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Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix

For: DS   Also on: GameBoy, Mobile, PSP

How not to pull a rabbit out of a hat

Product: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix | Publisher: Electronic Arts | Format: DS | Genre: Action, Adventure, Film/ TV tie- in | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix DS, thumbnail 1
We're happy to say Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a masterclass for games developers everywhere – a sad masterclass in how to turn a sublime, generation-bridging licence into a limp and lifeless mess.

Perhaps the fundamental problem is that this is a game based on a graphically-intensive film, which is based on a rather long book, all of which have an intense fanbase. The result is a game that tries to squeeze all those extravagances into the small form of a DS cart. In the process, the actual game gets lost.

Of course, making these sort of tie-in games has always been difficult. But in the particularly difficult case of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (or HPOP as we're going to call it), the problems are concentrated by what the game does and doesn't enable you to do.

Harry's nemesis, Voldemort, is growing ever more powerful, so in order to protect Hogwarts from calamity, Harry, Hermione, and Ron begin to train up their own secret wizard army. It sounds exciting, and is in book and film form. In the game, however, you end up trudging around a truly massive and certainly impressive-looking game world, following a giant hand that unfailingly points you to where you need to go next. We didn't notice that in the book or indeed the film.

Between carting uninteresting objects around Hogwarts, you have to click through lots of text dialogue and play innumerable sub-games, the most diverting of which are the magic duels.

These Pokemon-esque events occur every couple of minutes as you get into some rough stuff with the Slitherine folk. Half turn-based combat, half stylus gymnastics, you select a target, pick one of five spells, and then cast by following a moving red blob with your stylus as it jumps around the screen. How quick-fingered you are determines how powerful your spell is. This is pleasant enough, but because there are so few spells, and so little difference between them, there isn't much scope for experimentation. And until the boss fights that end the game, it's also pretty hard to lose.

The duels set the tenor for the rest of the mini-games; it shouldn't be possible to be indifferent about spellcasting, but that's exactly what happens here. The mystery of casting Wingardium Leviosa is reduced to a simple swish of the stylus, which in turn brings up a short beatmania sequence where you have to tap small grey dots in rhythm. WarioWare: Touched! proved such games can by fun and funny, but HPOP just goes through the motions.

Indeed, HPOP sometimes doesn't even do that. The stylus was supposed to usher in a new world of handheld creativity, but here it becomes a sneaky way of repackaging ideas better suited to pen and paper. For example, there are mini-games where you have to use the stylus to colour in the outlines of basic shapes, one where you play snap, another where you do a quiz, and there are some dot-to-dots, too.

There's little here for gamers over the age of 12. Considering the adult editions of J K Rowling's books sell nearly as well as the kiddy versions, this is a mistake.

But worse, there's plenty that will annoy junior, too. For instance, in-between the my-first-adventure stuff, there are role-playing-lite wizard training sections that involve you laboriously building up your skills by repeatedly casting and re-casting spells. Death by boredom for the young'uns, we reckon, it's far too much like homework.

Even some of the main wandering around parts of the game are let down by simple things such as the way Hermione and Ron constantly follow you, which means that when you make a quick turn in one of Hogwarts' many doorways or stairwells, they'll end up blocking your way out.

Most surprising of all perhaps are the cutscenes, which are confusing, often ending abruptly and skipping important story details. For example, Harry's visions aren't explained, and momentously importance series plot developments are abridged and then chucked away. It's a major failing for such a narratively-led licence.

Even the saving system is anarchic. The game saves automatically, but seemingly at random, ensuring there's always masses of backtracking to do. Though as the basic single player element can be finished in a matter of hours, this could be some kind of cynical ploy.

We could go on, but sadly while the novels are one of the defining cultural landmarks of our age, and the films are pretty good, the DS version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix turns out to be just another licenced game.
Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix
Reviewer photo
Scott Anthony | 6 July 2007
The game of the film of the book has exploration, adventuring, action, and loads of mini-games but Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ends up being a confusing mush of ideas
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