Judge Jennifer Malkowski thought this Harry Potter DVD game was about as fun as a bludger to the head.
Your remote becomes your wand in this interactive Harry Potter DVD game…
Harry Potter Interactive DVD Game—Hogwarts Challenge gives you a chance to be a student at Hogwarts, working your way through the first three years of instruction by playing mini-games that replicate the classes and extracurricular activities Harry, Ron, and Hermione experience at school. You can play solo or against up to three people, and you can choose your difficulty level.
Upon starting your education, you choose your house among the four at Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, or Ravenclaw. Or you can opt to be (rather unceremoniously) "sorted" by the Sorting Hat (in other words, you can make it random). For each year of instruction, you must pass a couple of classes before you can unlock extracurricular activities and your year-end exam. Classes include standards like Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, and others. You'll be asked to do things like watch the shape of a wand motion and then choose the drawing that depicts it, mix different colored potions to get a third color, or levitate an object by pressing your "enter" button at just the right moment. There are also other Hogwarts challenges to face in this section, like arranging moving staircases or avoiding injury by the Whomping Willow. Extracurriculars allow you to guide your post owl through the wilderness and try out for the Quidditch team. The three year-end exams start with a Quidditch challenge and then do two variations of finding your way through the Forbidden Forest.
Video clips from the first three Harry Potter films introduce challenges or interrupt your play to randomly hand out or take away points. The points all tally up to crown a winner of the house cup at the end of each year, based on which player has the most. If you're playing alone, the winner every time is—you guessed it: you! Completing all three levels earns you a bonus mini-game and "tickets" to the Quidditch World Cup (and therefore some footage from the fourth film).
The concept I've just described sounds mildly amusing, but as you might imagine, your DVD remote is a pretty pathetic and frustrating "wand," much like Ron's taped-together one from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The remote is a shade more predictable, but considerably less dynamic when the game usually just requires you to push your four directional buttons in some sequence. Even the execution of this dull concept is lacking, with far more time spent listening to instructions and waiting for games to load or advance than actually playing. Menu and loading time is worsened by the fact that most of the mini-games only allow you one chance to press the right button. If you choose incorrectly, you end up with about 3 seconds of playing time after 30 seconds of menu screens and instructions, and then you have to return to the main menu before trying again. Worse still, some of the challenges are almost incomprehensible. Take your best guess on what to do in Transfiguration because the instructions aren't much help, and the same goes for the staircase task, which is neither intuitive nor even clearly visible. Potions sometimes asks you to combine two colored liquids to make beige. There's a beige liquid already sitting there as one of your options, and no other two make a lot of sense, but if you pick beige, you fail. Also, while the randomizing of which class you get provides for some nice variety and unpredictability, it also sometimes gives you the same class twice in a row, or prevents you from ever playing other classes. I played this game for 90 tedious minutes, finished it, and still never got to the Whomping Willow challenge.
While the user interface and game play is bad, the planning of this DVD doesn't seem much better. Even with the limitations of the DVD-game format, Warner Bros. could have done a lot more with this idea. I've taken online quizzes with a better sorting method than this game's, and by restricting the players to the role of regular Hogwarts students, the designers exclude most of the coolest locations and challenges from the books and films. Why can't we play versions of the challenges that gain Harry access to the Sorcerer's Stone hiding place, or battle the basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets, or cast a Petronus charm to ward of Dementors? Instead, the designers lazily duplicate challenges like Quidditch and the Forbidden Forest. For a game with a very limited number of tasks, doubling up is unacceptable.
It seems to me like Warner Bros. wants to make a few quick bucks off a holiday gift idea for kids that they themselves didn't put much money into developing. But I suspect kids would find this DVD game boring and frustrating compared to even the crappiest of video games available on any of the major systems. For less than the $20 this game costs, you could pick up one of the first few Harry Potter video games or one of the films on DVD and have about five times as much fun. I wouldn't recommend this game to adult Harry Potter fans like me, either, as they'll quickly become frustrated with the game play and will feel like casting the Crucio curse on the smug British narrator who guides the player through the levels. If you've got a Harry Potter fan on your holiday shopping list, do them a favor and get them Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix instead. Even if they already have it, a second copy might still be more fun than this game.
Guilty of milking a great franchise one time too many.
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