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Publisher: Aspyr Media    Genre: Action
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G3 @ 350 MHz    RAM: 128 MB

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
May 22, 2003 | Matt Diamond

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Alright, Muggles, listen up! Here's the good news for you non-magical folk: play Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on your Mac, and you can find out what it's like to be a wizard! But first, some bad news: I'm not actually a wizard! No, I'm just a freelance reviewer for Inside Mac Games, trying to come up with a good hook to start my review with. And so far I'm not having much luck.

These days, big corporations like nothing better than to take a successful movie or television show and milk it for all it's worth with tie-in books, spin-offs, stuffed toys, fast food, board games, breakfast cereals, and even computer games. It's rare for a book to be milked quite so badly, but J. K. Rowling's incredibly popular Harry Potter series has managed this dubious feat.

The question before us is, does the Chamber of Secrets game manage to be both a good game and worthy addition to the Harry Potter franchise? I believe it does. The developers clearly went the extra mile to try to improve on the first, already-successful Harry Potter game, and they improved it in most respects. On the other hand there is still room for improvement in a few places, and there is currently a serious bug in the OS 9 version of which players need to be aware.

Harry Potter 2 is a third-person adventure, distantly related to the Tomb Raider series. The player moves Harry Potter in, around, and under the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, casting spells and solving puzzles. It is intended to be enjoyed by casual gamers, including children, so the game is not overly difficult. As a grown-up gamer I found the game fairly relaxing and enjoyable, with a few difficult bits toward the end. It is quite replayable, with many secrets and optional goals to pursue.

The plot closely follows the book, but the plot has been greatly streamlined. Purists may be annoyed at some of the liberties taken with the story, but overall they are small. Less time is spent rereading the story to the player, who has probably already read the book or seen the movie, and more time is spent with the player in control. Yet, a player who didn't already know the story would understand it perfectly. (Contrast this with the first Harry Potter game, which jumped so quickly to the Sorting Hat that it barely made sense.)

As in the first game, Harry attends classes to learn new spells. He undergoes a challenge for each one-- a gauntlet of rooms and puzzles designed to let Harry practice his lessons. Spells are as simple as point-and-click; hot-spots in the environment react to specific spells, and many of them are actually marked with a symbol letting you know that something needs doing. So, when Harry waves his wand at a chest, the chest lights up with the "alohamora" symbol, indicating that it will open if the player lets go of the mouse. Aiming the spell is also quite easy. Once you finish a challenge you can come back and replay it as many times as you like to improve your score and find more secrets.

Between classes the player can practice Quidditch, duel other students in the duelling club, and explore Hogwarts, attempting to learn who is behind the series of mysterious attacks. The major tasks in the game must be performed in order, but between them the player is free to explore Hogwarts. Hogwarts has been nicely recreated here, though like most computer games there is an emphasis on making the environment interesting rather than realistic. For example, there is only one bathroom depicted in the entire castle (a girl's bathroom too, which doesn't help poor Harry much.) Since the player doesn't spend time eating or sleeping, the spaces set aside for those activities are too small to be realistic. But then again, this isn't "SimHogwarts".

As if the main story, Quidditch and dueling weren't enough, you can collect wizard cards and Bertie Bott's jelly beans that you find in chests and behind secret doors. In the first game, Fred and George would show up occasionally to relieve you of beans and give you some kind of reward, but the player had no control over when this would occur. In the second game there are students standing in fixed locations around Hogwarts who will offer to trade Harry items like wizard cards, ingredients for healing potions, and even a faster broomstick for Quidditch matches.

Quidditch, the game played by flying around on a broomstick, is in this game as well. It's basically the same as in the original Harry Potter game, with one major difference: after a brief training level you don't have to win any matches to get further in the story! It's completely up to the player if they want to return to the Quidditch field to play at all. The same goes for the new Duelling Club, where Harry can earn beans by duelling other students one-on-one with a series of spells. These are both games within the larger game, and aside from the initial training (which is integrated into the story) they are both completely optional.

While the duelling is a welcome addition to the game, and gives the player yet another way to earn jelly beans, the game itself is rather simplistic. It's probably appropriate for the target age group of the game (children, ages 7 through 12 is my guess.) Buried in the game menus there is an option that allows the game's difficulty to be adjusted, but it defaults to Easy and the player is not asked for a difficulty level when they start to play. This is a minor gripe; I don't think my son would be happy to know that he's playing on an "easy" setting, and it's well-balanced for him at that level.

All these options is where the second Potter game shines compared to the first. The player can stick to going to classes and solving the mystery of the Chamber of Secrets, or they can spend more time exploring, finding beans and wizard cards in secret places. Beans and cards are fun to collect in their own right, but they can also pay off by making Harry stronger and better equipped for the harder levels of the game. It's a tried and true game design that rewards players for spending more time with the game without forcing them to do it.


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