Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Review: Almost Half-Good

It's a movie tie-in game for a film based on a blockbuster book series, so really, what did you expect of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince besides visual fan service? Originality?

The Harry Potter movie games are pretty much interchangeable. Harry runs around Hogwarts in some abbreviated version of the film's plot with a handful of duels and wizard school-themed mini-games thrown in for good measure. The only thing that's changed in the last eight years is the technology, which increases the size of Hogwarts and makes the character models of the Harry Potter cast to look even creepier with every evolution.

The Half-Blood Prince is the penultimate book in J. K. Rowling's seven-book series. However, since Warner Bros. Pictures have decided to split the last book into two movies, we have another two movie tie-in games from EA to look forward to after this. Here's how this year's model stacks up.

Loved
Hogwarts Is Bigger: Instead of confining Harry to a rigid linear path between Potions and the Quidditch pitch, the game world is opened up gradually to include all areas of Hogwarts mentioned in the books (except Hogsmeade Village). Most areas you're free to go to once they're unlocked, although there are some places that you'll only see in cut scenes, like the Room of Requirement. Even so, the game world in Half-Blood Prince is so expansive, you actually have to have Nearly Headless Nick escort you to some places because you could really get lost.

Some Of The Mini-Games Don't Suck: It's common practice in Potter games to turn classes into mini-games. For whatever reason, the only classes Harry seems to have in Half-Blood Prince are Potions and Charms -– but at the very least, the potions mini-game doesn't suck. At least, not the first few times. The thrill of racing the clock to pluck out and pour ingredients with corresponding Wii Remote motion controls kind of wears off when the game forces you to do it five times in a row. Still, once you've unlocked the Potions Club, you can voluntarily mix potions and earn badges right from the main menu without having to dick around with Professor Slughorn. It's kind of fun.

Plot Gets Padded Out: Having seen the movie, I can barely express my exasperation with watching the in-game cut scenes mangle the movie. However, the game sometimes spares me the agony and replaces scenes from the movie with scenes from the book, or at least makes reference to things that happened in the book as a way of explaining the plot. So not only do you get a small fanboy or fangirl thrill from recognizing these parts, but you also get to see characters that were omitted from the movie, like Crabbe and Goyle.

Two Player Dueling Mode: There's a lot of flailing involved, but if two people are doing it together and perhaps you have a stash of liquor nearby, this multiplayer mode can actually be quite fun.

Fan Service: There are bits of the game that are clearly there just for the fans and not for anyone else. For example, the part of the game where you play as a love potion-poisoned Ron is hilarious. And pink.

Hated
Too Much Fiddly Wii Flailing: The game requires a lot of flailing just by its design -– for example, the duel mode is essentially all flailing and if you do anything different, you'll get knocked on your butt a lot. However, because the controls are just plain lousy in certain sections -– especially when casting Wingardium Leviosa to obtain Hogwarts crests -– you'll almost always find yourself suffering from shoulder pain as you struggle to maneuver Harry around sharp corners during a chase scene or guide him through six-pointed stars during Quidditch practice.

The Camera Is a Disaster: Most of the time, the camera remains fixed behind Harry in a third person view. However, the camera is slow and easily confused. Sometimes you'll lose it behind a bookcase, or it will become enamored of a corner while you're trying to get Harry through a doorway.

Plot Gets Padded Out Too Much: I don't mind when the game skips movie scenes and I don't mind seeing additional scenes from the book. I do mind when the game invents scenes and lines of its own that take people like Ginny or Snape completely out of character and just smack of bad fan fiction. To me, this is the opposite of fan service and I'd rather just skip it.

Some Really Horrible Voice Acting: I can understand if the Potter cast is too busy or too expensive to lend their voices to their game likeness, but couldn't the developer at least hire people who can act? It would make the butchering of lines from the movie a lot less painful.

The Liquid Luck Part: There's a very bizarre section of the game where Harry drinks a Liquid Luck potion and then the game goes into Naked Gun Intro mode so you can watch Harry stroll around Hogwarts to bad jazz club music. It's awkward, it's pointless and it actually causes me physical pain.

Fan Service Does Not A Game Make: Half-Blood Prince just doesn't seem like it's trying at all to establish a natural progression of events, a consistent sense of character development or anything that even makes the game worth playing on its own merits. It relies entirely on the Potter plot as a way to appeal to the player and as a means to get the player to forgive it for sucking with gameplay, voice acting and the camera. Subtract the Potter name altogether and you wouldn't even have a "game," just an elaborate torture device to inflict on small children.

The saddest thing about Half-Blood Prince is the part where it could have been a good game. It could have been Rockstar's Bully set in Hogwarts with Harry having free run of the grounds and the ability to interact with the wacky school and his fellow classmates. There is a little bit of freedom to run around at the end of the game, after you've finished the main adventure. By that point, however, you've probably thrown out your rotator cuff and tossed aside your Wii Remote in disgust after being forced to duel the painfully-voiced Bellatrix Lestrange for the half-dozenth time.

As a parting shot, let me reiterate what I said when Order of the Phoenix came out for the DS: If you're looking for a way to savor Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, you're better off re-watching the movie. Or re-reading the book. Or whacking yourself in the face with the book over and over again. Either way, you'll be better off for having not played this game.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was developed and published by EA for the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS and PSP. Released June 30 for $29.99 to $49.99. Played the Wii version and completed story mode, played two-player duel mode and spent way too much time trying to get all 150 crests.

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