Say what you will about movie-based videogames, but Electronic Arts scored big when it snagged the licenses to the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter games. Even if the games weren’t successful critically, the simple tie-ins to those movie franchises were sure to drum up sales. The Lord of the Rings games have had a consistent theme, not to mention a steady demographic, which has led the development team to make some notable improvements from game to game. The Harry Potter games, meanwhile, have also largely targeted the same demographic (children), and have had decent success doing so.
Yet with Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, EA has stepped out a bit, creating a game that’s skewed to a slightly older demographic, much like Harry and Co. are a bit older in the film. As such, the Goblet of Fire videogame is a bit darker and more complex than previous outings. That’s all well and good, and it might even be what the franchise needs. But from a gameplay and refinement standpoint, this new territory means the game makes a few rookie-year mistakes if it’s going to pander to adults, which ultimately leaves some serious room for improvement.
Goblet of Fire is like a modern envisioning of Gauntlet, the original arcade version, not the more-modern iterations. There’s a same-screen party system. There’s gold (magic beans) to be had by destroying environmental elements. There are even certain enemies that spawn continually until you destroy their pit, I mean, fiery source of regeneration. Actually, aside from the cooperative features, Goblet of Fire plays pretty much like EA’s first stab at the Lord of the Rings games, The Two Towers.
This isn’t a bad thing, but it means the gameplay has some first-year problems to work out. Most notably, players can’t control the camera, which is something we all thought (and hoped) EA had learned from with Two Towers. Aside from being annoying, this means enemies and other stamina-reducing obstacles are sometimes off the screen when they start hurting Harry, Hermoine and Ron, leaving you unsure of why exactly you’re dying or from what location you’re being hit.
Where Two Towers was mostly about melee combat, Goblet of Fire is naturally focused on magic. Each face button corresponds to a different spell, with the spells varying slightly depending upon context. For example, one face button will levitate certain objects and let you throw them at enemies, but if you’re near a drawbridge or another element that can be “force-grabbed,” the button will instead grab that item rather than levitate the one right next to it. Having the spells easily accessible on the face buttons makes for some pretty special effects, but having the same button accomplish different spells is frustrating for gamers who want more control. Simply making use of the triggers or the black and white buttons would have solved this problem. Instead, there’s simply no way to control the spells or use one that you like because even the “core” spell, jinx, varies randomly from button-press to button-press.
What’s ironic about this lack of choice is that the pre-mission sequence is all about customization. For starters, you can choose whether you want to play as Harry, Hermoine or Ron, and in fact, three players can even go at it cooperatively like the god old days of Gauntlet. Once your player is selected, you can equip your character with up to three different “cards,” which amount to statistical or ability-specific upgrades. These cards, which are purchased using the magic beans you accumulate in every mission, vary in power and ability. Some increase your character’s stamina by 10, 20 or even 60 points, while others give you a more-powerful jinx, boost your “force-pulling” power or enable you to gradually generate stamina when you’re close to a character who has equipped that same card. This customization does great things for the gameplay’s depth, so it’s a shame that the ability to have just as much control over your spells is completely absent.
Absent, too, is an enjoyable mission structure. Instead, the levels in Goblet of Fire are surprisingly disjointed and monotonous. The levels themselves aren’t monotonous; in fact, they’re broken up well to keep things fresh. You’ll walk through levels pulling levers, solving puzzles, flying through the air on your broom to avoid the dragon in the first Triwizard challenge, or taking a break with some of the mini-games. Clearly, the in-level diversity is alive and kicking. It’s just that the process of unlocking those levels will completely kill your motivation to do so.
In order to open new Triwizard challenges, for example, you have to earn a certain number of defense shields, which are scattered throughout the preceding levels. The problem is, once you find one of these big shields, the level ends immediately and takes you back to the main menu. To find additional shields, you have to start the level over and search for another one. You do this, incessantly, until you’ve found all the shields in that level, some of which are only accessible when you’ve learned new spells. I’m sure on paper this sounded like a great way for people to practice their spells and rack up enough beans to purchase all the upgrades, but actually playing through the same level over and over again is incredibly tedious.
Aside from the ability to purchase upgrades, Goblet of Fire includes other unlockables such as concept art, movie stills and mini-games. In the end, though, the only ones that matter are the mini-games, which are generally so basic that you won’t mind too much if you fail to unlock them. The same-screen multiplayer options will keep a lot of people playing, because the tried-and-true Gauntlet gameplay never grows old. Just remember that you’re all fighting for the same magic beans, so if your friend was famous for hording all the gold, you’ll probably want to watch him or her very closely when it comes time to gather magic beans.
Fortunately, watching the characters gather those beans, and indeed cast spells or do just about anything else in the game, is easy on the eyes. For a game based in magic, Goblet of Fire is refreshingly full of nice magic effects. The characters’ animations aren’t nearly as diverse, though, and the enemies are essentially the same and repeated throughout the entire game. As you’d expect from a medieval-styled environment, the levels look sufficiently old yet lived in, but even then, you can only see the same environment so much in your quest for shields before even the nicest little detail starts to grate on you.
In the theater, Goblet of Fire, the first PG-13-rated Harry Potter film, received mixed reviews compared to its predecessors. Likewise, the videogame version of Goblet of Fire, EA’s first Potter game skewed toward an older demographic, is a departure from the past and feels like it’s searching for an identity. “I want to stay simple for the kids but have enough customization for older gamers,” it seems to say. Well, dear game, you don’t need to go entirely back to the drawing board, you just need to decide whether you want to pander to kids or adults, because what you’ve got in Goblet of Fire just ends up being frustrating for both.
- Gameplay: 7.5
- Within each level it’s sufficiently varied, but repeating levels like this is awful. More control over spells would have been a nice touch, too.
- Graphics: 7.8
- Great spell effects and nice environments, but the enemies are far from diverse.
- Sound: 7.6
- You’ll hear a lot of the same lines over and over, but the rest of the audio is decent.
- Replay: 5
- It’s unlikely you’ll play this game more than you have to. Oh wait, you HAVE to replay some levels to keep progressing. ugh.
- Overall: 7.4
- The ingredients are there for something good, but they need more time in the cauldron before this game can bubble to the top.