In the upcoming movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, things take a turn for the worst for Harry and crew. It's a far darker film, partly due to the fact the main characters are growing up, but also because of the movie's scope and tone. Even the latest game adaptation has taken a slightly more "grown-up" stance. Instead of focusing on exploration and discovery, Goblet of Fire takes an action-oriented approach. You won't find yourselves solving puzzles and creeping around Hogwartz so much as you will be blasting giant frogs and salamanders.
But first things first, the PSP version of Goblet of Fire looks almost identical to the console versions. It features the same levels and characters too, so those who decide to buy the PSP version really won't be missing anything. On the contrary, the PSP version packs a series of exclusive mini-games that make great use of the system's wireless multiplayer and game sharing capabilities. But that's not to say everything is gravy. The portable version of Harry Potter suffers from poor performance, a few camera and AI problems, and sluggish control.
That aside, Goblet of Fire offers an entertaining romp in the Potter universe. Story in the handheld version mirrors that of the console versions, which in turn sticks close to the plot of the film. Harry, Hermione and Ron are all getting a little older and getting very teenage-like. As for Harry specifically, this means being thrust into a lethal tournament known as the Tri Wizard Tournament. He needs to face a crazy maze, battle dragons and even swim through mermaid-infested waters. And not those nice, ridiculously sexy mermaids, either, but mean and ugly ones.
The Tri Wizard Tournament lends Goblet of Fire interesting narrative twists and keeps things fresh. In fact, there's more gameplay variety in here than in any previous Harry Potter game. Sure, you could combine the broomstick racing from one game, the exploration from another and smash them together, but that'd be cheating. Here, there are bits of exploration, racing, action and finally, a little puzzle solving. The action primarily centers on blasting creatures with your magic spells and manipulating objects in the environment. Thankfully, it's all pretty fun. Simple, mind you, yet entertaining.
There's an array of different spells at your disposal, too, including spells that only affect the environment and those used for eliminating enemies. The environmental spells are perhaps the most entertaining since they require a heightened degree of player interaction. For instance, there are times when you need to lift a fallen tree or boulder to clear a path. Instead of just pressing a button to cast the spell, you need to press a button and use the thumbstick to physically throw things. It's a simple game mechanic, but it's one that makes the game that much more rewarding to play. One issue that will undoubtedly bug older players is the fact you can't choose which spells to use at specific times; they're chosen automatically. One button corresponds to jinxes (attacks) while another corresponds to charms (environmental). There are numerous attack and environmental spells, but it's all context-sensitive so the game chooses which ones to use. Goblet of Fire is very unlike those games where enemies and weapons have unique elemental attributes, and it's up to the player to decide when to use the appropriate attack. Yes, Goblet of Fire is a kid's game and therefore can't be too complicated, but a little more freedom over when and how to use your spells would have gone a long way.
Another area of annoyance is in the way characters control. To start, though, you can choose whichever character you want at the beginning of every stage. You can even assign specific upgrade cards (earned by finishing stages) to grant each character boosts in the area of stamina and spell strength. There are also "friendship" upgrades that let your character heal nearby allies. But for all the character system has going for it, actually running around the various stages of the game feels sluggish, almost as though the characters were running under water. This affects every stage except those with a near complete absence of enemies.
Allied AI isn't the best, either. A big part of the game centers on combined spell casting with your two CPU controlled buddies, but they're not always quick on the draw. They're either slow to respond when you need their assistance moving a fallen tree or boulder, or they just don't know how to navigate the environment. They'll sometimes run into open flames and get stuck behind tables or chairs, for example. They'll even die on occasion by running into poisonous mushrooms or walls of fire. Thankfully, they just come back to life, but it's still irksome.
When it comes to the racing segments, though, Goblet of Fire really shines. Whether you're tearing through the sky trying to evade a dragon or swimming through the sea blasting villainous mermen, the experience is fast and engaging. These sequences aren't as smooth as their console counterparts are, but they're fun regardless. And just like the rest of the game, these sequences look pretty good. Most of these swimming/ flying stages play out like old-school on-rail shooter games, so it's all about steady navigation and (somewhat) quick trigger fingers.
Like most PSP offerings, Goblet of Fire makes use of the PSP's Wi-Fi functionalities and, interestingly, the game sharing feature. Here's a quick recap of the info: here are three games in all and they all support the PSP's game sharing functionality. What this means, of course, is that owners of Goblet of Fire can share the mini-games with other PSP owners who haven't yet picked up a copy of the game. There's also a number of collectible Creature Cards unlocked during the single-player portion of the game that can also be shared with other PSPs wirelessly. These cards can be viewed just for fun, but also can be used in one of the exclusive mini-games. There's the Nifler Time Attack, where you need to navigate different courses under a strict time limit. There are eight different courses in all, each of which has a series of rings we needed to pass through before the timer ran out. The Nifler controls strangely, but it adds a bit of challenge. Still, it's fun overall. Then there's the Dugbog Bulb Raid, which has you protecting a cluster of creatures in the middle of a small arena-like stage while another group of (bad) creatures rushed in and try to make off with them. This mini-game particular was fun. Another mini-game, Exploding Snap, played out like a match game where you're shown a card and need to match it against a stack of three other cards. Simple, yet fun.
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