The recently released Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone games are based on the blockbuster movie, which in turn is based on J.K. Rowling's novel starring a young wizard. As the introduction cuts through its series of still images and background text, you will learn that Harry Potter is an orphaned child left in the care of cruel muggle (a nonmagical human) foster parents. Upon receiving an admissions letter, Harry leaves home with a friendly giant and makes his way to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. While undergoing magical instruction, Harry will face such challenges as competing in the wizards' sport of quidditch and foiling the plot of the evil wizard Voldemort. The PlayStation version of Harry's quest drops you in a 3D re-creation of Hogwarts that is simply huge and a pleasure to explore. Once it comes time for a challenge, however, the game falls decidedly flat.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone makes a valiant effort to re-create the visual splendor of the recent film on the dated PlayStation hardware. The developers have succeeded in creating an extensive castle that is true to the stories, with plenty of rooms to explore and many secrets to be found. There are a variety of characters to meet, and each looks quite different from the last. Unfortunately, sloppy, underdetailed textures are used in many cases, and the entire game seems to be made up of extremely jagged polygons. While no technical marvel, the gameworld is quite colorful and has a distinct artistic flair. The many cinematic sequences are rendered in real time, but they are so overused that it doesn't take long for their effectiveness to wear off. On the other hand, the bedtime-story-style narration is performed admirably, as is the work of the many voice actors who bring the Hogwarts characters to life. The same team from the PC version of the game provides the many recorded speech segments, and if you haven't seen the movie, then you can enjoy these renditions of the beloved roles without skipping a beat. Sadly, the music in the PlayStation version doesn't come close to comparing to the excellent composition available in the PC version. Most of the time there is no ambient music, and the game feels remarkably silent most of the way through.
Playing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is similar to playing a greatly simplified version of Spyro or the latest Legend of Zelda. There are frequent platform elements, as well as creatures that need to be eliminated with the force of your flipendo spell. The game uses a strafe-friendly targeting system that makes the few shooting challenges far too simple, but this doesn't quite compare to the travesty of the platforming sequences. There is no jump command, so in most cases, simply walking to the edge of a platform will get you clear to the opposite side, regardless of distance, which is automatically accounted for. Other games have used the auto-jump effectively, but in this case, what could possibly have been one of the sole challenging aspects of the game has been made so simple that flying through the game in a handful of hours is par for the course. That nothing is unlocked upon the game's completion, like the stand-alone quidditch game from the PC version, is yet another in a series of disappointments.
One of the more enjoyable and game-worthy aspects of the Harry Potter stories is the game of quidditch--a combination of soccer and basketball played by wizards on broomsticks. Harry's role in quidditch as seeker is to chase down an evasive little ball called the golden snitch as the game plays on around him. Chasing down the snitch earns your team a victory and in theory makes for an exciting, fast-paced diversion from the otherwise bland fare being provided. Once you've become accustomed to the smooth analog movement in the rest of the game, the choppy, stuttering flight controls while on a broomstick will leave nearly all players extremely disappointed. It's a sad thing indeed when a lackluster minigame of flying through rings eclipses the fun to be had elsewhere in the game.
No matter how much you care for the idea of flying on a broomstick or weaving fantastic magicks, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a lesson in boredom. Without a jump command, the platforming elements are all but wasted, while the spell-flinging portions of the game are equally forgettable. Those of you who have paid close attention to the Harry Potter stories will find that many of the memorable details from the books and movie have been included to make the experience as genuine as possible. Despite this attractive aspect of the game, its overly simple gameplay mechanics and extremely short duration add up to a game that should be avoided by most. Ultimately, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone doesn't have the widespread appeal of its literary namesake and is suitable only for children.