E3 2008: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Hands-On Impressions

We shoot up the place with some wand dueling, practice a little amateur alchemy, and be the seeker in the latest Harry Potter game.

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
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It was only natural that the runaway success of the Harry Potter book series would see the concept adapted to film, especially after it turned on a generation of children to reading. What better way, then, to capitalise further on its success than by releasing a swathe of Harry Potter-themed video games? We caught up with a member of the development team from EA Bright Light and got wand in hand with the Wii version to experience the latest game and some of the unique gameplay that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will feature.

Half-Blood Prince comprises several modes beyond a simple single-player story campaign. Although the meat of the game wasn't on show, we had a chance to check out the two-player wand duels, Be the Seeker broom racing, and potion creation. Half-Blood Prince is the first time that Harry Potter fans have been able to battle their friends on the same console via the duel mode, and though it may appear simple, it's actually quite nuanced for advanced players. Like all Nintendo Wii games, it's heavily driven by gestures. Both players appear onscreen, where you'll go head-to-head in a third-person view by making specific attack and defence motions. Holding the Wii Remote directly up in the air charges your wand, and jerking both the Wii Remote and Nunchuk forward unleashes a heavy attack. Quickly flicking your wrist up and down with the remote rapidly launches fireballs at your opponent. They're quite easy to dodge--you simply hit the A button and hold the analog stick on the Nunchuk in a safe direction--but a volley of these attacks can easily knock down a player, at which point he or she becomes easy prey. Crossing your wrists with controllers in hand quickly enough will launch a defensive halo, protecting you from attacks. This move can also be used with great success as a knock-back defensive spell if your foe charges your character. Fret not if you don't have a friend to duel with; though the game doesn't feature any online play, there is a single-player option with adaptive AI capable of ramping up or lowering game difficulty depending on whether you prove yourself a worthy competitor or fail miserably. In this mode you'll also unlock advanced spells by defeating bosses, and these spells can also be used in the single-player story.

Be the Seeker is an on-rails racing mode that puts you in the hot seat of broom-riding Harry. Here you'll need to use the Wii Remote to point your way through star-shaped checkpoints. It's an odd crossover between any time-attack racing game and Afterburner. You complete the time extension by successfully flying through the obstacles as you fight off attackers around you. There are no weapons available to protect you on your intended path, but you can use the Nunchuk's analog stick to bump system-controlled characters out of the way. This becomes a crucial tactic in the ravine part of the level that we saw, where there's barely enough room for one character to skim through small gaps. In these instances it was better to fly offensively than defensively, shutting them down before they could strike at you. Checkpoint shapes change colour depending on your performance, and as they flash red, you'll know that it's time to speed up or stick more goals. Harry will turn back and glare at you menacingly every time you miss one, so there's no excuse for not knowing when you're doing badly. There were no onscreen menus or counters to see in our demo build, but we were told that the dev team is looking at including a full, running commentary to inform you of how you're doing as you fly around.

Potion creation was the third and final mode on display at EA's booth, and it's not unlike Cooking Mama. Here you'll need to pick up and drop ingredients into a cauldron, shake the Wii controller to stoke flames, and stir to make the right mix. Adding extra items will see the room fill with think plumes of smoke, which you'll then need to fan away with the Nunchuk before you can continue. You'll be racing the clock to complete the potion in the fastest time possible, but wastage is also factored into your final score; moving things quickly may seem like a viable strategy, but you need to ensure that you're not missing the pot and slopping it all over the floor along the way. Advanced potions work the same way but require more complex maneuvers such as picking up and depositing multiples of the same item in succession, and shaking flasks with dangerous active ingredients.

The EA Bright Light rep on hand also confirmed that the game would support Nintendo's MotionPlus 3D Wii Remote attachment, which was unveiled at this year's E3 show. It will be used to better track user movement and perform 1:1 motions onscreen.

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