|Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets|
January 20, 2003 | Eddie Park
As the spectacled, wand-waving Harry Potter continues to reap untold fortunes from both books and movie deals, it should come as no surprise that the video game world is also hopping aboard the Hogwarts money train. Following up on the success of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Philosopher's Stone for those in the know), Aspyr Media and Westlake Interactive have seen fit to bring its sequel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (HPCS), to the Mac.
Though I half-joke about the lucrative monetary benefits that drive the motivations of the Harry Potter franchise, any gamer worth their salt more than likely cocks a skeptical eyebrow anytime a game spinning off a popular license is released. Thankfully, the first Harry Potter game bucked the trend, bringing a solid game that was probably a guilty pleasure for many adults as well as a great title for the younger set. This second Harry Potter game looks to continue the experience, featuring similar gameplay while adding enhancements and changes to keep things fresh.
Welcome Back to HogwartsIn this latest installment, Harry has returned to Hogwarts Academy for his second term. Without giving too much of the story away, during the usual adventures and antics that occur at magical academies, signs start to appear around the school about the Chamber of Secrets, a hidden place in the academy not only aligned with dark magic, but also said to be the home of a terrible creature. Needless to say, everything ends up centering around our hero as he attempts to unravel the mystery behind the legend.
As in the first game, HPCS is very much a 3rd person platformer. Harry spends a lot of time running, jumping, and climbing as he works his way through various levels, while the camera hovers just behind his head, similar to games such as Tomb Raider. In a nod to the younger crowd, the control scheme is simplified to the point where Harry can simply run into most obstacles in order to climb over them, and grabbing a faraway ledge is as simple as running and jumping at it.
Of course, being of the wizardly persuasion, Harry also has plenty of spells at his disposal. As he's no longer a rank novice, he starts the game fully equipped with several spells that players of the first game should remember, such as Flipendo and Lumos. Spellcasting is accomplished by holding down the mouse button and moving the resulting cursor around the screen. If there's something that Harry can cast a spell on or at, a graphic icon unique to a spell will appear, and releasing the mouse button causes the spell to be cast.
Thankfully, the manner in which spells can be used is more creative this time around. Unlike the first game, where most spells were of a fire once and forget nature, HPCS puts Harry into situations where multiple spells are necessary to solve certain puzzles. For example, some early situations require Harry to cast a stunning spell on a creature to flip it on its back. Once this is accomplished, he then has to use Flipendo to push said creature into a waiting receptacle in order to activate a switch. Granted, this isn't rocket science, but it allows the game a little more creative freedom while keeping things firmly in the reach of younger gamers.
Thankfully, the method of learning new spells has been simplified from the first game. Rather than attempting to trace a complex pattern using the mouse, the method has been turned into more of a rhythm game, where players are presented with a pattern interspaced with directional arrows. As a wand cursor makes its way around the pattern, players must hit corresponding arrow keys as the wand passes over them. While the method may sound a bit odd, it does work, and is much less frustrating than the original method.
Quidditch games have also been improved the second time around. First off, the action is much faster and smoother, creating a greater sense of speed and flight while chasing after the Snitch. Controlling Harry's Nimbus 2000 is also even easier, thanks to more responsive controls as well as his new ability to home in on the Snitch once he has it in sight.
However, to keep things from getting too easy, Harry also has to contend with the rival team's Seeker. While chasing after the Snitch, the rival Seeker will attempt to whittle away at Harry's life meter by plowing into him. Harry can fight back by pushing repeatedly when side by side with the rival Seeker, which is accomplished simply by clicking the mouse button like mad. Again, while not wildly complex, these new elements make the Quidditch matches more immersive and enjoyable (though truthfully, I keep hoping they'll come out with a game focused solely on the Quidditch matches).