Reviewed: August 3, 2007
Released: June 25, 2007
The Harry Potter franchise is undoubtedly the most popular licenses in the world right now. With a series of A-grade novels, blockbuster movies, and movie-to-game translations, the Potter name is as good as gold in the media today.
And while readers were recently treated to the seventh and final (maybe) title in the Potter series of novels, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, the entertainment industry tags in with their take on the series’ fifth installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
At first glance, Order of the Phoenix might not outwardly look much different than any of the other previous Potter adventure titles – but it only takes a quick stroll through the corridors of Hogwarts to see that this is the best Potter title yet.
Harkening back to the adventure games of yore; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a bit light on the action, but heavy on exploration. Taking an almost point-and-click style of gaming, Phoenix has gamers running the hallways of Hogwarts in a mad dash to uncover the secretive Professor Umbridge and protect the school from falling to the power of Voldemort.
Along the way, Harry will be teamed up with Ron and Hermione (naturally), as well as iniquitous Weasley brothers, the underground band of Dumbledore’s Army, and even old Dumbledore, himself.
The representation of Hogwarts is simply amazing, creating a living, breathing world where the portraits talk, ghosts interrupt, and students react naturally within the boarding school environment. It is not so amazing that the developers were able to pull this off – we’ve seen the likes of which before in games like Bully on the PS2 – no, the real surprise is that they actually took the time to include this level of detail for a sure-sell licensed game like Order of the Phoenix is bound to be.
The school is so large, in fact, that the game introduces the concept of the Marauder’s Map; a ghostly set of footprints that lead the way to the next objective – objectives which might take upwards of 1 to 2 minutes of flat-out running to arrive at. While 1 to 2 minutes might not sound like a long time on paper, it really seems to drag on in practice.
And that brings us to the first, and biggest, drawback within Harry Potter – is that within all of the adventure, there is a constant barrage of backtracking and fetch questing thrown in to give the game some action. And while many of the tasks are intriguing the first time around, repeat visits tend to drag down the fun.
For instance, early on in the game Harry is sent to retrieve a document from the library. The document happens to be perched atop one of the tall stacks of books. Gamers will learn to use Wingardium Leviosa to move a table to a position where Harry can climb on top and retrieve the paper. But once he outstretches his hand, the paper flutters away onto a second stack. Harry has to repeat the procedure, which yields the same results onto yet a third stack. Was it really necessary to have this repetition three times? No, but it did add an additional ten minutes onto the gameplay.
And a lot of the tasks seem that way; with mundane repetition thrown in to stretch out the gameplay. And while it did help me master the art of Wingardium Leviosa, it was definitely more repetition than I needed.
Speaking of the spells, the spell casting is tied into the motion control of the Wii remote and nunchuck attachment. As you can guess, spell casting is quite fun to mess around with, and the motion sensing controllers really make you feel like you have a wizard’s wand in your hand (that sounds bad, doesn’t it?). But the spell casting is a bit difficult to master as the motions are not entirely intuitive. Some, like Wingardium Leviosa, require the use of both the remote and nunchuk; others like Depulso and Incendio require the use of only the remote.
And although the game often leads you to which spell is best to use for which situation, the blocky instructional diagrams in the corner of the screen are not always easy to discern. Still, it is cool to have the power to pick up tables and chairs and fly them around the room, or to shatter and rebuild statues just for the fun of it.
Every now and then, gamers will find Harry squaring off in a wizard’s duel – which is about the only real form of action in the game. And due to the limited library of spells at Harry’s disposal, timing becomes of the essence, and duels often are reduced to frenetic controller waving and button mashing as the gamer tries to beat the opponent to the punch. Really there are only a half-dozen or so of these duels in the game, the final one being between the esteemed Dumbledore (yes, gamers get to play as Dumbledore) and the nefarious Voldemort – this is definitely the high point of the game and the effects are just dazzling.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is one of the best looking games to hit the Wii, period. Sure, that might not be saying much considering the high definition visuals the 360 and PS3 versions received – but the progressive scan and 16:9 widescreen supports is nothing to scoff at.
Hogwarts never looked bigger or more awe-inspiring than it does in Order of the Phoenix. The textures and shadowing of the stone constructed halls is quite realistic and well achieved, and together do a great job of adding a solid sense of depth and scale to the surroundings.
The character models are a tad stiff, especially when dashing about the hallways – central-axis pivoting a bit more than one would expect from a real character. Still, the characters match their onscreen counterparts pretty well, and there is no problem recognizing the central characters even in heavily crowded situations.
The biggest stumbling block in the visuals department really is the chuggy framerate, which actually results in more of a dated feel rather than a dated look. Most gamers figured we were finally through with the slight delays in movement and syrupy running. Not yet, folks. This is more a result of the console itself rather than the game – the 360 and PS3 versions run substantially smoother – and it does not break the game by any means. It just reduces the visuals from being “great” to simply being “good”.
If the graphics were good in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, then the sound quality truly is amazing. With a fully orchestral score lifted straight from the movies, and many of the movies’ actors' actual voices – the game definitely screams Hollywood quality. Sure, those missing voices happen to be the most prominent characters in the show, but the stand-ins do a good enough job copping their counterparts’ verbal mannerisms, that you will hardly notice the difference.
The real star of the show would have to be the incredible musical score, which follows the action with orchestral swells powerful enough to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.
Order of the Phoenix might not make achieve the 30+ hours of Zelda’s Twilight Princess, or be quite as open a sandbox as the Grand Theft Auto series delivers. But what is here is (for the most part) rewarding and the massive Hogwarts complex has enough nooks and crannies to keep most gamers adventuring for some time.
In fact, I would have rather had an even shorter experience, than have to sit through some of the more mundane or repetitions tasks that were added to unnaturally add pay time. Having to figure out a puzzle once is enjoyable, having to repeat the task three or four times is annoying. Still, the developers seem to have had their bearings the whole way through and the game, and Order of the Phoenix does not hit too many slow points before bringing the action back to the main story at hand.
Maybe it is not the best game in the Wii library, but it is definitely the best Harry Potter game yet released. You may find yourself repeating one too many goofy fetch quests one too many times, but for the most part gamers will enjoy their trip to Hogwarts.