What EA giveth, EA taketh away. For every improvement or addition to the Harry Potter series there must be a subtraction – presumably to keep the universe balanced or something. Order of the Phoenix introduced a sprawling, detailed version of Hogwarts, for example, but scraped out every shred of ‘game’ as a result. The great hope for Half-Blood Prince was that the pretty, but pretty empty, castle of Phoenix would now be filled with stuff to do. Admittedly, there are more activities, but quite a lot hasbeen taken out as recompense.
Still, Harry should be used to sacrifice. Now in his sixth year, the grumpy magic orphan has to balance his studies with the prophecy of him offing Voldemort, all while figuring out how that blonde dick Malfoy keeps disappearing off the Marauder’s Map. It’s one of those licensed games that presumes you have an intimate knowledge of the story already, as evidenced by the fact that the delivery is consistentlyterrible. Major scenes are rushed and often incomprehensible, treated primarily as inconveniences that get in the way of the structure of the game.
It’s a narrative the player has almost no role in, except in the few situations where the story intersects with one of the three – yes, three – activities at the game’s core. ‘So-and-so needs this potion, go and make it will you.’ ‘It’s time for Quidditch practice.’ ‘Potter, I’m gonna duel you silly.’ There are a couple of out-there moments that offer variety and engage with the story properly, but most of the game revolves around potions, dueling and – sigh – Quidditch.
Let’s start with potions, as it’s the Big New Thing in Half-Blood Prince. It’s brilliant. You use the remote to pick up bottles and other ingredients, and then tip it sideways to pour them into your bubbling cauldron. The remote also stirs the gloopy mixture, and in tandem with the Nunchuk you can do a fist-pumping motion to heat the potion up. Not having ever made a potion we can’t judge how accurate it all is, but the gestures are spot-on and fun to perform – it’s a truly great minigame.
But it is still a minigame though, and like all the others it’s overused to the point where the thought of making another vial of magic juice makes you want to punch Jim Broadbent (the new Potions master) in the back of the head. Dueling, returning from the previous Potter game, similarly outstays its welcome even if in the short term it’s a pyrotechnic blast. New to this edition is two-player competitive dueling, which should keep you diverted for a while.