The Harry Potter franchise has been no stranger to pocket fans over the past few years. Potter and the bunch can be found on the Game Boy Color, Advance, and now on DS. While there is a decent amount of entertainment to be had this time around, gamers will be disappointed to find that the DS and GBA renditions are essentially the same game. We have seen this approach numerous times since the DS launch over a year ago in titles such as Star Wars: Episode 3 and Madagascar, and Harry Potter's result is much like its predecessors. Harry Potter manages to pull off a strong adventure on both systems, featuring beautiful music, strong core gameplay, and a good chunk of extras: You just won't need it on both systems.
Goblet of Fire is presented in isometric view, and allows the player to take control of Harry, Ron, or Hermione in a single player action adventure that parallels the latest movie. While each of the characters have their own attributes, the gameplay will be the same no matter which hero is used. Harry is stronger with attacks, Ron with speed, and Hermione with defense. While only one character is player controlled, all three of the movie's main characters will be on-screen at all times. Player control is simple, using the D-Pad for all basic movement along with the A and B buttons for magic casting. Control may be simple, but it is still a ton of fun! Players have the chance to once again roam the halls of Hogwarts and beyond, blasting enemies and smack talking Malfoy along the way. If it was in the movie you can be sure it's in the game. The control is great for younger gamers while still proving to be fun for aged players as well. Goblet of Fire manages to squeeze every last drop of goodness into the Game Boy package.
Unfortunately, the DS version has nothing to add to the main game, adding only an up-close view of collected items and portraits of the heroes on the bottom screen. Touch is used to a very small degree in the main game as well, allowing the player to tap hero portraits rather than hitting the L button when synchronizing attacks. This is practically useless, however, since it takes more of an effort to look down at the screen and tap than it does to just hit the shoulder button once. The main game is simply better suited for the GBA hardware, and DS owners will have to look to the features exclusive to DS to find the real bulk of added goodness.
Goblet of Fire is based mainly on world exploration, teamed with spell usage that interacts with both the environments and the enemies within. The ability to learn spells along the way allows for some great puzzles. Magic can be used to repair treasure chests, giving the player access to the prizes within, or move huge pieces of the environment to use as platforms or alternate routes. All spells are context sensitive, however, so there isn't very much strategy to the actual casting process. The A button, for example, can be used to attack enemies, push crates, or activate duels when playing on DS. While this control is great for the GBA, making use of minimal button management, it is simply too basic for the DS.
Luckily, DS features duel mode which is used for random battles and multiplayer, as well as the actual wizard's duel later in the game. Duel mode uses stylus control only, and features a fully 3D battle between the player's hero and the enemy. Each duelist has their own screen, including a health meter and model of the character. When dueling, the stylus is used on screen to cast spells by tapping, tracing, or drawing patterns. This feature is simple but addictive, and while GBA players will be mashing buttons like a bunch of raging monkeys the DS owners will be engaging in a far more entertaining battle mode. Before each round of attacks, the player may chose from their spells by tapping the screen. After the attack is played out, a defense turn must be completed as the enemy attacks. This is again done by either tapping or tracing. Each defense is different based on the attack, however, so it will take both speed and smarts to best your rivals. Once a duelist has lost all their health, the duel is finished. Thus is the beauty of the duel mode.
The overall feel of Goblet of Fire could have been infinitely stronger if key issues were worked out in the final stages of development. Weak AI forces the player to constantly baby-sit the other two main characters, and their "support" is often too little too late. When ambushed by a squad of ruffians, Harry can dispose of the attackers before Ron and Hermione even notice a battle has begun. Also, since the DS offers duel mode there is a chance the AI won't even play a part in the battle. Who needs friend when you have a wand!? A perfect solution would have been to either axe the three player idea, or add multiplayer co-op to the experience. Clipping issues also occur because of the three player set-up. There are simply too many times when objects will go through characters or interact in strange ways, and this quickly hurts the overall presentation: Yet another reason why Harry should have ditched his friends this time around.
DS additions are hit and miss as well. Sure the Duel mode is a blast, but there are other areas that should never have made it to the shelves. "Care for Magical Creatures" is rivaled only by Crash: Tag Team Racing as the greatest Nintendo rip-off of the year, allowing players to care for their Niffler using all sorts of "original" mechanics. You can even whistle to call your pet. The only way this could have been more insulting would have been to feature three versions of the game: Hufflepuff, Slytherin, and Chiwawa and Friends. The actual dueling mode is the only worthy addition to the DS version, and while it is fun in itself it will simply leave players wishing the whole game looked as good as this small game mode. Both the GBA and DS versions offer a multiplayer function as well, though they too leave something to be desired. The GBA version allows players to link up and play only mini-games, while the DS includes a Vs. duel mode. Both require multiple copies, however, which is shameful when compared to the bulk of DS titles to date.
Though both versions leave something to be desired in the main gameplay, the presentation for Goblet of Fire manages to be pretty impressive, especially on GBA. Many of the basic animations are filled with life, and the main environments are stunning given the hardware limitations. These impressive visuals are obviously less intriguing on the DS, since the hardware allows for much more than is being used. The added features for DS such as dueling and Care for Magical Creatures, referred from this point on only as "NintendHogwarts," make use of 3D models and can be quite pleasing to the eye, though the main game is simply the GBA core with added visuals on the bottom screen. The audio is also above average for a GBA title, offering well orchestrated music that gives true feel to the Harry Potter world. A few sound clips of main characters were also squeezed in, giving the player a bit more of a movie feel to the adventure. Much like the graphical usage, however, the DS title simply offers nothing above and beyond what was included in the GBA version.
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