Warner Bros.' decision last year to delay the latest Harry Potter movie angered devoted Potter fans because it would be another eight long months before the film's release. That also meant that EA's video game tie-in would have to be put on hold, which we learned last year after EA's spring press event. Since then, we've been able to play the Half-Blood Prince numerous times, so for more details on how the controls work, check out our recent hands-on from the Electronic Entertainment Expo.
We recently got some code in, so we've been able to play the Half-Blood Prince from the beginning and delve into the magical world of Harry Potter. As Kevin mentioned in the preview from E3, the visuals are a noticeable improvement over the previous game, The Order of the Phoenix, but there are still some stiff and awkward character animations during cut scenes. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is faithfully re-created once again with an impressive amount of detail, so you'll be able to wander the long corridors, find convenient shortcuts through portraits, and navigate the ever-moving grand staircase.
Unless you've read the books already, the story isn't easy to follow for a newcomer. And even if you're familiar with J.K. Rowling's fictional realm, the game's story is told in such brief fragments that you'll have only a vague notion of what's going on. The game does do an excellent job of introducing you to all the fun stuff right off the bat. You'll immediately get a chance to ride your broomstick and practice flying through stars, weaving around obstacles and foliage that are in the way. Before starting the school year at Hogwarts, you'll be helping Ron clean out the Weasleys' front yard with wingardium leviosa, but more spells--the flashier ones--will be available to you as you progress.
Dueling, potion mixing, and snitch snatching seem to be the main activities, but you're free to roam about Hogwarts, collecting crests to unlock other modes. Crests can be tucked away and out of reach until you've learned the right spell, but there are 150 total to track down as you explore, which will unlock challenges in the main menu. From the menu, you can take on dueling challenges against other houses or whip up more complicated concoctions. Your performance is rated before you move on to the next level. Once you join the potions club or the dueling club, you'll gain access to the facilities so you can practice. There are also plenty of opportunities to duel in the schoolyard, because the members from the rival House of Slytherin are always ready to impede your progress. Hogwarts is big, and if you do ever find yourself lost, Nearly Headless Nick is also at your beck and call whenever you need someone to guide you to your next location to continue the story.
We're curious to see how the rest of the game will pan out, but from what we've played, there seems to be a good mix of activities so that you don't get stuck doing fetch quests. You will be making use of the Wii's motion controls, and at this point we haven't come across anything that was just thrown in recklessly for good measure. Potion mixing with the remote is intuitive, and dueling can be fun once you've learned more spells. It'll be interesting to see if the next Harry Potter game will make use of the Wii MotionPlus functionality for accurate wand control. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will be released June 30, so check back soon for our full review.