Spread across books, films and videogames, there is no denying the power or popularity of the “Harry Potter” franchise. Young and old, and on both sides of the Atlantic, the fictional young wizard has fans galore. Other characters in Harry’s world have garnered interest, of course, but the one thing that’s nearly as popular as the boy wonder isn’t a character at all, but an event: Quidditch.
After reading about it, seeing it played on the big screen and then getting a brief taste of it in Chamber of Secrets, I wondered what a game based solely on the event would be like. The stalwart EA psychically responded with Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup, and if it re-creates the sport accurately, let’s just say Quidditch is a mixed bag.
If you’re unfamiliar with the fantasy game, here’s the skinny: Quidditch is played on a standard rectangular field, much like a game of football, only no one ever touches the field; rather than run, players fly on magical broomsticks. Seven players make up each team, with positions such as Chaser, Beater and Keeper. For the majority of play, the object is to score points by throwing a ball through one of three goals on your opponent’s side of the field. The final round, though, finds players in pursuit of the en Snitch, an elusive, highly maneuverable “ball” that, when caught, is worth 150 points.
Although the game is produced under the EA Games umbrella, the developers have borrowed from the wealth of sports titles in EA’s library to ensure solid play mechanics. One part hockey, one part soccer and one part fantasy, Quidditch World Cup may not have the draw or the depth of Madden, but it’s still plenty fun to play, albeit simple.
Players have the use of standard moves, such as passing, as well as special moves that can be earned by executing combo shots. These special moves are played simply by pressing a hotkey at the correct time. Throughout the match, a two-part meter at the top of the screen closes in toward the center, and once closed, switches the game from the main field of play to the final race for the en Snitch.
Since the en Snitch is worth so many points, this segment can easily determine the outcome of the entire match. Catching the snitch plays much like a high-speed racing game as players are forced to maneuver their broom on the snitch’s narrow trail. Stay on the trail and get a speed boost, but slide off and you’ll slow down drastically and give your opponent a chance to race ahead. A limited turbo meter can be used strategically to close ranks if you are behind.
But while these scenarios would seem to allow for some impressive 3D maneuvers, as they did on the big screen and in the game’s CG sequences, the full 3D space isn’t actually available in Quidditch World Cup. Nope. Everything is kept on a 2D plane. Not only is this a bit disappointing, but it also results in a little less depth (no pun intended) and ends up hurting the game.
Because Quidditch itself has no basis in reality, it’s expected that players will need a brief tutorial and a bit of easing into the game. Gamers will start out at Hogwart’s learning a few lessons and playing against another house. After mastering a few more lessons, a second house becomes available, and the process continues to repeat itself. Special moves are limited at Hogwart’s, and the AI is automatically set to a very low level, which makes it easy for the player. In many ways, playing at Hogwart’s is the Quidditch equivalent of Little League before moving up to the big leagues – the World Cup.
World Cup play centers on country-based teams, so Harry and friends are relegated to the sidelines, but the quality of play ratchets up quite a few notches. Whereas the competition at Hogwart’s was something of a pushover, in the World Cup matches, the computer will play to win, and it’s imperative that players use their now-available special move arsenal.
With that said, the teams are generally pretty well balanced, and although there are minor differences in how the teams play, there aren’t any distinct strong or weak points. There is also no option for a custom team, which helps to level the playing field but detracts from any feeling of “ownership” over a given team.
Not that a younger audience will really notice much of this, of course, and that’s a good thing, since the game seems geared toward that crowd. The controls in the game, as much as they borrow from the balanced play mechanic of EA’s sports titles, have been overly simplified; you can steal the ball with a simple push of a button and easily score a goal the same way. Nor is the snitch really that hard to find, with its thick en trail that you follow for a few minutes before pressing a single button to capture the prize. This repetitive nature and weak AI lead to a steal, pass, goal rhythm almost every time.
But as I said, younger gamers won’t notice that. Instead, they’ll notice the graphics and sound. And that’s where Quidditch World Cup seems to take off. The graphics are right up there with Chamber of Secrets, with beautifully rendered stadiums and backdrops. Occasionally the rack focus (blurry background, focused foreground) make the backgrounds a bit too muddled and distracting, but for the most part those problems are minor. I am a bit perplexed, though, as to why the first stadium in Hogwart’s lacks the high level of detail put into later levels. You’d think the developers would want to come out with a bang. But maybe there’s a reason I’m a reviewer, not a developer….
Multiplayer is limited to two players on a single console, with no online or four-player options. Playing multiplayer is essentially the same as the single-player mode, with the exception of playing against a live opponent. Because of Quidditch’s low learning curve, it is very easy for a new player to jump into the game and start having fun quickly, which boosts the replay value of the title regardless of a friend’s video game-playing prowess. The single-player replay, too, is boosted by unlockable collectible cards, which allow players to access new arenas, special moves and other items.
With these options and simplistic play, Quidditch Cup isn’t a bad game, but it’s not that great of one, either. Younger players will get a kick out of the speed and colorfulness, and parents will be pleasantly surprised to hear a classical soundtrack with Verdi’s Requiem coming from a video game. But what we ultimately have in Quidditch World Cup is an oft-longed-for Quidditch experience that’s a bit shallow yet still manages to help youngsters bide the time until the next “Harry Potter” movie and book are released.
- Gameplay: 6
- Graphics: 6
- Sound: 6
- Replay: 8
- Overall: 6.5
- With a bit more depth, it’d be a standout game.
— Jason Thomas