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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Review

GAME INFO
publisher: EA
developer: EA
genre: Adventure

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PII 400, 128MB RAM, 8MB video card
ESRB rating: E
homepage:
harrypotter.ea.com/hppoa/

release date: May 25, 04
» All About Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on ActionTrip


One of the world's most popular fictional characters, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter is a great inspiration for kiddies all around the world. Naturally, the brave little wizard made it to the silver screen. As fate would have it, the first two movies were unbelievably popular which understandably launched a series of video games published by No. 1 franchise devourer EA. The third movie launches on June 4 (US) and, as always, EA is ready to unleash the game to correspond with the film's premiere. Just so you know, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (the movie) has already generated millions of pounds of revenue for its company Warner Brothers in the UK, where the film opened on Wednesday.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban has been regarded as the best book of the story so far. (I personally liked Goblet of Fire better, just my opinion. -Petrodon) The grim story was apparently an inspiration for the film's director Alfonso Cuaron who used the dark thematic elements in his approach to the movie. The film has been described by both critics and viewers as the darkest in the series to data. EA has claimed that the game will be closely related to the story and spirit of the movie, so we were eager to see how it all turned out.

In this chapter of the tale, Harry's task is to complete his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry by going through several spell challenges and nabbing as many collector's cards as he can. (Okay Mr. Potter, please do this ungodly dangerous dungeon to get the spell we will all be learning back in class while laughing at you. -Petrodon) At the same time he finds out that an infamous wizard named Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban, the wizard prison. Rumor has it that Black is after Harry Potter. The whole story seems to have a natural flow when you're reading the book (haven't watched the movie, so I can't comment on that one yet). In the game, however, things somehow feel incomplete. The whole plot does eventually come to a logical and satisfactory conclusion, but it's all over pretty darn quickly. Also, apart from a handful of story-related missions all you have to worry about is finishing your lessons with a perfect score and completing all the third-year challenges at Hogwarts. This means that the narrative doesn't motivate you enough to play on. Other details on the storyline tie into the film so I guess I shouldn't spoil things for fans who haven't seen (or read) it yet. Suffice it to say, when playing the game, I wasn't pleased with the way the story was told.

Upon your arrival to Hogwarts you'll be facing a series of tasks in order to master your magical capabilities. In its essence the game plays almost exactly as EA's earlier celebrated title, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets... with one slight difference though. This time around Ron and Hermione, Harry's best friends in the whole world, have come along on the journey to help him explore all the secrets kept within Hogwarts. Every character knows how to wield a set of default spells each of which is used for various purposes: unlocking doors and chests, highlighting secret areas, bringing down enemies, and activating bouncy platforms. Eventually though, each of the young wizards will master a unique powerful spell that can be used later on. Hermione controls rabbits and small dragons, Potter freezes enemies and water, whereas Ron has the ability to pull himself towards objects.

It all looks very cute and should be extremely amusing for kiddies, especially those keen on the whole Harry Potter fantasy. On the other hand, having to use specific spells on certain types of foes is kind of annoying. While it seems logical, it's also a shame that you don't have the freedom to experiment with magic as often as you should. After all, it's a bloody School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, isn't it? For instance, although it may sound cool that you're able to freeze enemies and then blow them to bits, it's still a bit disappointing that such spells only have effect on a particular creature, in this case, a beast called the Amazonian Salamander (or something like that).

Despite these problems, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban might appeal to casual gamers due to its simplicity and straightforwardness. Sadly, the gameplay doesn't go anywhere beyond jumping, casting spells and childishly simple puzzle-solving. For some reason controlling all three characters is not all that fulfilling. You either lead one character while the others follow you, or you simply pass through an area on your own. The game will basically switch automatically to a particular member of your party whenever their skills are needed. It's an intuitive system, but it leaves precious little room for improvising.

The puzzles are hopelessly naive and solving them is only a matter of spotting switches and hidden doors (which are usually quite obvious). As for spells, they can be cast by clicking on the left mouse button - it's as simple as that. Still, things would be considerably more interesting and challenging if players were allowed to use appropriate spell combos on their own. Here it all boils down to using spells the game requires you to. No matter what the challenge is, all you have to do is jump, cast a spell, or open a door, while the rest of the game plays itself.

In truth, this game suffers from two serious mishaps - very few spells to learn and a poor choice of challenges to complete. The levels are mostly quite dull, short and easy to finish. So, is there any point to the whole concept of the game? Well, sure. It's just not really a new point, per se. The point is to accumulate Bertie Bott's Every-Day Flour Beans, Cauldron Cakes, Pumpkin Pasties, and similar crap, so you can acquire collector's cards. (Oh Boy! Card number 348, Berthilda Sukmeoff! -Petrodon) And darn it all if that wasn't the same thing you had to do in the Chamber of Secrets game as well. Some Collector's cards may also be found in secret areas, while others are purchasable in Fred and George's shop at Hogwarts. Sounds exciting doesn't it?

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4.9   Tolerable


HIGHS
Simple and straightforward, splendid voice acting, a must have for young Harry Potter fanatics;

LOWS
Not a very appealing storyline, too short, crappy level design, unchallenging puzzles, visuals could've been better.

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