Top 5 Harry Potter Video Games

Hey there! So, this past week included my birthday, a momentous occasion that could have only be overshadowed by the most hilarious and consuming bit of schadenfreude I’ve seen in years. As I am trying to make tradition, I will mark the week with an article that is only tangentially related to wizard rock (if at all), because fuck you it’s my birthday. This year – a quick run down of my favorite Harry Potter video games. Now, I haven’t played every Harry Potter video game, but I’ve played the vast majority of them, even including that Quidditch game everyone seems to forget existed (it wasn’t bad, but nothing extremely memorable), so my words do carry some merit.

Okay, that was a lie – my words never carry anything at all, except maybe the slight stench of discomfort and shattered dreams.

5. Chamber of Secrets for Gameboy Advance

The GBA Harry Potter games were never truly great, but this was as good as it got, and it was pretty dang good. Expanding on the isometric gameplay of the previous game, with better graphics, challenging platforming sections, a slight metroidvania-style edge to design, and a fairly big Hogwarts to explore (something the handheld games were better at than the consoles in the early years, up until the disastrous Goblet of Fire games, that is, which were all uniformly AWFUL), CoS for the GBA was a charming handheld adventure that could easily keep the attention of a young teenager for many hours. It also featured a final boss battle that was actually fun and kind of like the books, unlike the first GBA game, in which you ran around a series of mirrors playing what amount to Pong with Voldemort. No, really.

4. Chamber of Secrets for current-gen consoles

Current-gen at the time, I mean – your Gamecubes and your PS2s and whatnot. And your SEGA…. oh, wait. Right. While not featuring a very big Hogwarts at all, consisting of two floors and a basement, and not actually being that long, while its lasted the CoS console games were pretty fun. There were a couple amusing minigames, quidditch was decent, and frantically running around a random courtyard that Dumbledore keeps covering in a diabetes-inciting amount of jelly beans continues to bizarre fun. It continued to be the high mark for 3D Harry Potter interaction until the Order of the Phoenix games, since the PoA games were ambitious but flawed and occasionally buggy, and as previously mentioned, all the GoF games were shit. I mean, the CoS console games had a tiny, tiny Hogwarts, but at least they HAD Hogwarts. The GoF games had NO Hogwarts to run around – the centerpiece of ANY good Harry Potter game, and instead had a collection of boring actiony platformy levels connected by a menu. How magical and wondrous.

3. Half-Blood Prince for current-gen consoles

So, in the last paragraph I mentioned how console games didn’t become good until OotP – however, those games aren’t on this list. The reason why is because Half-Blood Prince was basically exactly the same as the OotP games, but better. Like its predecessor, the games featured a fully-fleshed 3D Hogwarts to run around in, with a myriad of secret corridors and hidden collectibles to find. You could spend hours simply running around Hogwarts (made even more fun that when you sprinted, it triggered a bizarrely Gears of War-esque effect where everything around you blurred and you seemed to be running through a slow-motion world – it was weird), challenging students to gobstones and exploding snap and wizard chess (which was just chess but you could zoom around the board and all the pieces scowled at each other), entering into duels with Slytherin bullies, and generally having a grand old time. The environments were lushly detailed and textured, with a never-mentioned-in-canon bioluminscent underground tunnel connecting the boat house to the Owlery being one of the highlights. In some ways, this game was a step backwards from OotP – the collectibles you found had less of a sense of achievement about them, and I found I got bored of exploring Hogwarts quicker than last time. However, there were two things that made this game shine, and make it hands down the best Harry Potter video game of its kind. Firstly, dueling, while not perfect (they never could get wand dueling to feel quite right) was much better, and Draco had the most amusing strafing jump animation, which still makes me laugh to this day. Secondly and more importantly, the game had a delightful sense of humour and irreverence when it came to some of its levels. Part of me suspects that this came from a sense of stifled creativity and boredom than anything else, but it ended up paying out well for the player. Sequences like controlling a lovestruck chocolate-poisoned Ron, who maneuvered like a drunk hippo on roller skates, desperately fighting the intentionally suddenly-shitty controls to get him to follow Harry, while red hearts burst around the scene, and controlling Felix Felicis Harry, which is exactly the same, except he’s slightly faster, everything is tinged gold, AND A BIG SWING BAND SUDDENLY BREAKS INTO THE SCORE AND DOESN’T LEAVE UNTIL YOU’VE COMPLETED THE MISSION will always stick with me.

2. LEGO Harry Potter

Since both games are really halves of the same whole (and I wouldn’t be surprised if, like the Lego Star Wars games before it, both games are released on one disc sometime this generation due to increased storage sizes), I decided to put them together on one entry. And what great games they were. The Traveler’s Tales LEGO games had always been good, but at the time the luster had been starting to wear off. LEGO Star Wars was great, and LEGO Indiana Jones was pretty good, but by the time the Batman ones rolled around, it started to feel like they were running out of ideas. And then came the LEGO games, both kickstarting the LEGO series with a bolt of ingenuity, and giving us the first truly great Harry Potter games in nearly a decade. Maintaining the sense of cheeky humour that the LEGO games have always been known for, the games not only put humorous twists on a variety of more somber Harry Potter plot details (to list them would take too long and spoil much of the surprise – seriously, just go play these games), but had great level design, a wide variety of character archetypes with different special abilities, and an absolutely insanely deep cast of characters. This game will probably continue to be the only game where you can run around Hogwarts with your friend as SharkHead Krum and the Ghost of Lily Potter. Or Voldemort and the Bassist from The Weird Sisters. You could play as Mr. and Mrs. Mason. THE FREAKIN’ MASONS! The only possible flaw in the series’ character list was that they even had Yaxley, but no playable Dawlish. Hopefully they’ll fix that in the inevitable one-disc HD re-release. Plus, it’s as far as I know the only HP game you could play co-op, making exploring this zany version of Hogwarts even more of a joy, and is definitely the only good HP game with co-op. Also, you can jam your head into a magical pumpkin and use that pumpkin to FLY. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Bellatrix Lestrange stick her head in a pumpkin and use it to gaily levitate about.

1. Chamber of Secrets for the Gameboy Color

You… probably weren’t expecting this. But the two Harry Potter games made for the Gameboy Color were absolutely excellent. You may have noticed that the Chamber of Secrets games appeared a lot on this list. This is because in all cases, the CoS games were made on same or similar engines, and I believe by the same studios. After all, they, like the movies, were shipped out within a year from each other, and there wasn’t time to switch to a new engine. Usually in games, this makes for terrible sequels, but in games based on movies, where the plot has already been dictated, this allows for refinement of previous mechanics, and in the case of Harry Potter games which up until DH all revolved around the same setting, refinement of world design as well. The Sorceror’s Stone game for the GBC was an overlooked gem, that was basically Final Fantasy IV, but at Hogwarts. Something about turn based combat actually works really well in the Harry Potter universe – maybe because when you get down to it, the way duels are described in the books usually comes down to people shouting things at each other at the same time. The combat was about as fun as turn-based non-active time systems can be, with a good progression of monsters, a dedication to book canon, tons of equipment items to find, buy, and upgrade, and a fun potion-brewing system that I usually ended up exploiting by just picking a bunch of ingredients from the grounds and selling to Fred and George. That dedication to canon was especially interesting, highlighted in the Metal Gear Solid-esque stealth sequence where you and Hermione had to sneak Norbert up to the Astronomy tower – something that wasn’t at all in the movies. When I first played this, I wondered if that got through because the game was made before the movie came out. This theory was delightfully debunked in the GBC Chamber of Secrets game, which was the SS game, but even better.

Magic was fleshed out a bit more. Every playable character got upgraded and refined versions of their own series of specials (Harry combined Chocolate Frog cards to do things like heal, buff, debuff, and summon malevolent umbrellas, Ron literally threw Scabbers at enemies in a variety of helpful ways, and Hermione could give lectures that buffed the whole party). Hogwarts, which was giant on the aging portable system in SS, had even more stuff to do and find, and was the definitive gaming Hogwarts until the console release of Order of the Phoenix, many years later. There was an entire collection of minigames, from gnome throwing to adorably lo-fi quidditch to freakin’ ghost head bowling. GHOST HEAD BOWLING! Most wonderfully though, this game is the truest to book canon Harry Potter game ever created. The ENTIRE book is in here, from Harry breaking out of the Dursleys, to cleaning up the Burrow, to shopping at Diagon Alley, to attending Nick’s Deathday Party, to enduring the trials and tribulations of Valentine’s Day, to the harrowing ride to the Chamber and climactic battle thereafter. It also features what I classify as hands-down the GREATEST moment in all of Harry Potter gaming. So you know that bit in the books where Hermione is petrified and Ron and Harry force Lockhart to help them get to the chamber? Well, when that happens, since Hermione is gone, LOCKHART ENTERS YOUR PARTY. Until the LEGO games were made, this was the most delightfully absurd twist in who you were playing as in a Harry Potter game. More importantly, like the trio, Lockhart has his own special ability – signing autographs. He signs an autograph, and hurls it, attached to the pen, at the enemy, doing 20 damage. He also knows EVERY spell at ALL levels. So at first your excited, thinking you suddenly have this massive cannon on your team. Only thing is, NONE OF HIS SPELL ATTACKS WORK.

Think about how perfect that is. Think about how from a design perspective, that’s such a beautifully brilliant way to convey story through mechanics. Lockhart says he knows all these spells, but he’s shit at all of them (unfortunately, Obliviate isn’t a spell you can use, but it’d be kind of hard to fit it into a JRPG anyway – maybe it’d be a debuff of some kind?). In fact, the ONLY things Lockhart can do is use your items, sign autographs, and die. It’s utterly brilliant, and an absolute gem in both the stable of Harry Potter games, and the GBC library itself (which had some good stuff, but was kind of overshadowed by the superior GBA library). Oh, and did I mention that both GBC games featured a New Game Plus option, so you can go through the campaign again, but with all the spells and experience you just beat Tom Riddle with, and feel like an absolute God? Seriously, if you’ve never played this game, go track down a ROM and play it right now. Besides, since its a JRPG, it’s one of those games that actually works okay on a smartphones’ touchscreen emulator, since there’s no twitch reaction required. So if you are reading this, you have literally no excuse not to play this game.

Seriously, stop reading this drivel and go do something with your life. Namely, play a 12-year old game designed for a handheld system that was current three generations ago.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: 7 Panels I Should Have Submitted For LeakyCon 2016 | The Wrock Snob

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