E3 2012: Harry Potter for Kinect Hands-On Preview – Wand Waving Wizardry
Written Thursday, June 14, 2012 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Harry Potter... The books are finished and the movies are done, but the video games are still very much alive, as this latest instalment of magical wand waving shows. There's life in the pint-sized wizard yet. The star of numerous, mostly atrocious games (LEGO Harry Potter was alright, wasn't it?), Harry Potter's foray into console-based magic has been a storied one indeed, and he's even tried dabbling with Kinect in the past in EA Bright Light's appalling Deathly Hallows – Part 1 game. With disastrous results, we think you'll agree. Can Eurocom prevail with Harry Potter for Kinect, where EA so spectacularly failed? We found out in Warner's booth at E3.
It's always hard to fully throw yourself into playing a Kinect game out on the showfloor at E3, as there's always the nagging feeling that you're making a complete tit out of yourself, but we took one for the team with Harry Potter for Kinect (and with Namco Bandai's Kinect offerings, which we'll be previewing soon). We committed to performing all of the moves, jumping, ducking leaning and casting spells like a pro, although we're almost 100% certain that we must have looked like a complete and utter knob.
Ostensibly a collection of mini-games that take key sequences from the seven Harry Potter movies, we're told that Harry Potter for Kinect consists of over 30 different scenarios to play through, which are all tied together by an overarching story progression in line with the popular films. There's support for both single-player and multiplayer modes, and we have to admit that the mini-games we sampled all worked exactly in the way that they should, proving responsive and even a bit fun in some cases.
Things don't start off particularly strong however, with a rather mundane mini-game in which you assume the role of sweary ginger wizard Ron Weasley, as we're tasked with lazily batting away red Quidditch balls to prevent them from passing into our team's goal during a match. You can stop the balls with your hands or head, but as Ron's sat on his broomstick, your legs are out of action. Comprised of three rounds, things get progressively more taxing as more red projectiles fly your way and you have to move out of the way of fiery black balls that randomly head towards you.
It never gets too difficult though, and we easily complete it without breaking much of a sweat. “Want to try something more challenging?” we're asked. Yes, please.
Placed into the shoes of gormless Hogwarts wizard Neville Longbottom, our next sequence has us running across a collapsing bridge while being chased by Death Eaters. This is a lot better than the rather dull Quidditch goalie stuff, with more actions to perform and hazards to look out for. An on-rails section, you don't have to run on the spot like in Kinect Sports, so the emphasis is on avoiding the obstacles that come your way. There's flaming holes that appear in front of you, requiring you step left or right to stay on track, falling wooden beams to jump, low wooden beams to duck and when the camera turns to face the pursuing Death Eaters, you'll need to aim and fire spells from Neville's wand to stave them off. This is where the wand waving comes in.
There's no doubt that fans of the Harry Potter movies will get a kick out of this kind of thing, and it does work remarkably well, although we do question the long-term appeal and replay value of such tightly scripted mini-games beyond outdoing your friend's high scores. The same goes for the third and final mini-game we try out, playing as Harry himself riding around on his Nimbus 2000 in the middle of a Quidditch match on the trail of the golden snitch.
Leaning left and right, you guide Harry as he flies through the air and you'll need to keep him on the golden trail or you'll slow down to a painful crawl. Stick to the trail and you'll whizz through the air, but you'll need to lean quicker or face losing your momentum as you go off the track. It's not as easy as it sounds, and getting the hang of the leaning is tough, as our instinct was to step and move. We ended up crashing while weaving through the ditches at the sides of the pitch, losing precious speed. Still, we managed to keep the competition back by punching away members of Slytherin house as they try to nudge us off the snitch's trail. And pleasingly, you get to physically punch your rivals away, which is nice.
Eventually, the trail will lead you to the golden snitch provided you stick to the path and beat away your opponents, at which point you'll need to keep your hand over the zippy winged ball and grab it for your team to bag the win. Hooray and stuff.
Harry Potter for Kinect works surprisingly well, with some of the most responsive menus and Kinect gameplay we've encountered. No doubt the 30-odd Potter sequences will please the fans, but for everyone else, it might just feel like a collection of fairly rudimentary mini-games that just happen to tie-in to the Harry Potter movies. The likenesses and all of the licensed gubbins are all there, and you can even put your own face in the game using Kinect's camera to play through the story as yourself. Clearly, Harry Potter for Kinect appears to be less the half-baked cash-in that it could have quite easily been, but it's nonetheless a game that'll strictly appeal to the Potter die-hards. Perhaps it'll even 'deletrius' memories of Harry's previous Kinect crimes if it doesn't 'avada kedavra' the franchise.
Harry Potter for Kinect will be conjured up in autumn 2012.