Considering how utterly ubiquitous JK Rowling’s teenage wizard has been over the past decade it’s somewhat surprising that Harry Potter has appeared in only a handful of mobile phone games.
Thanks to this uncharacteristically demure attitude towards mobile handsets, loading up Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince doesn’t elicit the usual feelings of trepidation we tend to get when approaching a heavily-licensed property.
It also helps that the previous mobile interpretation, Order of the Phoenix, was actually rather enjoyable.
As you might expect, Half-Blood Prince is based on the sixth Harry Potter novel and has been produced to coincide with the forthcoming Hollywood adaptation, which hits cinema screens this month.
The game is split up into several self-contained chapters and although this isn’t necessarily a game where your high score is an issue, you’re nevertheless graded on how swiftly you complete each one.
During the course of this adventure you’ll find that most of your time is spent fetching items from one part of Hogwarts and taking them to another. In fact, this form of gameplay makes up a large portion of the action.
Practically every person you speak to has some form of ‘fetch quest’ for you to take part in, with the objects of desire ranging from lost keepsakes to ingredients for a magical potion.
Thankfully, becoming disoriented during these missions isn’t an issue - when Harry is motionless a trail of magical footsteps (no doubt inspired by the legendary Marauder’s Map) issue forth along the floor in the direction Harry is supposed to be heading.
Aside from constantly traipsing around Hogwarts’s dusty corridors you also take part in wizarding duels, both with fellow students and Voldemort’s cronies. Here you’re expected to move Harry around so he can avoid his opponent’s spell whilst at the same time pausing to deal out a few offensive charms of his own.
Casting the Protego spell creates a shield for a short space of time and holding down the Fire button allows Harry to charge up a more powerful attack. As a result, these duels become a hugely enjoyable tactical balancing act.
Magic isn’t solely used for aggressive means, and at certain points you gain access to other spells. However, rather than being given free reign over their usage, each spell is context-sensitive. So if your objective is to drive back a large patch of Devil’s Snare (that’s demonic brambles to us muggles) then pressing the Fire button will cause Harry to perform the fire-creating Incendio spell, thus clearing a path.
Likewise, if you need to move an object around, highlighting it and then pressing the Fire button will execute Wingardium Leviosa and the item will magically float until you release the spell. Should you be too clumsy and accidentally smash it against a wall, highlighting the object will conjure Reparo, which magically patches it together again.
During certain spells - such as the aforementioned Reparo - you have to keep the on-screen wand icon within a circle for a short period of time. The wand is constantly trying to drift out of the boundary of this shape, and failure to keep it in place means that you have to start all over again.
It’s not always so serious, thankfully. Schoolyard games such as Exploding Cards (essentially a game of Snap) and Gobstones (think marbles) are present and provide a surprisingly enjoyable distraction from the main game.
Order of the Phoenix was unquestionably attractive but it’s been comfortably outdone by Half-Blood Prince. The highly-detailed 2D visuals are gorgeous and EA Mobile has done a wonderful job of recreating the mystical ambience of the films. Likewise, the character sprites themselves animate brilliantly, with Harry’s contortions during his spell casting particularly worthy of praise.
Sadly, there are a few niggles that threaten to undo the magical aura created by the graphics. The aforementioned ‘fetch quests’ get boring very quickly and it’s a shame that a potion-making sub game wasn’t included. We’d also like to have seen Quidditch represented in some form, too.
These problems aren’t deal breakers, but the overall length of the game comes pretty close. We got to the end of the adventure within the space of a few hours and while there’s the option to indulge in the mini-games after you’ve completed the main quest, they’re not really captivating enough to keep you playing for very long.
While it lasts, Half-Blood Prince is hugely enjoyable and does an excellent job of matching the tone of the movies, but we can’t help but feel that it could have done with a little longer in the cauldron.