BlueSmoke - Review : Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

 Date  : Jun 1st, 2004
 Genre  : Action-Adventure
 Developer   : KnowWonder
 Author  : Jin-Ning Tioh

For readers of the popular series, Prisoner of Azkaban marks a major milestone, with Harry's adventures taking on a decidedly darker tone. The movie of the same title, which premieres in theaters on June 4th, stays true to that direction according to early reviews. The game also attempts to emulate this, with Harry being pushed to swat more than annoying pixies in his third year of studies at Hogwarts. However, this time round Harry won't go it alone. Close friends Ron and Hermione will often accompany him. Indeed, many puzzles and hidden areas will require all three of them to solve since each of them are able to cast only one of the new spells each, with the exception of Harry's additional Patronus.

Like its prequel, Prisoner of Azkaban automatically selects the appropriate spell based on where the wand is aimed at. If its pointed at a Dementor, a Patronus symbol lights up. If pointed at a boulder that needs moving, a Depulso spell symbol lights up. In addition to previous spells such as Alohomora and Spongify, four new spells are introduced - Glacius, Carpe Retractum, Draconifors-Lapifors and Patronus. Glacius is used to freeze enemies while Carpe Retractum to pull yourself towards an item or vice versa. Most interesting is the Draconifors-Lapifors spell. It transfigures statues into a tiny flying dragon and bunnies. Each new spell is introduced via a spell challenge, a series of obstacles in which players utilize new spells to collect challenge shields. If players manages to collect all ten in a challenge, a visit to the Bean Bonus Room is earned. There, players race against a time limit to collect as many goodies as possible.

In addition to the colorful beans, players must also collect pumpkin pasties and cauldron cakes. Like jelly beans, these are used to purchase collectible cards as well as portrait passwords from Fred and George as well as several students throughout Hogwarts. As you would expect, portrait passwords unlock hidden areas behind several portraits in the castle. In these are usually a ton of goodies as well as several rare cards.

Replacing the dueling club and Quidditch matches are the pixie, monster book and hippogriff flying mini-games. In the pixie and monster book mini-games, Harry teams up with Ron and Hermione to fend off several wave of monsters to collect rare cards. For the hippogriff mini-game, Harry takes Buckbeak out for a spin through a ring course to earn cards as well.

As before, the developers have done a great job re-creating the look and feel of Hogwarts, with hidden rooms and secrets scattered throughout the castle grounds. Other students also wander about the school, passing gossip and tips to Harry and the occasional verbal poke by Slytherins. Character models are also noticeably more expressive, especially Ron who shows fear at practically every turn. Besides this, attractive particle effects also accompany the various spells.

A decidedly short game, Prisoner of Azkaban can be finished within a casual weekend gaming session. Still, it has plenty to offer, with collectibles and hidden areas scattered all over Hogwarts for players to discover. Although there are a number of puzzles, none of them are particularly complex or frustrating, with save points usually located nearby in the unlikely event a puzzle becomes too hard. While the more hardcore might diss it, chances are that most will probably enjoy the change to a lighter tone compared to recent offerings.

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