Harry Potter isn't afraid to kick a little butt this time out. In EA's upcoming movie-licensed game, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, based on the popular book series by J.K. Rowling, the young wizard can explore the grounds of Hogwarts, pick up adventures when and where he wants, and even pick fights as you see fit. It's not exactly Grand Theft Potter, but the rather open-ended nature of the latest Harry Potter game seems to be aimed at Potter faithful as well as those who want a bit of room to stretch out and explore.
The demo we saw at EA's recent press event in New York City started with some traditional dueling between Potter and a classmate at Hogwarts. Dueling is a big part of the gameplay, and because the game is arriving first on the Nintendo Wii, it should come as no surprise that the combat is gesture-based. You cast spells by moving the Wii Remote and/or the Nunchuk in various directions. To cast a simple fireball spell, for example, you simply move the Wii Remote forward, and to cast a shield spell, you cross your arms in front of you.
Other spells you can cast include levitating spells that will suspend your foe in midair, head over feet; a freeze spell that will stop foes in their tracks and leave them open to your attacks; and a more focused ranged spell that does more damage and is more accurate, yet takes longer to cast. When Harry takes part in duel club competitions--think of them as the Hogwarts equivalent of Fight Club crossed with a Mortal Kombat-style ladder system--you'll fight increasingly skilled opponents on your way to beating the best the club has to offer.
This being Hogwarts, however, there's more to do than blast one another to smithereens. In addition to the duel club, there's a potion club where you can try to mix potions of increasing difficulty. The mixing gameplay is straightforward--you simply follow onscreen prompts that tell you which potion type to add to the mix, and a color-coded system shows how much of that potion you should add. There's also a flight club, which teaches you the essential flying skills needed for a skilled Quidditch player. Controls here are simple--you simply point an onscreen cursor where you want to go as you fly through gates strategically placed around the Quidditch field.
As you might expect, the plot of The Half-Blood Prince follows the movie and its literary counterpart closely, but since it's a relatively open-world game, there will be lots of chances for exploration. As you make your way around the school grounds, Harry will be able to find hidden and not-so-hidden crests strewn throughout the world. Finding these crests will unlock new characters and items in the game.
With easy controls and a story that has proven to be a winner (at least in book form), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is looking like yet another serviceable translation of the literary and film phenomenon. The game is due to arrive with the film this summer.