Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

A couple of hours after I started playing _Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince_ for the Nintendo DS, I find myself deeply involved in a fascinating mystery. No, I’m not trying to piece together clues to solve the mystery of Lord Voldemort’s youth or using my charm to weasel confessions out of dodgy professors; this puzzle is much more intriguing – why am I still playing this game?

I can only think of two possible answers. Firstly, my recent experiences with _Scribblenauts_ and _Professor Layton_ made me fall in love with my DS again, so I jumped at the chance to review another game for it. Secondly – and this is perfectly socially acceptable for someone who was seven years old when the first book came out – I am quite a big Harry Potter fan. Or I was.

The last portable Potter I played was the very first – _Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone_ on Gameboy Colour – and I actually quite enjoyed it, if only because the gameplay consisted of fighting randomly-encountered creatures and levelling up and reminded me quite strongly of _Pokemon_. This game – unfortunately – doesn’t even have that going for it. In fact, it doesn’t even mildly resemble anything fun, unless you’re an economics student and your idea of fun is supply and demand.

In short, this game takes everything that is good about the Harry Potter books and throws it out of the window. The characters have no character, the plot – which has been reduced to a super-condensed version of the film, let alone the book – is portrayed through a series of montages of crudely-drawn pictures and text, and all you are left with is the boring parts of life at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You basically spend the game either playing variations on “exploding snap” (and believe me, just as much fun can be had with a 50p deck of playing cards) or exploring the “castle” (little more than a cardboard cut-out – I know the DS has its limitations, but the designers could have at least been a little more inventive and not put all of the magical secret passageway portraits in one corridor) fetching things for people.

It even sounds a lot better on paper than it is in reality – the objects you are sent after rarely have anything to do with the plot (what on earth is a “Reusable Hangman” and why does Ginny need Harry to bring her one?) and you generally acquire them through a boring chain of trade. The whole game, in fact, seems to revolve around swapping chocolate frog cards/chess pieces/gobstones for other, equally irrelevant items. It’s a strange thing to centre a game around, and even if it is just an attempt to get concepts like value and preference into the impressionable minds of our nation’s children, it doesn’t do it very well. You acquire your own chocolate frog cards, chess pieces, gobstones etc. by (in an apparent war on intuition) casting spells on bookcases, banners and plants, and if you want more you simply have to go to the next area and return – the plant-pot will be magically refilled with as many gobstones as you can carry, like the wizarding equivalent of the best ATM in the world.

Perhaps the makers of _Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince_ for DS are trying to enlist future bankers at a young age by sowing the seeds of ideas of infinite wealth, but if this is the case it is only another reason not to buy it. In fact, I would gladly spread the rumour that EA is involved in mass brainwashing to prevent people from ever playing this game – the only reason you should even consider doing so is if you think you’ll get a substantial kick out of watching a miniature Harry Potter fail to cast the right spell over and over again, in true Neville Longbottom style.


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