In the first part of this retrospective, it became apparent that the PC versions of The Sorcerer’s Stone, The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban had proven themselves to be a set of very enjoyable games. Carried by their unique and underappreciated gameplay, they remain to this day, my favorite version of the Harry Potter video game formula. In Part II, I will continue to focus on these three titles, this time on consoles. Some are better, some worse, but all are unique in their own way.
Years 1-2: PlayStation 1
The PlayStation 1 Harry Potter duology is a series of short platformers, largely remembered for its poor character models. PS1 Hagrid, anyone? It’s a sign of the overall visual quality; the games look bad for their time and, by today’s standards, they just look funny. Unlike their PC counterparts, they fall into silliness more so than anything else. Thankfully the second game, The Chamber of Secrets, leans more into it. The first game, however, does not.
Both titles have, on occasion, enough visual flair to hold their ground, as some screens have a very thick atmosphere, accompanied by a great soundtrack. The first game does a poor job of retelling the story, however, as it attempts to approach it entirely seriously. The voice actors breathe into the microphone, their thick British accents make for silly pronunciations and the script picks, chooses and adds to the source in a nonsensical manner.
The second game’s approach differs greatly. The characters are cracking jokes left and right. There are scenes added specifically for the sake of comedy, such as Harry getting chased by low-polygon cupids (if you get a game over in that section they surround Harry and sing a song for him about how divine he is) or a minigame where he catches Ron’s slugs in a bowl.
Both games do a pretty awful job of utilizing their collectables. The first has you collect every bean on the school ground to obtain a meaningless reward. A quidditch upgrade, a spell upgrade, or even merely a Wizard Card in one instance. I do like the idea of a finite number of things scattered around the castle in theory, but there is a different game that did it better.
The second puts beans everywhere, so much so that I had well over a thousand by the end of it, and has the player purchase a select number of cards with them. Problem is, by the time I reached Fred and George in Hogwarts (the game begins in Weasley’s backyard) I already had enough to buy them all. Perhaps inserting a ridiculous amount of meaningless consumables is their way of padding out the playtime.
Thankfully, the Wizard Cards are present in this iteration. They’re still a fantastic feature and their descriptions are now voiced over, with Harry’s voice actor reading them in-character and, occasionally, losing his cool at the ridiculous descriptions. Very relatable. I, too, find the idea of creating a book called “Charm You Own Cheese” to be an act worth remembering for millennia to come, very funny. Just maybe don’t exhale into the microphone so much again while you laugh, Harry. Thanks.
These games, perhaps more than any other, go hard on the minigames. This, coupled with the amateurish voice acting, makes them feel the most juvenile out of all the different versions of Harry Potter games. They’re all underutilized and are often one-offs, which brings forward this feeling that they are trying to grasp the attention of a young player.
The first has you try and play football with the slippery movements and wonky physics. There’s this infamous Gringotts Bank section which has the player try and spin this hellish trolley on its set course to collect coins to further the plot and additional gems to collect Wizard Cards. It is painful. The second, thankfully, focuses on only a few.
Dueling, for example, has a dedicated one, with only one spell that can be changed with power-ups you can pick up if you can bait an enemy into hitting an object on your side. It naturally incentivizes the use of cover mechanics without any prompt, which I found quite clever. Quidditch is present in both, but it’s more snappy in the second. Only slightly, but still.
The final sections in both are somewhat disappointing and clunky. The poor stealth mechanics, which I realized were quickly becoming a staple of these games for whatever reason, lead the player into the final gauntlet, consisting of puzzles (making me feel grateful that the devs decided against putting a chess section in the PC version), subpar combat and other familiar mechanics. It’s unfortunate given the fact that dueling was an already established minigame by the time you reach the big snake.
What I come out remembering about the PS1 titles are definitely the funny bits (both intentional and unintentional), the thick British accents, the few pleasant secret locations, the frustrating minigames, the fun minigames, that one rat doing skip rope on a store shelf in Diagon Alley, and the fun automatic jumping which propels you forward at Formula 1 speed.
There’s a bunch of goofy stuff in these games that creates enough charm to warrant a look back if you have any history with them. Don’t stress with completion or try following a guide though, it’s better that way. Bonus points for being very short, they’re definitely one of the most replayable titles in the whole series. I could see many a kid beating them several times a day back in the PS1 days.
Years 1-3: 6th Gen Consoles
The 6th generation of consoles was the home of most Harry Potter games, however, only three were unique to them specifically: The Chamber of Secrets, The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Prisoner of Azkaban. Yes, in that order. The adaptation of the second movie came first, in 2002, in order to tie in with its namesake, but The Prisoner of Azkaban wouldn’t come out until 2004, allowing for the games to have a slightly longer development time.
EA, however, wanting to strike while the iron is hot, decided to give assets from The Chamber of Secrets to a different team and have them make a The Sorcerer’s Stone game two years after the movie was released. So, in 2003, we technically have the only non-tie-in game on this list. Weird timeline, I know. Personally, I simply choose to believe they took inspiration from the future instalment’s Time Turner. Screwing up timelines is just an aesthetic to these people.
These titles’ primary gameplay loop consists of the exploration of Hogwarts, with all its secrets, collectables and shortcuts, and completing puzzle dungeons, with an occasional tinge of combat and gimmicky bosses. Online they are often compared to the 3D Legend of Zelda games for that reason, as well as the returning automatic jumping, though this time the protagonists do not turn into jets when their feet leave the ground.
More than any other version of the Harry Potter games, these titles rely on their atmosphere to carry the experience. There’s much less moment-to-moment action, as the heavier movements, puzzles and level design have you stay in each individual room for several minutes. The rooms themselves are enormous and filled with danger, be that an endless pit, deadly enemies or deadly traps à la Tomb Raider.
These are all part of a spell-learning class, and while with the other versions I could maybe rationalize that falling down simply puts you back somewhere mildly safe, I think spinning, spikey balls which would impale a child is a bit too much. Admittedly, the characters do not get impaled, just pushed back. Maybe it is some magical illusion then, who knows.
This level of insane danger is present everywhere, even on the normally peaceful castle grounds. Aside from the dungeons, the game is split into day and night sections, the latter facilitating the ever-present stealth and allowing for visits to Fred and George’s shop. It is usually the least exciting gimmick in other games, but here it works well enough.
The characters run past the same prefects patrolling the halls and can use spells and items to bait them. It’s easy and fun to get good at it. It only gets better with each game. The first, The Chamber of Secrets, has a few too many people in a few too many annoying spots, such as the outside. It’s difficult to break the line of sight in a wide-open area like that. This, however, is only a feature in the PS2 version.
The Gamecube doesn’t allow for free-roaming the grounds on foot, instead employing teleports, likely due to the limitations at the time. The differences between the Gamecube version and the others don’t end there, however. While it removes some content, I would say it does so for the better. The PS2/Xbox versions contain a lot of padding and annoying backtracking, but the Gamecube gets rid of them providing a tighter experience.
It also doesn’t entirely remove that feeling of wonder while seeing the castle in all its glory, as Harry is still able to fly around on the broom. The menus and visuals get a pretty severe overhaul as well. There’s a lot more color and the menus are a fully animated book. Quite simply, the game looks and plays better on the Gamecube, despite being seemingly the same title.
It contains a whole lot more personality and much less mindless content, fixing pretty much every problem I had with the PS2 version I played. To me, the Gamecube version of The Chamber of Secrets specifically is the superior one. Weasley’s backyard and Diagon Alley never looked or played better. The future Gamecube versions are largely identical to their counterparts, so no such distinction needs to be made.
The Sorcerer’s Stone takes all the assets from The Chamber of Secrets and adds a few areas. If you played one before the other you will recognize the entire castle layout, including the secrets. Seemingly, a better deal. In reality, it is content seemingly made without realizing what made its predecessor good. The level design focuses more on the enemy encounters and platforming than the puzzle elements, making for far less memorable locations. The camera also barely works for most of it.
It seems to take some inspiration from the PC titles in terms of which spells were picked, but simply inserting them into this engine doesn’t make them as fun. They feel underwhelming, mostly used as tools for clearing the overtly obvious paths to secrets scattered throughout the spell challenges or the castle. This means you have to return to certain locations and beat them all over again just to use a spell on a single tapestry. Not a fun one for completionists.
It is a largely forgettable romp until the final boss. For some reason, instead of fighting Harry straight away, Quirrel-Voldemort first sends out 4 Gythrashes—a type of ghost dog which is typically destroyed by using Lumos which creates a cone of light in front of Harry—all of which have to be destroyed one after another or will be resurrected with full health otherwise. It is a painfully tedious task as they share one health bar and run around, so it’s almost impossible to know which one suffered how much damage.
Afterwards, like in the other The Sorcerer’s Stone games, Harry uses the magical mirror to reflect Voldemort’s attack and the game is over. You can still try and explore Hogwarts to 100% the game, but this was one of the few games where I simply refused to do so. Maybe it’s because Harry comments on the flavor of every bean he picks up, and I frankly had enough of hearing it. It’s definitely the weakest title out of this trilogy, although perhaps a passable one if played before The Chamber of Secrets.
The Prisoner of Azkaban presents the best version of this style of gameplay, focusing largely on the area and enemy design, while also allowing the player to play as all of the main trio. The dangerous atmosphere of these games best fits the most distinct of the first three titles. In the opening segment, the player encounters a Dementor for the first time, as Ron drags Harry’s lifeless body away from one while it tries to take his soul (literally, you can see it drifting away from him).
This sets the tone for the game moving forward, your first section of roaming Hogwarts at night is fantastic. After a visit to Fred and Goerge’s shop, Harry and Ron go to find the Marauder’s Map. The section introduces switching between characters, each having unique abilities and later spells, as well as the fact that they can and will be split up at a moment’s notice when a sudden trap springs up.
It’s brilliant, the sense of camaraderie this game has when working together only strengthens the feeling of danger when one character suddenly gets split up. I distinctly remember the spooky atmosphere crashing down on me at those moments when I first played it as a kid. This is also achieved thanks in no small part to an even darker set of locations, newly designed secrets across Hogwarts and new, incredible musical pieces.
There’s a significant improvement in visuals over the last two titles, all characters received a redesign, and they’re more expressive in cutscenes and also outside of them, all done without sacrificing the slightly cartoony art style of the previous games. One specific cutscene always comes to mind when I think of this game, and it’s Hermione using a spell to fix her hair in an instant after getting out of bed. Everything looks phenomenal.
All the 6th generation games have their own little weird quirks. In The Chamber of Secrets, Hufflepuff students wear robes with a tint of purple instead of yellow. Neville is used for a couple of sidequests, but they use a different character model each time for some reason. In the final fight, the Sword of Gryffindor is the size of a dagger, and that is because it is just a reskinned wand (this is fixed in the Gamecube version).
The Sorcerer’s Stone, as mentioned previously, has Harry audibly describe the flavor of every bean. It is as annoying as it sounds. After beating the troll and hearing from McGonagall that very few first-years could ever defeat one, the next lesson, Herbology, has Harry fight two more. In one cutscene the devs forgot to remove Ron’s wand from his hand, and, as he rubs his eyes, he sticks it right through his skull.
The Prisoner of Azkaban has an owl-racing minigame, where you have to press a button as fast as possible for several minutes. The original Mario Party must feel jealous. There is a dueling club in the great hall, and, somehow, enemies have a random chance of casting a spell which turns your head into a pumpkin. Half a floor beneath the dungeons, creatures called Red Caps reside, which are described in-game as “making residence in places where a lot of blood was shed.” Okay game.
In conclusion, with three games in total, these titles had the proper time to develop their unique style of adapting the series. It is the second-best style this series had, right after the PC version, if only because of how lackluster The Sorcerer’s Stone is. To me, however, there is another distinct difference: these titles never escape the feeling of companion media.
I still stand strongly by the fact that companion media is not any lesser than any original property, however, these games remain more so a fascinating world merely supplemented with solid gameplay, rather than a good game supplemented by the original universe. Their clear inspirations make them more akin to the many other movie tie-ins, unlike the PC titles, with their unique, unreplicated gameplay elements.
They are still very good and The Prisoner of Azkaban is primed for a revisit or a try if you are a fan of the series. The reinterpretation of these stories and the visuals makes for an exciting venture. It’s a very comforting combination of freshness and familiarity. It is, after all, one of the more fondly remembered versions of the Harry Potter game formula, and deservedly so.