Moving away from the ridiculous amount of versions released for The Sorcerer’s Stone, The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban, such as the RPGs and platformers found on the Gameboy as described in Part III, moving onward the games usually have a maximum of 3 versions per title. There still are multiple gameplay styles per part though, which only means more weirdness to discuss!
Finally, The Goblet of Fire! The one title which actually has something to make a game out of. A big tournament with challenges and, in between, figuring out how to prepare for them! It is simply primed for an adaptation like this! Make some fun, exciting set pieces, maybe like a fighting system and turn the dragon, some mermaids and Voldemort into boss fights. Or don’t, I suppose.
Instead, what we get in all versions is a co-op experience, where you once more play as all characters. In the one instalment where Harry is alone for most of it. Even in the version for portable devices, you can spend most of your time as Ron. Who exactly, when given the choice, would want to play as Ron throughout the story of The Goblet of Fire?
So the design document this time around was to have a linear, level-based, three-player story where you pick a character before the stage and trudge through these long sets of challenges with enemies and collectable-hunting. That is what the player does between the trials, in which only one player can participate as Harry. So if there is nothing for the other player to do in those stages, why even have the co-op system in the first place?
The mainline version this time around is shared by not only the mainline consoles and PC, but also the PSP. This means there was one less version of this game I had to play this time around. I am very thankful for this because The Goblet of Fire is easily the worst iteration of the gameplay in this series of games on all fronts. There is not one good game, and, for the first time, the mainline version is arguably much worse, or at least as bad as the portable counterparts.
First off, it is worth mentioning how much of a whiplash playing this mainline game is following the previous entries. Switching from a more lively, animated style into a more realistic, grimy one makes sense on paper, it is the part where we have the main antagonist reincarnated and where characters are murdered, but the visuals here clash horribly with everything else this game does.
There still are goofy systems, characters throwing quips left and right and a bizarre focus on beans. They return as currency, which you obtain from smacking things in the overworld or using a specific spell on them, but Ron feels an intense need to scream out “BEANS!” every time you get a few. And call me paranoid for all I care, but I feel like the more I got, the more he would scream.
The game even acknowledges it by having Hermione berate him by going “Would you stop going on about beans, Ron!” every so often. But then she will also scream about beans right after. It is a strange choice. Back to the currency talk, what would you even buy in a linear game like this? Well, cards. No, not the fun, colorful collectable cards from the previous games, instead you get cards with stills from the movie, and they give you +10 to spell damage or something like that.
Oh, what a wonderful addition to a game. It helps tremendously on the easiest game so far, with challenges such as “spam the damage button” or “pull an explosive plant so it launches into mushrooms to unlock a path.” Maybe even a “pick up a block and put it next to the wall so you can climb on it” challenge, or, my personal favorite, “lift up this beast so, when hit, it will explode with a different set of effects.”
To be fair, one of them includes giving the enemy a pumpkin head, which is amusing. Not amusing enough to warrant a game which has a total of FOUR levels. That is not counting timed challenges, trials or the very short area at the Quidditch World Cup. Mind you, the actual tutorial section follows that one, where the player learns how to do things they just did.
The only way you can progress onto the next trial or level is to collect Triwizard Shields. What is a Triwizard Shield? I do not know. And I played this game. I can describe them of course, they are sort of a shield-shaped thing with a gem in the middle, but I could not tell you why they are the main collectable in this Harry Potter game. Of course, everyone knows that Mario collects stars, Banjo collects puzzle pieces, and Harry Potter famously collects shields.
The shield requirement for moving on to the next stage is tied for the most annoying mechanic in the game. It is really gratuitous when the game goes “you need to replay the previous stages for about 10 minutes 5 more times before accessing the final level,” considering that every transition from picking a level, to picking a character, to loading into it has its own loading screen.
There is no change in a level’s structure when coming back each time, aside from spawning at a different location after initial completion. The player simply needs to load in and walk into a different collectable. Sometimes there are multiple on the same path because the levels are so small and linear. The nail in the coffin is the mini-collectables in each level. Think Mario’s red coins.
The shield reward for collecting them all does not spawn when reaching the required amount, however, or at least you do not see it. What happens instead is that the next time the player loads into a level, the shield is found literally right next to the spawning point. Wasting time at its finest. Instead of adding it to a tally after beating the level normally, the game wastes several minutes on loading screens before a level, a tally-up screen and one more after picking the shield up. This is probably the most annoying mechanic.
How about the trials? They are bad. The first two are auto-scrollers where the player flies or swims through rings of beans in the third person. The first one is an escape from the dragon around Hogwarts’ grounds, the second allows Harry to shoot spells while swimming, occasionally stopping to break a barrier blocking his path. The maze does not even get its own minigame, it is a regular level with a repeat boss of two weirdo armored bugs, during which Cedric is stuck on a hedge wall.
The final boss is a mess. There is no Voldemort fight really. Instead, he sends out a bunch of skeletons and a spooky reaper statue to go after Harry. It needs to be damaged, after which the two lock up with spells and the ball of energy created in the middle needs to be balanced to kill more skeletons. Afterwards, yippie, this awful 1-hour long game stretched to 3 hours, maybe 4 if I am being generous, is done.
Gameboy Advance and Nintendo DS
Now, time for the Nintendo DS and Gameboy Advance The Goblet of Fire games. Most people (by which I mean maybe 4 people who played all of these) would tell you that they are the same game. Wrong. Liars. Fools. Charlatans. There are important distinctions that need to be made and topics which deserve their due discourse.
Before that, however, an explanation of how these games work. The player once more gets a pick of a character per stage, and then they go through the gameplay loop similar to the mainline one. The encountered enemies are largely the same, with some new additions. There are goblins which hide in cupboards and jump out when a character is not facing their direction. They need to be grabbed as they escape and murdered by drowning them in some nearby liquid.
These The Goblet of Fire games are largely pretty okay, simple, top-down action titles with hidden collectables scattered throughout their long levels, where each screen requires something like defeating enemies, pushing a button or removing an obstacle. The shields are still a thing, but they are smaller and look less like a weird, mythic item for Goofy from Kingdom Hearts. A level can be completed by picking up as many or as few as the player wants. They are implemented much better here.
The kicker, however, is that while the games really are largely the same, the DS version, obviously, needed to have touch controls. Aside from some additional minigames, at random points, when hitting an enemy with a spell, which typically simply results in the game registering them taking damage, the game enters a turn-based, 3D sequence where the player needs to draw shapes or click at things to attack and defend themselves from the enemy.
The sensation of realizing that one title has this while the other does not is difficult to describe. The best way I can put it is to imagine if one in every 10 goombas in the DS port of the original Mario Bros turned into an awful, touch-based battle minigame. It is not consistent in any way, shape, or form, sometimes all that is needed is to simply press a button to cast a spell and the enemy is beaten, sometimes this monstrosity of a combat system appears.
Additionally, at similarly random places and moments throughout the DS version (such as the middle of the Forbidden Forest with a dragon on the loose) you can run into some characters that enter you into one of the previously mentioned minigames. How about a game of Memory after twenty minutes of running around a dangerous place? How about sorting these beans real quick? All these stoppages in gameplay make the DS version a lot longer.
On top of that, said version being basically a port of the Gameboy one (it does not even use the bottom screen in any meaningful way for most of it), the transition had the unfortunate effect of upscaling the music. It sounds perfectly fine on its original console, the instruments were intended to be heard the way they are there, but on the DS the soundtrack sounds comical. There are random high-pitched noises, terrible-sounding instrumentation, sounds of someone choking to death while playing some wind instruments, etc.
The worst offender is one of the trials. They are generally pretty good in this game, each having their dedicated playstyle with some actual gameplay. They are still a bit too simplistic, but it is the best interpretation of these events we got in game form. The maze is again just another level though, and unfortunately, all the stages before were a bit of a maze as well, so it is nothing special.
But the first trial on the DS has such a terrible soundtrack attached to it that it becomes nauseating. I had to redo it after forgetting to save once, and it certainly ruined my whole day. I had no such issue in the Gameboy Advance version, because, once again, that is how that track was intended to be heard.
The game is about as long as the mainline title, ironically, but the length works much better for a portable one. Each level can be quite a commitment, which is a bit counterintuitive, but that is only if one wants to grab all the shields on the first run. There are roughly the same amount of levels, but there is one more minigame. An iconic one.
One part the mainline game completely ignored was the legendary Yule Ball. Not this game, this game is too cool for that. It has an entire dancing minigame, pressing buttons on time and all. A hallmark of many movie tie-ins finally made its way to a Harry Potter title. Funnily, the exact same system is used in the final battle with Voldemort.
So do you dance battle Voldemort to death? No, not really, you time button presses to push the energy ball towards him. But it is a silly connection nonetheless. Before that, you run around him in a circle to hide behind gravestones as he casts spells, all the while hitting him with your own. Of course, the DS version has an additional touchscreen section, the same one they used for random enemies before. I think they could have saved it and only used it for the final battle, but that is just me.
Finally, the DS version has one more option in the main menu. It is, well, a pet Niffler. Those of you who may know what that is, no, it does not look the way you think it does. It is not a cute, chunky, fluffy platypus. Here, it is a disgusting, stick-like animal which moves like my sleep-paralysis demon. It is basically a Tamagotchi, but one you need to play around with ten or so times to finish the game’s collection.
The Goblet of Fire, as a video game, is generally a massive disappointment. The best version is the Gameboy Advance one, but even that is extremely simple and lacks any flavor, cool visuals, or ideas. The main beats of these games were simply never meant to create a good title. Thankfully, the creators quickly moved away from it and the next two installments ended up with a gameplay redesign once more, one received positively by fans. At least those who played the mainline versions.