Harry's latest portable adventure looks great, is easy to pick up, and features surprisingly keen level designs.
One of the biggest problems I have with EA's Madden series is that the controls are so complicated, using every button on the controller with completely different layouts for offense, defense, kicking, etc. In a totally different franchise, EA has created a control scheme that puts Madden to shame for ease of use. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on GBA maps a dozen magic spells to just two face buttons, and the system works almost perfectly. This game has other things going for it, but the elegance of the controls stands out and makes the game immediately enjoyable and accessible to any player.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione travel together, but you only control one of them per level. At the start of the game, the student wizards only have two spells: Confundus, which is a basic projectile attack, and Wingardium Leviosa, which levitates objects and allows them to be moved around. By the end of the game, the heroes will have learned several more spells, but all of them can be used with the same two buttons, A and B. The one used simply depends on context, and surprisingly, the game almost always chooses the spell you need for that particular situation. There are times when pressing B, B, B may fill up a large tub with water, then freeze that water making the tub one big ice pillar, then levitate the ice pillar to be moved into position so you can climb it to a higher level. So the game has a lot of variety and some reasonably complex tasks without ever confusing the player about how to use the spells.
Occasionally, you'll come across a large object that is too heavy for just one character to levitate, so you can call up the others with the L button, and all three teenagers will combine their spells to move the obstacle. This mechanic is a bit buggy, as the positioning for A.I. characters is tricky, so you may have to move around a bit before they'll actually join you in with the spell-casting. When not helping you with a specific task, the computer-controlled characters are shockingly helpful, flinging attack spells at enemies and even picking up stray items for you.
Despite the simple controls, the game designers have drawn up some great level designs that constantly push you to use the spells in new ways. There's always a clear progression after the introduction of a new element being introduced,, then slowly using ited in more complex ways, until it is finally it is combined with other game elements to set up large puzzles and chaotic battles with various enemy types. We're not used to seeing this much quality of game design in licensed GBA games. There are portions of the game that will seem easy to older or more experienced players, but the game's difficulty curve does a nice job of challenging everyone at some point, and the simple mechanics mean that less skilled players should eventually be able to proceed just by directing spells at different objects until the solution becomes apparent.
There are about ten levels in the game, most of them quite long (scenes from the movie have been heavily padded to make for a fuller game experience). The three-player option might be cool to check out if your friends are Harry Potter fanatics, and you can replay levels to search for hidden items that eventually unlock some mini-games. There are definitely longer GBA games out there, but this one is a decent value, certainly better than many other licensed movie games on the system.
The audio is limited to ambient music and a handful of voice clips, but Goblet of Fire looks fantastic. Everything in the game is pre-rendered, allowing for spell effects that look impossible on for this systeme GBA to pull off. The character animations are limited, but the models look great, as do the environments. The game camera is slightly isometric, and it has the unusual habit of panning over to show you enemies and important items that would normally be at the very edge of your screen. Not only is this feature helpful in combat, it's indispensable for levitating objects, since that spell's range is longer than the screen dimensions.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a fine portable adventure game, and as licensed movie games go, it's downright remarkable. The game is on the easy side, but it's good fun even for advanced players; they'll just blow through it more quickly, that's all. Harry Potter fans should absolutely check this one out.