areas of the game are exceedingly easy. Of the six or so duels in the game I lost one, and that was because the story required that I lose it. The others, including the duel with Voldemort, are either no lose situations or I'm a better wizard than I thought.

When you aren't exploring the castle or completing plot-based tasks, you can also seek out mini-games like Exploding Snap or Wizard's Chess. You'll find students playing these games throughout the castle who you can challenge. As with discovering secrets, you'll earn exploration points. These act like experience and level up your magic (which may be why I dominated in duels) and unlock treasures in the Room of Rewards. The integration of unlockable rewards with the main game is phenomenal. Rather than having to exit to a menu on the title screen, it is all stored in a room in the castle; all you have to do is click on a treasure and you are presented with your unlocked item. Some of the earlier rewards, which are interviews with the cast, are better than some of the later ones and present a nice background for anyone interested in what goes into making a game.


Difficulty:

Again, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix isn't that hard of a game. Most of the game's challenge comes from simple exploration and discovering little things to do around the castle. Some are rather obvious while others can be a bit obscure. People looking for a more action-based game won't find a lot of it here, and the few action segments are very easy - even on the hardest difficulty level. Navigating around the castle is easy thanks to the Marauder's Map, which will give you a set of footsteps that lead directly to the area you choose on the map. The only time it doesn't work is during certain password quests where you have to interview certain paintings. There were times where I was denied access to a painting because it thought I was trying to complete the quest. A choice between the quest and saying the password would have been helpful.

The most difficult - or should I say frustrating - gameplay moments come during some mini-games. Exploding Snap is a (pardon the pun )snap once you figure out the trick, the others border on unfair. Gobstones is the worst offender since there is very little tactile feedback on how much power you are putting into rolls. On top of that, the A.I. is nearly flawless in its rolls and is always able to get the stone within a tick's hair of the ball or pit. How difficult you find Wizard's Chess will depend on you familiarity with the chess, though the A.I. is pretty good.


Game Mechanics:

Ahhh... now we get to the game's main attraction - Wii-mote wizardry. To this end, the game is a success. The Nunchuk attachment moves you around while all of your motions with the Wii-mote will cast spells. In total, there are about 16 spells in the game; eight practical spells and eight for dueling. Spells have their own distinct motions, though practical and dueling spells do share motions. To cast Depulso, you flick the Wii-mote forward when an object is glowing, while raising the Wii-mote and Nunchuk together casts Wingardium Leviosa, and will raise an object. The overall effect is handled really well and provides the experience everyone was hoping for. Now if only the rest of the gameplay had followed suit.

Again, combat is non-existent and is really just you waving the Wii-mote around casting the same spell waiting for a cut-scene to activate and tell you that you won. It is impossible to tell who you are aiming at and even harder to tell if you hit them. On the plus side, there is very little combat beyond training in the Room of Requirement or random duels with random Slythirin students, Malfoy or, for the last five minutes, Death Eaters.

I typically like the Harry Potter games. After hearing the design details behind Order of the Phoenix, I was excited. I really liked the gameplay behind Sorcerer's Stone (though I wasn't impressed with the quality of the PS2 remake) and Chamber of Secrets, something later games strayed from, and hoped that Order of the Phoenix would play more like that. Though it gets close to the general feel, the gameplay simply isn't there. For Harry Potter fans, the game features everything they could ever want. You get to cast spells, interact with characters and explore Hogwarts. Non-fans who may simply be interested in the Wii-mote functionality will be disappointed.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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