The games based on J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter franchise have always been great commercial successes, riding the coattails of the wildly popular books. The games' publisher, Electronic Arts, has boldly attempted to branch out from the action adventure games by creating a "sports" game based on the fictional sport of quidditch, which is described in the various Harry Potter books and depicted in the films. While Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup is a decent first effort at simulating the chosen sport of wizards, it falls short of its promise primarily because of sluggish controls and shallow gameplay.
For those who aren't familiar with the Harry Potter books or films, quidditch is roughly analogous to airborne soccer. Seven players on each team ride broomsticks around a huge arena while chasing and interacting with four balls that are in play simultaneously. Three vertical hoops of varying height stand on each end of the oval field, or "pitch," as it's called. These hoops represent the goal-scoring area for each team.
Three players on a team take the "chaser" position; their role is similar to that of a forward on a soccer or hockey squad. Their primary responsibility is to score goals through the hoops using the quaffle, which is one of the balls in play. Each goal is worth 10 points. Two other players on each team are the "beaters," and their role has no equivalent in any other sport. The beaters are armed with small bats, which they use to swat at two magically propelled balls, called bludgers. The bludgers will randomly attack the players on the pitch--the beaters' duty is to protect their own players from the bludgers while using their bats to try to encourage the bludgers to go after the other team. One player is the "keeper," and as the name suggests, the keeper's job is to play goalie near the vertical hoops and prevent any goals. Finally, the seventh player on each team plays as the "seeker." The seeker's job is to keep an eye out for a tiny and elusive ball called the golden snitch. Like the bludgers, the snitch is magically self-propelled. A match of quidditch continues until the golden snitch is caught; the seeker who snatches it earns 150 points for his or her team.
The books and films have always portrayed quidditch as a chaotic spectacle. With 14 players zipping around on lightning-fast broomsticks while chasing and dodging four balls in play, quidditch is obviously a very complex sport. In an attempt by the developers to simplify the game for the younger audience, who will likely be the primary players of Quidditch World Cup, you'll directly control the chasers and the seeker only. You don't seem to get any control over the keeper, and your interaction with the beaters is limited to pressing the bludger button, which will cause one of your beaters to launch a bludger at the opposing chasers. From there you control only the bludger as you try to collide with the enemy quaffle-carrier.
The game does a good job of easing you into the game of quidditch and teaching you the fundamentals. The four-team tournament at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry serves as an extended tutorial. First, you practice simple concepts like passing, shooting, and tackling, and then you are allowed to play a game against one of the other houses at Hogwarts. After that, bludgers and special moves are introduced, and another game in the house tournament is played, until finally you are indoctrinated with the concept of combo passes, and the final tutorial game is played with all features enabled. If you should win the round-robin tournament at Hogwarts against the other houses, the World Cup will be unlocked, and you'll be able to choose from nine different world teams including the US, England, Australia, and Germany and play in that round-robin tournament for the World Cup.
Quidditch World Cup also does a good job of including recognizable characters from the books and movies. Potter serves as the seeker for Gryffindor, with the Weasley twins at the beater positions. Malfoy is the recognizable jerk playing seeker for Slytherin, while Harry's love interest, Cho, is the seeker for Ravenclaw. As you advance into the World Cup, Ludo Bagman, the international head of wizard sports, handles the play-by-play announcing.
Quidditch World Cup's primary flaw lies in its control, which often feels sluggish. The game doesn't seem to do a very good job of capturing the speed of the game as it was portrayed in the films. Instead of feeling the freedom of flight, your players often feel more like they're slogging through a thick soup. No turbo button exists to speed up your players. While you won't always want to fly at the same speed, it seems as if the computer decides arbitrarily how fast you can fly or how sharply you'll be allowed to turn. Passing is also imprecise. You have control over the direction of your pass using the directional stick, but oftentimes your teammates will inexplicably leave their passing lanes just as you throw the quaffle. Expect to turn the ball over frequently and not always know why. The console versions all control similarly, but PC players who lack a gamepad may find the keyboard and mouse control a bit tricky, though not unlearnable.
For most of a match you're in control of the chasers only--as you do combination moves, stringing along a series of passes, and scoring on the other team, you'll earn various single-use power-ups, including the ability to launch a bludger and perform special moves and team special moves. Special moves can be activated while shooting or stealing. These unleash short cutscenes showing your players doing acrobatic moves as they fire the quaffle into the goal or rip the ball away from the opponent. The team special moves are similar to doing a special shot, except that they can be activated from anywhere on the pitch for an easy goal. These cutscenes are longer and move involved, with the whole team participating in a particularly impressive score.
Unfortunately, special moves cannot be blocked, which takes some strategy away from the game. If the opposing player earns a special move or team special move, the only defense against it is to tackle and take the quaffle away from them before it can be activated. It's also impossible to manually switch players on defense; the computer does it for you as the quaffle is passed forward, which is also frustrating.
Aside from earning you power-ups more quickly, doing combo passes also advances the golden snitch bar at the top of the screen. Each time a team does something beneficial, the golden snitch bar moves toward the center--when the two sides meet, the golden snitch is released, and your control switches to the seeker as you compete against the other seeker in a simple race to catch the snitch. Unlike your chasers in the earlier portion of the match, your seeker does get a turbo boost meter, and this is recharged by keeping precisely on the golden trail left by the snitch. The amount of boost you get is directly related to how far your team has advanced the golden snitch bar during the match; in essence, you are given a better chance at catching the snitch if your team has played well.
While the mechanic of the golden snitch bar is an interesting idea, its execution leaves something to be desired. It seems to reward style over substance; if you're adept at forechecking the opposing player and scoring goals with a minimum of passes, you can find yourself far ahead in the score, yet far behind in the golden snitch bar. Also, the computer seems to be rewarded a lot more heavily for stringing a few combos together than you are; if you want to enter the snitch chase with a decent-sized turbo meter, you'll have to outplay the computer rather severely.
As you play through the game, you'll be awarded special quidditch cards for completing certain challenges or making certain achievements in a match with a specific team. Some cards are merely decoration, while others can unlock special moves or pitches for use in exhibition matches. GameCube players who also have the GBA version of the game will be able to use the connection cable to trade cards back and forth. As for multiplayer support, the game allows two players to go head-to-head on the same machine, but no online play is enabled on any of the platforms, including the PC.
Even if the gameplay is a bit shallow, Quidditch World Cup does a pretty good job of visual presentation. All of the pitches in the game are beautifully presented, including Hogwarts' pitch in the summer and winter and all of the nine international pitches. The Japanese quidditch pitch is one of the more impressive ones, set over top of a shallow koi pond with delicate bridges arcing over it. The Nordic team plays within a wall of glaciers; you can see the cold breath of the players as they breathe out during the cutscenes. The graphics quality between the consoles is pretty comparable--there are no significant differences to speak of, although the Xbox and PC versions are a tad sharper. The sound in the game didn't fare quite as well, with the music being somewhat overdramatic and the play-by-play announcing from Bagman and Lee Jordan (during Hogwarts matches) being extremely repetitive.
Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup is a pretty decent first effort at simulating the fictional sport of quidditch. However, the developers have definitely left plenty of room for improvement. With tighter controls and a little bit more effort put into deeper, more strategic gameplay, Quidditch World Cup might have turned out to be a very good game. As it stands, the game will primarily appeal to hardcore Harry Potter fans who are willing to overlook the flaws.