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Destructoid review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

12:03 AM on 06.30.2007 // Chad Concelmo

For a Harry Potter fan this is easily the ZOMGBESTSUMMEREVER! Not only did the videogame based on the upcoming 5th movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, just come out this past week, but next month will also bring with it the release of said movie, plus the grand unveiling of the final, 7th book in the hugely successful series (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).

Being the self-proclaimed biggest Harry Potter fan in the Destructoid network, I obviously couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game. But what version to play? Phoenix is out for almost every system on the market right now; which version would give me the most enjoyment as a fan?

It may come as no surprise that I instinctually went with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for the Wii. Not only do I love my little white console that could, but the chance to perform spells with my Wiimote as a wand had me leaping in nerdy excitement.

But was my experience in a virtual Hogwarts all it could have been, or was I as disappointed as receiving a “T” on my Ordinary Wizarding Levels (for the record, that is very disappointing)?

Hit the jump for the final verdict, but be warned: an almost unhealthy amount of geeky Harry Potter talk awaits.

I think I can rightfully assume that most of the people that buy this game (or are thinking about buying this game) are hardcore Harry Potter fans like myself. Truthfully, the past Harry Potter games have not really been, how should I say this … good (with the exception of the surprisingly polished, Zelda-esque Chamber of Secrets). It is because of this poor track record that even some of the most diehard fans may be on the fence as to whether or not to even play (let alone buy) the new Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

To be honest, I was kind of in the same boat. I had always felt that EA lazily put together the last few games based around the Harry Potter universe and it was extremely disappointing, to say the least.

But this is a new generation of consoles, a time to start anew. And with something as perfectly suited for a Harry Potter game as a Wiimote at the designer’s fingertips, all signs point to everything turning out just fine, right? RIGHT?!

Well, the good news, on most counts, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is definitely a step in the right direction for the videogame series. You folks reading this in your wizard robes and sorting hats can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Although strange, the easiest game to compare Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to is none other than Grand Theft Auto. While there are obvious differences in the two (no magical prostitutes here!), the general structure and overall design of both games are eerily similar. In Phoenix, you control Harry Potter as he moves freely throughout Hogwarts, performing tasks and talking to characters at specific “hot spots” around the map. And as in Grand Theft Auto, not only is the world surprisingly huge, there is so much to do and so many things to collect. This open world system actually works very well in the world of Harry Potter and is a huge improvement from the linear, action-based levels of the previous Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

As one of the luckiest Harry Potter fans in the world, I actually got to attend an early screening of the final cut of the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix about a month back (which I am not allowed to talk about until next month *grumble*). This may sound completely stupid, given the fact that the videogame is based on the movie, but it is important to note that everything in the game almost mirrors the film exactly: scenes are in the same order, the characters look almost identical, major set pieces are revealed (the Ministry of Magic, number 12 Grimmauld Place, the veil!). This would not be a problem at all had the movie already come out, but with the theatrical release date still weeks away, playing the game now may ruin some of the magic come July 11th. This may sound pointless to some, but if I was a fan that had not seen the movie yet, I would have appreciated the warning.

Let’s get to what really matters in this Wii version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: the gameplay. Overall, it's pretty great. Character movement is done with the nunchuk attachment, while an on-screen cursor (in the form of a spark-like magic spell) is controlled with the Wiimote. The control scheme will immediately feel comfortable for anyone familiar with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but due to some camera issues and occasional “lock-on” problems, everything feels a lot less smooth.

Fortunately, this is all remedied (or at least tolerable) once you start casting magic. Performing spells really is as simple as locking on to an object (by using the ‘B’ trigger) and flicking the Wiimote in a specific direction (or sometimes twirling it around in a circle). Not only is this infinitely more satisfying than just pressing a simple button, some of the spells actually work so well that you really feel like you are actually performing them in real life.

Take Wingardium Leviosa, for example. In the Harry Potter universe, this is a levitation spell that is used to move objects around. In previous games (and in other console versions of this game) the spell was activated with a button press and objects were moved through the air with the control stick. In the Wii version, though, the spell is cast by raising the Wiimote and nunchuk attachment in unison. After the object is successfully floating in the air, you move the Wiimote and nunchuk combo around in 3D space, the in-game object mirroring your exact movements. Sure, sometimes the interaction isn’t quite perfect, but using this intuitive spell to solve puzzles that would normally be considered basic or unoriginal (such as placing paintings on a wall in the correct order) is truly a breath of fresh air. Most importantly, it's a ton of fun.

As you progress through the game, more spells are unlocked, each requiring a different (and sometimes rather difficult) pattern of movements with the Wiimote. Although maybe not intentional, the fact that I had trouble performing some of the later, more offensive spells actually made sense, since they were advanced incantations that most younger witches and wizards could barely perform themselves. Again, this may have just been an error in design, but it works and makes you feel like you are a realistic part of the Harry Potter world.

Where the game falters, though, is in its presentation. Granted, being in 480i and possessing true wide-screen support places Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in the upper echelon of graphically competent Wii games, but sometimes the combination of particle effects, blurry textures and large polygonal models slows the game down to an almost unacceptable framerate. Regardless, the game does look nice, recreating the Harry Potter world with very impressive detail and varied environments. There is nothing ugly enough to detract from the overall experience, but you really can’t help but think how much better the final product could have been had it combined the high-def graphics of the Xbox 360 with the innovative control of the Wii. Pumpkin pasties for thought, I guess.

For fans of the books, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for the Wii is an easy recommendation. Not only is it the definitive console version (I can’t imagine playing this without the Wiimote), it includes almost every scene and memorable moment from the movie and even goes so far as to showcase a veritable parade of classic creatures and characters from the entire Harry Potter mythology. From flying thestrals to roaming house ghosts, the magical world of Hogwarts is accurately and successfully brought to life.

To the non-fans of Harry Potter, though, this game will be a tougher sell. While the action and gameplay is intriguing and entertaining, so much of the game is heavily reliant on being familiar with the Harry Potter universe. Stripping away all things Harry Potter, I worry that there is not enough going for the game in general that would make it stand out for the average player. The graphics are pretty, but not spectacular. The controls are interesting, but not completely responsive. If it wasn’t for all the Harry Potter bells and whistles distracting me, who knows, maybe I would not have liked the game as much.

But this is a Harry Potter game and, for what it's worth, a fairly strong one at that. For all the true fans, based on the experience alone, I would give this game an 8. For everyone else, though, I would say the game ranks more around a rent-worthy 6. Calling forth the practical Hufflepuff inside of me, however, let’s just be fair and call Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix a solid ...

Score: 7.0
(out of 10)
Verdict: Rent It!

Chad Concelmo,
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