Bad game makes Dumbledore sad.

Do the Harry Potter video games approach the quality and educational value of the book series? I can’t speak for all of the games, but with regard to the most recent entry the series—Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on the Nintendo Wii—the answer is “bleh.”

Save yourself some time and watch this video review, which is less longwinded than I am:

The game’s problems are legion. Not only does it assume you’ve read the book, it seems to assume you’re reading it RIGHT NOW, or at least that you can pick it up for a quick refresher. The cutscenes refer to things that have neither happened nor been alluded to within the game, and the player is rarely provided with a plot-related motive to act. Come to that, most of the events in the game don’t even belong in Rowling’s story. Entire scenes are invented out of whole cloth by the game developers. I’m sorry, was there not enough going on in the book for them to use a subplot that actually relates to the IP on which this game is based? Isn’t the book over 600 pages?

The game mechanics are good, if you like flailing, which you don’t. Seriously, at this point in the Wii’s lifecycle, you know what you’re in for: waving your arms madly. In the case of Harry Potter, it’s actually more fun and immersive than usual. Wiimote as wand is an appropriate interface metaphor. Unfortunately, the tasks you have to complete by waving that awesome wand are a series of minigames ranging from utterly bland and uninspired (dueling) to merely frustratingly repetitive (potion brewing).

One grace—though not enough to save this deflated balloon of a game—is the flying. Wandering around the castle is also fun, because the setting is so evocative. The ability to call Nearly Headless Nick for directions at any point makes the explosive combination of terrible map, linear plot and labyrinthine level design tolerable. Appropriate, even. Hogwarts is more or less a labyrinth.

My annoyance at lazy game design aside, Half-Blood Prince is no worse than many movie tie-in games. I might even have liked it as an eight-year old. (If you’re a sophisticated enough game consumer to ask yourself whether you’re the target audience for a given Wii game, the answer is no.)  I can’t look down on anyone wanting to spend more time in a universe they enjoy. Still, for a Wii minigame collection that’s much more fun and will do more for your spatial skills and creative problem solving ability than HBP ever will, check out WarioWare: Smooth Moves.

This is one level of WarioWare: Smooth Moves. They are all this weird.