We were all set to review Harry's latest Wii adventure last November, when it was due out at the same time as the movie. The movie was then delayed until the summer, meaning the already-finished game had to sit tight for another seven months. Finally though, it's here.
As you'd expect, Half-Blood Prince is based on the book of the same name. The trouble is that this particular book doesn't actually see Harry travelling to many far-off lands and the majority of it takes place inside Hogwarts. What this has done is allowed the developers to create the most complete version of the school yet.
Hogwarts is the central hub within which 95% of the missions are played, so it's no surprise that so much work has gone into it. It's also by far the most impressive technical aspect of the game, since the whole school and its surrounding grounds can eventually be explored at your own free will without any loading times.
The majority of the missions are split into three different gameplay mechanics. First (and most important) is duelling. Here you can use the Remote and Nunchuk to cast various spells while battling with enemies. Strangely, this gets easier as you play through the game. The first few battles are tricky but once you learn the Levicorpus spell you can hit them with that then run up to your stunned enemy and spam the basic Stupefy attack until you win. It really is as simple as that, all the way up to the end of the game. We beat the final boss in around 90 seconds like this.
As well as duelling you're also required to mix potions. This was the most enjoyable part of the game for us. It's Cooking Mama with controls that work perfectly. You're given a list of commands and have to perform them against a time limit, but for once in a Wii mini-game the commands make sense. Point at a jar, press A to lock your wand onto it and lift the Remote to pick it up, shake it with the Remote if you need to, then make a pouring motion until just enough has been added. As you get through the game the instructions get trickier but you always feel in control. That might not seem like a big deal but so many developers are quick to blame the 'limitations' of the Wii Remote for their rubbish controls, whereas this proves that with a bit of effort it can work well.
Finally there's Quidditch. It looks impressive but it's relatively simple: use the Remote's pointer to guide Harry through the various stars until they catch the Snitch and you win. Fun stuff but you're not likely to replay it once it's been done.
We were really enjoying The Half-Blood Prince until we started getting a bit worried at how far we were into the story. After just three hours we were at the stage of the plot where Snape was talking to Draco about making the unbreakable vow, so this worried us because that's a fair bit into the book.
Turns out our worries were accurate. Another hour or so later and we'd seen that Dumbledore scene, then had a couple of easy duel battles and that was it - the game was over. Four hours of story (including cut-scenes) for 40 quid?
That's criminal. Especially when the game has been sitting untouched for seven months.
The argument will be that you can't just add stuff to the game - it has to follow the book. So how does this explain the mission an hour into the game where you have to use Wingardium Leviosa on Lavender Bell's bag to catch some possessed notebook pages that are flying around the room? That wasn't in the book, so would it have hurt for some more missions where you have to help out fellow pupils? To be fair to EA, once the main game's over you can work on finding the 150 hidden Hogwarts crests, but this just involves traipsing the corridors of Hogwarts until you see an emblem then either picking it up or finding an object to knock it loose. We like what they've done with Hogwarts, but when it becomes clear they expect us to run around it for hours to make up for the ridiculously short main story it feels a bit jarring.
Younger Harry Potter fans will probably really enjoy running aimlessly around Hogwarts and pretending that they're the titular wizard, but older gamers who actually want a bit of a challenge will feel like Muggles who've been mugged