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Whilst on holiday recently I rediscovered the delights of the Nintendo DS ( I bought myself one as they were reduced due to the new DSi being launched) and passed many happy hours with my new game of Prof. Layton that I purchased after reading great review on Dooyoo. However once I had played that to death I decided to raid my childrens collection of games to see what else they had that I might enjoy. I came across Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban so decided that I would give it a try.
This is a game that was designed for the GameBoy Advance in 2004. This is unfortunate as it means that it sticks out of my shiny new red DS in a most unsightly way! Due to being designed for the GBA obviously there is no use of the touchscreen only the button controls.
From the opening screen you can select a new or load save game or to play the mini-games. This is also where you can change the sound and music volume options.
Once entering a new game there are three save game slots. I like being able to have several games saved at once because my children and I can therefore share the game around rather than having to wait for one person to complete the whole game before anyone else can use it. The saved game slots cannot be named so you have to remember which one is yours, they simply list the performance level and the location in Hogwarts that you were last in.
The game starts with an introduction that you are supposed to read but I tend just to press the A button and skip through quickly. You are then playing immediately as Harry (he appears as a cartoony type character), his movement is controlled easily with the direction cross on the GBA/DS. When he gets near to certain people or objects the game takes over and there will be movement or conversation that you have no control over. This is not a problem but occassionally it seems to take me a few seconds to work out that I am not controlling harry anymore! (Maybe I am just not very bright!).
Harry starts the game with two spells that he can use and these can be alternated by using the R and L buttons on the top. As you progress through the game he gains more abilities and sometimes he is joined by Ron or Hermione and their spells are also selected in the same way.
The general gameplay consists of moving Harry through his environment and overcoming obstacles in his way. Some obstacles occur as he is moving around such as using Lumos to find a path in the dark but the other way he meets obstacles is by encounters with magical creatures with whom he has to do battle. These creatures bear no resmeblance to anything I have ever come across in the books-Oaken Bowtruckle, Charmed skeleton and a Clabbert!
As Harry walks around he "bumps into" shiny clouds (very difficult to describe!). This produces an encounter in which he has to use a range of spells and tactics to overcome the magical creature. There are about 50 or so different creatures that he will meet and most of them he will meet several times. Once you have met a creature once it is no longer hidden by a cloud and you can try to avoid it or choose to fight it. Everytime Harry fights he loses magical points and Stamina points but gains experience. The experience points lead to increase in status which then brings and increase in Magical ability and Stamina. Sometimes Ron and Hermione will be in the battles alongside Harry depending upon where you are in the story. Information on the creatures met are stored in the Folio Bruti which gives information on the enemies vulnerabilities.
The magical encounters soon get to be very boring and the further along the game you proceed the more battles you have to do to advance Harry to the next level. However you need to keep advancing his abilities or he does not have enough stamina to fight the bigger enemies such as the Whomping Willow which you need to get past to continue the game. You recieve payment in sickles for most encounters too. Sometimes you can end up doing the same battle several times in a row so you just follow the same formula of which spell to choose as you will have worked it out before.
As Harry moves around Hogwarts he comes across chests that yield Wizard cards or potions (sometimes these are dropped by enemies too). The wizard cards are supposed to be grouped in your Folio Universitas and you can see what you have (but you have to look carefully as it is not very clear). I believe that you can trade cards by connecting to another Nintendo but I don't know anyone else with this game so haven't been able to try this. You are able to use card combos to help in encounters but I didn't find that worked very well so I stopped bothering. There is a card collectors club on the 4th floor where you can open chest when you have found all the cards of a certain type.
Moving harry around howarts is easy but there is no map feature so sometimes you seem to wander around for a while trying to find the next place you want to be , I find this particularly irritating when in the grounds.
The game is easy to play but can get dull due to its repetative nature. I have noticed that when my children play it they always seem to get about three quarters of the way through and then give up. It does not give enough variety of things to do.
The game has four mini-games that can be accessed through the opening screen: Hippogriff Glide, Bogart Challenge, Wizard Cracker Pop-it andTea Leaf Divination. I won't bother going into detail as they are all very basic. They don't provide much of a challenge even to children so none of us tend to play the games except as they appear in the story lines.
The graphics are as good as any other game of five years ago. Obviously not as clear as current games but certainly easy enough on the eye. The colours are bright and I find it pleasent to view. There is not lots of detail but I often find with some games the screen can seem too busy so I like the simplicity of this.
I do tend to do a lot of encounters to increase harrys power so I suppose the whole game took me about 15 hours. I expect that it could probably played in a much shorter time if you prefered to avoid the confrontations. The music is just harry potter so I tend to turn it off and just have the effects sound on.
Overall I would say that this game is showing its age, graphics and gameplay do not produce a very exciting adventure. However it is simple to play, allows you to save anywhere (stops the children insisting that they have to finish a level before they can save and do their homework!) and is very family friendly. If you can get it cheap enough I would say it is an ideal game for children of about 10 but certainly would not entertain an avid gamer!