Xbox 360 Review: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince


If history is truly doomed to repeat itself, then the video game industry has found its ultimate sin. Superman 64 should have taught us that taking a licensed character and flying them through rings is an atrocious way to treat the source material.

Apparently, the developers of Half Blood Prince failed gaming history 101.

Instead of excitement and freedom, Quidditch, the fantasy game created for the franchise in the first book, players are heavily confined on a pre-selected path. Rings appear and for whatever reason, the player must guide Potter through them.

How in any way does this resemble the sport? Granted, the field is not covered in a thick fog and the controls are easier to handle, but this is the same challenge from Superman 64 presented in a shiner package. Any excitement created by the ability to generate motion blur and thick, bassy audio on this hardware doesn’t change what this is. Slamming into a wall doesn’t even generate ill effects, instead flicking Potter to the side as if it can’t be bothered with such details.

Beyond Quidditch, the game delivers two (yes two) other gameplay mechanics stretched thin over the entire length. That could be pushed to three types if you include sluggishly navigating the castle ground to reach the next disappointing location. That doesn’t count because you don’t want to remember doing it.

First is potion making, an atrocious, appallingly bad piece of game design in which the player must grab specific ingredients and pour them into a pot. Half Blood Prince mixes in shaking, stirring, and heating in a desperate attempt to make things interesting. Dropping items into the pot is ridiculously frustrating due to the angle of the screen making it easy to miss the pot completely.

As you are introduced to new ingredients, similar looking bottles make the task an irritation, and picking up the wrong one far too easy. A timer exists because the designers could find no other means to generate a challenge.

Dueling is the last piece of game design, the only one worth anything. Spells are mapped to the right analog stick, and while they are simple to pull off, offer no satisfaction in executing them. Most battles come down to who can throw the most offense to break through a weakened defense system.

Worse is how the game integrates these terribly disguised mini-games. Going to a party deep in the castle? You have to make punch first. Trying to meet someone on the other side of the yard? You need to enter into a random, needless duel that does nothing to progress the story. Then again, all the story does is destroy any sense of pacing or progression. Oh, and cinematics cannot be skipped, further leading people to believe the game has value in its length.

If Hogwarts was like this in real life, no one would attend.

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