After a tumultuous experience with The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince in Part V, I am happy to present the final part of the Harry Potter video game retrospective. From many bad ideas in the mainline versions to some of the worst games I ever played found among the handheld versions, this experience could only end one way: a ridiculous set of games with even more ridiculous ideas.

The Deathly Hallows

Far from the most fondly remembered, The Deathly Hallows entries are the most infamous Harry Potter games, perhaps the most infamous tie-in games in general. The final two parts of the movie franchise tell the story contained within one book, but both have a vastly different tone: the first is more sombre and pensive, while the second is more elevated and epic, befitting a finale.

This leaves the first part in a pretty weird position when it comes to video game adaptations. EA obviously would not skip a chance to release two cheaper games that would bring in big returns no matter the quality, but there is not that much to make a game out of with so few set pieces scattered throughout the movie and a lack of Hogwarts to explore.

What they ended up doing is creating a system that thoroughly benefits the second part more. It is an action-oriented… cover-based, third-person shooter. A lot of people tend to call it a “Gears-clone,” but it is such a stripped-down, simplistic version of the formula that I find it difficult to agree. It has quite a few different mechanics, but none of them exactly correlate with the aforementioned franchise, aside from the covering and the shooting.

It lacks any vehicle segments, for example. That is except at the very beginning of the first game, where Harry, flying through the UK on Hagrid’s bike, shoots down flying Death Eaters and Voldemort. Here, immediately, the player can get a taste of the best part of the game. This set piece can throw anyone for a surprise. It is completely unlike any other Harry Potter game and that makes it exciting. It only gets worse from here, unfortunately.

A transformed Harry in the Ministry of Magic, with big wanted posters throughout
The best-looking location in Part I is the Ministry of Magic

Other aspects do not exactly translate well, especially into Part I. The truth is, this title does not incentivize using cover often. It is a lot more run-and-gun than stationary shooting galleries. Cover is more so a concept than anything else, but it is far from a reliable or useful tool when enemies are wizards with paralyzing spells that can teleport anywhere in the vicinity.

That only occurs in the side activities though, the main storyline usually consists of trudging through enemies to get to a specific goal or just moving on to the next area. There are also walking and sneaking sections to interrupt the shooting bits. That is right, even in this final iteration, they had to somehow implement a sneaking section, just like the good old days.

In between the main missions, the game requires the player to go on what are essentially these side-missions of sorts to counteract Death Eater activity across the world. They are grouped into a set of three, and consist of either protecting a point, eliminating all enemies in a given area while rescuing civilians and, uh, escaping from a dragon.

That is right, you teleport inside some dragon’s cave, only to escape from it. This nonsensical scenario is only one of the many found in Part I, all existing only to squeeze out any form of gameplay from this story. Does anyone remember the abandoned nuclear power plant from Harry Potter? A truly iconic location to be sure. Well, I am happy to announce the single longest section in the game takes place there.

After barely escaping the Ministry, a location Hermione says is the single most dangerous place they could find themselves in, the trio teleport with the Horcrux into some random fields. They soon arrive at the aforementioned power plant, chased by Death Eaters at every corner, following Dean Thomas and Griphook as they discuss the location of the Sword of Gryffindor.

After hearing enough, Harry decides against catching up to them, instead going back and setting up camp at a location that was crawling with enemies a second ago, specifically under a cooling tower that on their last run through, housed undead zombies, the ones from the time Harry and Dumbledore went to find the Horcrux in The Half-Blood Prince.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 nucelar
Wait, what?

Afterwards, Harry gets to choose from a new set of three side-missions: His second dragon cave in the game, protecting civilians from the Death Eaters in a random bog (which ends up being a place housing the Sword of Gryffindor later) and, finally, of course, returning to the Ministry of Magic to save six people. You know, the location that is the single most dangerous place they could find themselves in. With the Horcrux. This sequence of events drove me absolutely insane.

These games always had some amount of completely new content, but they have tried to either distance themselves from the movies more significantly or fill in the gaps with some enjoyable content. Not here! The content is boring and tedious, the side-missions mostly reuse locations from the main missions, and they are nonsensical to such a ridiculous degree that thinking about what decisions must have led here is mind-boggling.

More important than anything, how is the shooting? I can tell you, I would likely not have gone on that diatribe if it was any good. The shooting mechanics are similarly confusing and poorly thought out. There are different sorts of spells the player unlocks as they level up by completing missions, finding collectibles (some admittedly cool, such as Fred and Goerge’s anti-establishment radio recordings) and defeating enemies.

The spells usually resort to replicating guns. There is a pistol spell, a shotgun spell, a sniper spell with a zoom button (how does one zoom using a wand is definitely a question I do not have an answer for) a bazooka spell which knocks everyone, including you, backwards, with an occasional ragdoll. Sounds kinda weird in a Harry Potter game, but a standard for third-person shooters. That is until you actually hit someone with one of them.

The shotgun spell does not hurt enemies. Nope, the reward for getting up close and shooting someone in the face with 8 magic missiles is stunning them. The stunning shotgun. The sniper rifle spell should do big damage because you have to line up shots, right? Wrong, after the bullet-following camera straight from Sniper Elite, you charm the enemies into fighting for you. The charm sniper. And the temporarily charmed enemies cannot even eliminate the regular ones completely, they just knock them out.

Everything about this game just leads to utter confusion. And this is not even the full extent of weird offensive options. The bazooka exploding spell requires Harry to crouch down because of the strength of the blast, and it is required to find its spellbook randomly in the nuclear power plant. It is also used for exploration! To destroy small rocks which block paths. Instead of, I don’t know, using Wingardium Leviosa, which is also a usable spell in this game.

Three small rocks blocking the path forward
Harry Potter meets the immovable objects

What good is there to say about this game? They use some of the soundtrack scores from the early games. The Ministry looks good. They have a cool enemy variety, including Dementors and Whomping Willows. That is just me forcing myself to speak positively about this game. Throughout it all, I was merely waiting, expecting Part II to be much better, Battle of Hogwarts and all. I was right.

Part II is much better for several reasons. The first one is that it sets up its identity as a cover-shooter clearly, by having shooting galleries utilize cover constantly. Second is the variety of characters the player gets to take control of. Whereas in Part I it was all Harry, here it is also Ron, Hermione, McGonagall, Seamus Finnigan, Neville, and Molly and Ginny Weasley.

Just like with Dumbledore in The Order of Phoenix, it is just as cool to take control of McGonagall, as she fights Snape and then defends the bridge from hordes of enemies and even some giants. Each new character section has something going for it, be that a location, a mechanic, an enemy or the main objective. Ron and Hermione, for example, get to explore The Chamber of Secrets.

It is one of the best set pieces in this series. It is entirely dark and abandoned, but the spiders have made it their home now that their enemy, the Basilisk, is gone. It is sort of an escort mission, Ron walks around with a light and opens doors as the player, as Hermione, protects him. What makes it work is the darkness, because the spells, all with a unique color, can light up the long tubes and caves of the Chamber as spiders crawl around. It looks fantastic.

Hermione casting spells to lit up the tubes leading towards the Chamber of Secrets
The entrance to the Chamber of Secrets lit up by the glow of Hermione’s spell

Sadly, nothing comes close. Most of the other locations are sort of just Hogwarts, with one section in Hogsmeade and the tutorial section being the vaults. All of these locations players got to thoroughly explore already in previous games, and a lot of the other versions were way more exciting. Some of it was likely built off of the previous games, but a large part of, for example, the inside of the castle is restructured significantly.

There really is no way around the fact that this serious, realistic style takes away from the magic of these locations. I would argue the same for the movie it is based on, and anyone reading this may disagree or may see it as something beneficial to the tone. I would not necessarily argue with either, but I do vastly prefer pretty much every other depiction of the castle as compared to the shooting galleries of The Deathly Hallows.

While the gameplay is vastly improved, the shooting still leaves a lot to be desired. A lot of the spells were removed or changed to be more useful, but the pace of the combat became a lot more passive. Enemies deal more damage, wizard snipers are scattered around the rooftops or tucked away on rafters. Plenty of objectives do not require the player to push forward, having them defend a point instead, providing an additional teleporting mechanic to help with switching cover without any risk.

The final battle with Voldemort largely consists of less defending, but it is still just shooting and defending, followed by crossing streams and pushing the energy ball in the middle, which was rather anticlimactic. Perhaps movie tie-ins have ruined my mind, but this is a section where, in all honesty, I would rather have less control if it meant a cooler set piece. Maybe not the one from the movies, but something different, something memorable.

Part II is slightly shorter than I, but it has extra challenges that can be unlocked by finding them hidden across levels. Other collectibles include the soundtrack, which I thought took too little inspiration from the movies, although going for the epic factor, it was a lot more gamey. Seems like it would fit, but many of the other games benefited a lot from approaching it more from a cinematic perspective. It does fit the gray cover shooter aesthetic to a tee, though.

While Part I feels overall confused, Part II develops its own identity well enough for it to not be a terrible time, but it is just so difficult to make this Harry Potter shooter work. The duels from the movies are never about hiding, they are about dodging, using protective spells, or having spells clash against one another. It always was just a bad approach, at least for a tie-in title. The second game is an okay time if someone wants to just see what these games feel like.

The DS Games

Lastly, saving the (not at all) best for last, the only portable versions of The Deathly Hallows were the DS versions. The PSP was completely dropped. So was the music, at least for Part I. This is, I believe, the only game which does this, except for one section at the very end. The Harry Potter movies are largely famous for their soundtrack, so to see it removed completely is baffling. Especially since the second game does include music, as forgettable as it may be.

What is more, these games can be played entirely using the touchpad. The buttons are simply useless for all but pausing and one sparingly used special action. These actions include a useless special attack and using a potion to heal or remove an obstacle in your way. These potions are obtained by brewing, actually. This means the brewing minigame is back. Far from the best version, but it is still fun, as repetitive as brewing the healing potion over and over may be.

Enemies are largely inconsequential, and can usually be avoided by running past them. Some areas have them infinitely respawn (like the graveyard with zombies, which I don’t remember from any version of this story), which I understood to be a way of incentivizing the player to skip combat as much as possible. There are some boss fights, which are better but the lack of music really drags them down. It is pretty funny to only hear birds and the spell sound effects while fighting one.

The combat mostly consists of tapping in the direction of the enemy. It is fine for a portable title, even including a dodge roll of all things, activated by sliding the stylus across the screen, which is an admittedly fun defensive option. It is quite useful in the first game, but not the second, where blocking using the shoulder button takes priority. The enemies are more relentless in that one.

A close-up of Voldemort and a Death Eater
Some slick character models for this series’ standards

In general, the second game is very similar, but a lot more engaging. Better combat, better puzzles, and more characters to play as. On top of all the ones from the mainline title, because these games always have the player use two characters, McGonagall’s companion is Flitwick. I do have a soft spot for playing as random side characters, and I did find controlling them fun, even though they all played mostly the same.

The second game introduces the idea of characters possessing unique skills. For example, in the aforementioned duo, McGonagall can transform into a cat and squeeze into tight spaces to press buttons, while Flitwick can do nothing special. It is a bit unfair, but he is the only character with no ability to their name. Everyone else gets something for the puzzles. They still are largely annoying, such as block-sliding, but there is more variety.

Worth noting is that these are likely the best-looking portable titles. The models are entirely unique and the variety of locations is impressive. There is a new approach to each location, which only proves that they can be reimagined in cool ways even at this point in the story. Unfortunately, both games go on for too long for their own good, making them more difficult to appreciate.

The Deathly Hallows Part II is definitely the better one, and it has more to do rather than having these big levels be mostly empty. There are four collectible shields and one green coin to be found in each stage, and they are hidden pretty cleverly. The enemies, while more difficult to deal with, are not entirely overbearing, and the combat can be pretty fun. Even casting spells by drawing shapes is back. Unfortunately, the potion-making is gone. Hard to have everything, I suppose.

With all the additions, Part II is a passable DS game, but it is impossible to completely avoid the gimmicky nature of the console itself. The focus on stylus makes both of these games a bit mindless to control, and there is still somehow too much walking when, in truth, the best parts of these games were the combat scenarios from the sequel.

These are, however, the final two games I am covering. My reward for beating all these games is getting to write down this whole retrospective, a thank you from the developers and the final cutscene from the mainline version of Part II, which consists of footage from all the PC and console entries in a heartfelt montage.

Closing Thoughts

With all that said, I would like to take a second to look back and pick my favorite and least favorite of the bunch. The one I enjoyed the most would definitely be the PC version of The Chamber of Secrets, which I talked about in the very first part of this retrospective. It has the best sense of exploration, unique visuals and mechanics, and the best soundtrack. It also developed a passionate community, with an expansive modding scene at one point.

My least favorite would have to be one of the portable titles, specifically the Gameboy Advance version of The Order of the Phoenix. It tried to squeeze the Gameboy to its limits by attempting to replicate the mainline experience as closely as possible, but that was definitely the wrong move. Its uncanny look is definitely not an intended one, and the fetch-quest gameplay is sleep-inducing.

A collection of creepy, awful and silly character models from various titles
A collection of some of my favorite, weird-looking models from these games

I played most of these games as a kid, and I found a lot of things to appreciate returning to them as an adult. What I found most enjoyable is the realization of the worth these pieces of companion media have, and how sad it is to see them go. Truly passionate, small projects are becoming rare as players’ expectations continue to grow.

The early Harry Potter games were exactly that, however. Though the teams had little time and a small budget, the clear ceiling of what they could become shaped these titles into what they ended up being. The sorts of mechanics found in them would likely no longer be considered something entertaining or worth the price, so a good deal of them remain unique.

Taking it even further, this series of games has so many iterations, totaling at 27 unique titles, that seeing its evolution and all the different ideas for the same mechanic like, for example, Quidditch was eye-opening. There is so much creativity on display and fresh idea after fresh idea. It is frankly inspiring to see ways in which all the different teams managed to tackle the same thing in so many different ways, even if not all of them worked for me. Though painful at times, I am undoubtedly grateful to have undergone this journey.

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