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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Retro-View

November 6, 2012

He’s soo excited for school!

Harry Potter. A name that launched 7 worldwide renowned books, 8 blockbuster movies and a pantheon of badly adapted games. Some were truly horrendous and none moreso than Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for the original Playstation. Don’t question why I own it, just know that I played through this piece of entertaining garbage just for you readers

Story

Harry Potter, the boy who lived. I could at least safely assume that most of you out there have a passing familiarity with either the books or the films, but for those uninitiated in the Potter-verse here is a sum up: Harry Potter is a special little boy, a boy at the age of 1 somehow managed to defeat one of the most powerful and sinister Dark Wizards ever and save the Wizarding World. Though the poor little guy was orphaned to his mother’s sister and her husband. The Dursleys refuse to let Harry realise his magical heritage so lock him in the cupboard under the stairs (It was set in the 80s so of course, such corporal punishment was still hanging in there). Though once Harry turns  11, he is contacted by Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And so the adventure begins. And that’s the only piece of plot that the game follows.

I think whoever laid out the sequence of events in this game just tore up the book, threw it in a bucket and picked events out randomly, or perhaps watched the DVD with a shuffle on the scene selector. Potter fans would be aghast to know Nobert’s hatching happens the day Harry reaches Hogwarts, or that Harry finds the Mirror of Erised before fighting the Mountain Troll at Halloween. And strangely, he goes on a day’s shopping with Hagrid to Diagon Alley in the middle of term. It’s like they weren’t even trying! I can’t see any reason to mix and match the story in such a way, especially as the book and film were released by this point! It’s not like it was being made parallel and couldn’t adapt to a revised film. The book and film were set in stone so why is this game such a lumpy pudding of confusion. Another negative was the complete absence of Ron and Hermione until the very end, though I’m not sure I could suffer their abysmal voice acting and muddy character models for too long anyway.

The way the game tells the story is highly annoying as well. I realise there were limitations at the time, but the cutscenes are presented as a cartoon style read along. The narrator is incredibly annoying and, to my great disappointment, not Stephen Fry (who in my mind, from the audio books, is the voice of Harry Potter), and you can’t skip them at all. It’s like suffering a concussion and then being presented with a children’s interpretation of Fall of Rome, all done in coloured crayons. It made my head hurt, in other words.

Though I do have to give the game credit for including story element and characters not in the film but still present in the book. Smuggling Norbert the dragon up to the astronomy tower to hand over to Ron’s brother Charlie is actually mentioned, if only in one of the illustrated cutscenes. Peeves the Poltergeist makes an appearance too and you chase him around in the rafters of the School, but it’s not enough to save the game.

So, on the story front, this is nothing but a big fat fail.

Presentation

Ah Presentation. You can say at least they tried, just a shame no one was there to vet the product before it shipped.

It is one of the most bizarre yet consistent environments I’ve explored. All the areas in the game seem to have this wide warped effect, the flat pixelated textures seem to bend and be almost too big for the space, like someone jammed them in violently with a hammer 10 minutes before the deadline. Though it’s surprising they had trouble jamming them in, all the internal spaces in Hogwarts are gigantic, but not in the good way. It’s like the castle was built without realising how big the in-game models were going to be. Everything looks out of proportion compared to Harry. Harry looks like he has been subject to magical high-jinx and made a little too small for all the spaces in the game.  Objects such as bookcases and tables just don’t seem to fit comparing them to Harry, it’s shocking how bad it is.

The Grynffindor common room is such a space. I believe my words were ‘What a big empty mess’. The sofas were just giant slabs of red, looking more like Minecraft furniture. And that’s all there were, two sofas, a fireplace and a very diagonal bookcase that went all the way to the ceiling. Who can even reach up to the upper most books?! Besides that there are just some environments that never existed in the book or film one such example: an obstacle course of lava in the castle grounds. Yeah, where did they get that idea exactly?

The castle layout is completely bizarre as well, everything happens on the ground-floor or in the dungeons. There is no size and awe to any of the rooms or spaces, they are dull and unimpressive. Looks more like ‘Woghats, Inner City School for Offending Magical Deviants’.

Then there are the character models. There are some real problems here. Whoever cleared these models for use obviously had depth perception issues.

They all have this flat kind of expressionless painting of their actors’/actresses’ face plastered onto their face.

Dumbledore looks like a white pencil and Hagrid looks like a house with a ruddy face plastered to it and from behind he looks like he’s been beheaded! The problem is there is no definition, the character models are one solid shape with a texture wrapped around, with the exception of Dumbledore’s and Harry’s glasses. Very few of the characters appear to have noses when facing them side on. ‘Jesus!’ is all I could say when I saw some of these models. I mean what is wrong with Fred and George?! The two look like they’ve been in a horribly identical car accident, right to the face! Ron looks like a miserable cabbage patch kid, Hermione looks like a blonde tree and Snape looks like Sam the Eagle from the muppets!

On the sound front, it’s actually not so bad, all the noises are magical and hint the same feelings you get when you watch the movie or read the book, although some are repeated far too often. The duel with Malfoy using wizarding crackers did in fact cause quite a lot of trouble over WH9M voice chat, almost making my fellow writers pull their eyes out in despair.

Harry Potter bending the rules in every way possible!

FLIPENDO! Get used to hearing that if you plan to play this game. Harry’s primary spell is the Flipendo Knockback Jinx and, every time you charge it (which you need to do to harm most enemies) he will yell Flipendo. I ended up firing the spell constantly when having to trek back and forth though the grounds of Hogwarts, because there is no actual jump button to spam. Do you know the feeling if you say a word over and over and over again it loses all recognizable distinction as a word and just becomes a noise? Well thats Flipendo for you! I may even hear it mentally on my death-bed, but I can be happy because that’ll be the last time I hear the word Flipendo!

Now comes the voice acting. It’s just terrible, I can’t describe the apparent lack of emotion, cadence and definition in all pieces of voice acting! It’s just one jumbled mess of bad british accents.

Nearly Headless Nick’s voice actor seemed to be attempting a John Cleese impression but just sounded like he’s unsure whether he is recording voice work or giving directions to a very dim taxi driver and Dumbledore sounds like an Irish person recovering from a terrible hang-over. If that wasn’t bad enough, simple pronunciation is wrong and it’s not like they didn’t have a film to look at to get it right. No one, and I mean no one in the game can pronounce Alohomora right! The only credit to the voice acting is that it at least contextualised itself in the appropriate places; when Harry uses the levitating charm, trying not to wait a sleeping troll, he at least whispers the incarnation.

The only saving grace was the music, it actually fooled me half the time into believing this game was actually lovingly recreating Hogwarts and the Potter-Verse. The music is the only piece of presentation that fits into what a Harry Potter game should strive to achieve!

Even then, half the time I couldn’t enjoy it because the game disc is badly scratched and the music sometimes jumps, steps or repeats the same three tones for a while, but when it was given a chance it really impressed me.

Gameplay

The controls of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, as you can imagine, aren’t a stellar example of smooth, intuitive and digestible controls. First off, Harry has the turning circle of a tractor and is unable to simply stop and turn round on the spot, so you always find yourself trying to turn about and smacking into a wall, even though the corridors are large enough for an international airliner. Harry can’t walk gently to the left or right, he more zig zags along like a beetle. And perhaps the most annoying thing, is the automatic jump and automatic climb, simply push Harry against a ledge and he’ll hop up and grab it, race towards an edge and Harry will automatically leap off it. It’s all fine and good sometimes but occasionally you want to hop down to a lower platform but end up flying over it, right into lava or into a bottomless pit. One such occasion, where camera and sucky controls made my day worse, was jumping across the books getting to Professor Quirrells lesson. I kept missing or misjudging distance so gave up and let the clock run down, but I still had to do it too my misfortune.

Magic has never been easier!

One piece of good news for Mr Potter though, if Harry flunks school, he could be an olympic long-jumper. He literally jumps a 20 foot gap in the tutorial! Harry is a boss! The weirdest thing is you can actually steer Harry wildly in the air once his feet have left the ground and drastically change his momentum, you can even go backwards mid-jump if you hold back on the D-pad for long enough.

Like I said, the camera is a real problem, being completely unresponsive or intrusively jerking around like it’s on a sugar rush. The L2 and R2 buttons control the camera and, well, let’s say this method seem old now. The big problem is, all the surroundings somehow manage to clip into the camera. I found a way of actually trapping the camera behind a corner which I could re-create again and again: the camera wouldn’t adapt to anything and seemed to have a nervous fit if I tried to rectify the problem, but I had to because, strangely, it was always getting too damn close and I couldn’t actually see where I was meant to be going. The camera is simply just a paradox, how could it have such trouble in these huge cavernous environments.

The actual game is not really much of a problem, most of the tasks are self-explanatory and, to be honest, there is a certain charm to heading to lessons, learning new spells and using them, even if they only serve one purpose and there are only four to learn, and you can only use them when allowed by the game. It’s not half bad either, the game surprisingly keeps you engaged, even if it’s simplistic and repetitive.

Although, there is one piece of gameplay I cannot and will never forgive. Going to Diagon Alley, first you have to go on a train-ride in Gringotts and try to grab as many coins as possible, by swinging the cart side to side. I really remember hating this portion of the game and really wasn’t looking forward to it, but actually I managed to get through it quite easily. I had no trouble acquiring the items I pay for using the money I got from the Gringott cart mini-game.

You head to Ollivander’s Wand shop to purchase three peacock feathers, but no, of course, he makes the paying customer go out in his warehouse and chase the damn peacock around. That Ollivander needs to take a lesson in shop-keeping. Anyway, the peacock is f**king irritating to high heaven, the damn thing won’t stand still it can outrun harry and turn round on a dime (unlike Harry), and always sees you coming. You get jammed against walls because of the stupid built maze and it’s hard to find the peacock because your view isn’t wide enough and the invisibility cloak is all but pointless, it doesn’t last long enough and it only appears once! I’m not too proud to say I did actually become quite angry and bitter at this point.

However, this is one piece of misjudged game design (though you could generalise that to the entire game), but they did get something right. Whizzing around on the Quidditch pitch chasing down the Snitch, ducking out of the way of bludgers, and weaving between the towering stands; that they got right. It’s really good fun. Shame you only get to do it twice in the story. However, when loading up a game you get the option to continue the game or enjoy a few games of Quidditch, that was a nice inclusion. It’s almost like they knew the Quidditch was the only fun part you could enjoy again and again.

Verdict

So here it is, crunch time. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is an appalling mess. It ignored the source material, it looks like a madman’s dream and has all the polish of tree bark. It seems to be trying to hint and tap into what makes Harry Potter so magical and engaging but that only happens in flashes. And thats a shame because, when it does, it really does.

If you never played it before, I do not recommend wasting your time on it. But if you remember it from your youth, those red-tinted glasses will propel you back into the fantastic world of Harry Potter, just don’t be surprised if the lens may be see-through now.

Image Links: gamespot.com, spong.com, article.wn.com, fungloobe.com

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2012 7:20 pm

    okay i do agree with you the game really wasnt much to shout about, but for a fan of the books and the films, each game was an icing on the cake, i remember they came out every Christmas and i got them each year!! :)

    • November 6, 2012 7:53 pm

      It may not seem like it but I did enjoy revisiting the game, just I couldn’t completely ignore the problems, but yes It does feel like a Potter game. My personal favourite Potter game was ‘The Prisoner of Azkaban’ one on the Playstation 2 where you could control Harry, Ron and Hermione

      • November 7, 2012 2:50 pm

        My personal favourite was “Chamber of Secrets” I loved getting the broom and just flying about the castle.

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