Publisher: EA Games
Publisher 2: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: EA UK
N Amer - 06/26/2007
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Review
Licensed games have had a bad reputation for as long as gaming has existed, and for the last decade EA has been singled out as especially responsible for continuing the trend. Sadly, this doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon, as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for DS is a textbook example of how to turn a beloved license into a game unworthy of being played. Although not without its redeeming qualities, on the whole there’s little here to recommend.
Chronicling Harry’s fifth year at Hogwarts, Order of the Phoenix follows the film’s version of the story, although not well or in nearly enough detail. The first 200 pages in the novel are condensed into the opening “cinematic” (really a series of still screenshots with music playing) and first tutorial level, and the game begins proper with Harry’s arrival at Hogwarts. From there on, major plot points are completely skipped or, at the very least, barely mentioned either in a cinematic or in-game dialogue. For such a storyline-dependant license, this is severely disappointing; anyone who’s not read the book or seen the film will more than likely have no idea what’s going on.
Once at Hogwarts, the game tries to open up. The entire magic school is explorable at your own pace, complete with classrooms, dormitories, moving staircases and secret areas. However, problems present themselves almost immediately. The game uses “Resident Evil”-style pre-rendered backgrounds with static camera angles, which change so frequently that it’s very easy to lose track of where you are. This isn’t helped by the fact that many areas of the school look very similar. The other major problem with exploring Hogwarts is that much of it is completely empty; most classrooms are devoid of any students or even any points of interest unless it’s related to a quest. This emptiness robs the exploration of any fun or excitement.
The bulk of gameplay consists of receiving a quest from Ron, Hermione, or one of the Professors, then having to travel to the other end of the school to complete the quest, usually by winning a touch-screen mini game, and finally returning to whoever assigned the quest. The mini games are the lone high point of the game, as some are actually fun. It’s nothing that you haven’t seen in some other DS game (one is a very blatant Cooking Mama rip-off), but they’re a decent enough diversion. The problem is that the mini games are, at most, 30 seconds long, but to and from the quest-giver is often two or three minutes, round trip, assuming you don’t get lost. Fortunately, every mini game is playable from the main menu once you’ve encountered it in story mode. Every so often, you’ll run into Malfoy and assorted Slytherins, and a fight ensues. This, too, boils down to winning touch-screen mini games, and although they’re kinda cool, there are only a handful of them throughout the game, including the final boss.
The game’s graphics disappoint, too. Low quality polygon models animate awkwardly (you should see Harry’s basic running animation) over blurry pre-rendered backgrounds, while the quickly shifting camera tries its best to present the action from the worst possible angle. During dialogue, grotesquely dead-looking 3D models of the film’s actors appear on the top screen, staring blankly while their mouths move, marionette-style, and dialogue is displayed in a nearly unreadable font. The game’s music is recognizably based off the film’s score, but each track loops so quickly you’ll want to turn the sound off soon after starting the game.
The game’s got plenty of options as far as multiplayer is concerned. Multi-card mini-game challenges are possible, but so are single-card ones. Since the minigames are the most fun part of the game, this could actually be a decent way to spend a bit of time, but you still have to unlock them first in the single-player mode. You can also send other DS owners a demo of the game over WiFi, but I honestly can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy it if they already know how it plays.
There have been definite strides lately in terms of the quality of licensed games. Titles like Chronicles of Riddick, The Red Star, and Hulk: Ultimate Destruction show that it’s possible to craft a compelling interactive experience in an existing fictional universe. Hopefully by the time the game for Half- Blood Prince is ready, EA will be able to provide a magical adventure worthy of the Harry Potter name. Until then, we’ve got Order of the Phoenix, which is a disservice to both the book and the movie on which it’s based, and to the gaming population in general.
|Review Scoring Details for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix|
Despite Harry’s fifth year being full of magical adventures, the developers decided that they would focus on their favorite part of Harry’s journey: boring fetch quests! Although there are some decent touch-screen mini games here and there, the game manages to be devoid of any fun or excitement.
Bad 3D models? Check. Blurry pre-rendered backgrounds, complete with action-obscuring camera angles? Check. Incredibly creepy, zombie-style animated dialogue portraits? You better believe it.
Although the DS can’t really handle digitized orchestral music as well as EA wants it to, they get points for effort. Still, after the background music loops five times during one quest, you’ll be reaching for the volume dial. Bland sound effects seal the deal.
Just about anybody could finish this one in an afternoon. The toughest part of the game, the touch screen-based duels, are easier than just about anything in WarioWare: Touched or Cooking Mama, so nothing here presents much of a problem.
Do I want to take on the role of Harry Potter, running around his magical castle, casting spells? You bet. Do I want to do it in this poorly conceived mish-mash of ideas? Not even a little bit.
If attending Hogwarts was as much fun as playing this game, Harry would have dropped out after about 20 minutes. If your Harry Potter fandom tells you that it’s worth spending your money to see an ugly representation of your favorite character run around an ugly representation of your favorite school doing boring things, ignore it and buy a better game. Trust me.