Hands on with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on DS

Senioritis setting in

Hands on with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on DS

Harry Potter's sixth year at Hogwart's Academy is disproportionately dominated by mini-games, if our time with the handheld version of the Half-Blood Prince is any indication. Nearly everything we explored in the game involved some magical mini-game or quick activity. More mini-game maven than master wizard, Potter appears set on the path to flunking out without any spellbinding gameplay to offer.

Mind you, the assembled mini-games promise more than a fair share of short-form fun; however, we've been hoping the game would provide a more substantial experience. After all, familiarity with Harry Potter's story is widespread. This DS iteration promises to follow the line of the upcoming film, but all we witnessed was a collection of magically-themed tiddlywinks and airborne football.

Mini-games range from exciting tasks such as potion crafting, wizard dueling, and Quidditch matches to mundane distractions like gobstones. The latter, which plays much like marbles, has you pulling back a red stone with the stylus to launch it into a small circle filled with inert stones. Knocking out stones earns you points. While it makes a perfectly decent mini-game, what would possibly compel you to play it when the potential for intense magic battles goes wasted?

To the game's credit, it does offer new wizard dueling that pits you against another of Hogwart's students. These head-to-head battles involve tracing out patterns with the stylus to trigger various magical attacks. Tapping on the touchscreen defends against incoming attacks, with high or low taps offering protection, respectively. As you wiggle away on the touchscreen, you can glance up to the top display to view the action. A structured dueling tournament allows you to take on over a dozen competitors in the lead up to the final round against Draco Malfoy. No word on whether local wireless duels will be supported.

Potion crafting – another staple skill of any seasoned wizard – rounded out our tour of handheld Hogwart's. Creating a wit-sharpening concoction played out like a cooking mini-game where ingredients are chucked into a boiling pot after preparation. For example, we had to stoke the fire with scribbles on the touchscreen, blow away smoke using the microphone, and add pieces to pot to complete the potion. It's all timed, a candle burning away your seconds at the side of the screen.

We didn't get the opportunity to check out Quidditch, which hopefully provides a few more thrills than any of the aforementioned mini-games. Although the lot is decent enough, it just doesn't look to satisfy our desire for a true Harry Potter experience. Seeing as how the PSP version will likely mirror the console releases, we're staking our hopes on that version given the figurative lack of magic in this one.