When Harry met Hogwarts.
Much of the world's suffering is based on one thing: books. Take The Bible - people have been fighting over that thing forever. Or how about that Salman Rushdie situation? Then there was that book in Baldur's Gate II that turned Edwin the prissy sorcerer into a female. Yep, a good book is one of the most powerful things ever.
But making a game based on a book is a perilous thing. For a megabucks enterprise like Harry Potter it equals guaranteed truckloads of Golden Galleons, but that doesn't mean there's not a special place in Azkhaban for stingy publishers who force children large and small to face a version of their beloved fantasy realm that's more craptastic than fantastic.
So, I approached EA's Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup for with great trepidation. Unfortunately, the game is not very good, but it does display a high level of attention to the subject-matter. Clearly, the developers have read their Harry Potter and packed lots of great details from the world (books and movies) into their game. As a result, Quidditch Cup is a worthy tribute to the official sport of wizards...even if it is a bit of a button-masher.
You'll start off picking one of the four Hogwart teams or one of several international teams like USA, Japan, or Viktor Krum's native Bulgaria and attempt to guide it through the Quidditch Cup tournament. Before jumping in, you should definitely bone up on your broom-handling at Hogwarts (QC's version of a Training Mode), as the lessons are taught quite effectively and are nice and thorough.
After that, all that's left is to enter the tournament or play against a friend in split-screen mode. Although the modes aren't nearly as varied as a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, QC isn't exactly a game for the serious gamer. There are some combos to learn and Quidditch cards to find (which open up more combos and arenas), but there really isn't enough here to keep the seasoned gamer entertained for more than a few hours.
There are three parts to the gameplay: Offense, Defense, and Seeker-mode. On offense you can pass to another teammate or shoot, both of which are chargeable. You can also dodge and combo-pass, which is a faster version of normal passing meant to lure the keeper away from his post or quickly maneuver the ball to one of the three goals the keeper isn't watching. If you get in the goal-box and have a special move at your disposal, you can tap a button combo and launch into a combination attack wherein a brief cinematic will show your team putting some fancy maneuver on your hapless opponents.
Defense is all about stealing, which is extremely easy in Quidditch Cup as the steal button provides a boost, knocks your opponent off their path and strips the ball all in one tap of the button. Unfortunately, this is the most powerful and easiest move to pull off in the game. Not only is it basically unavoidable (dodge sucks), but it also works every single time. Stealing has never been easier.
On top of your standard steal you can also occasionally summon a magical moving vortex that, when moved into position over your opponent, will freeze them and allow you to make a nifty cinematic steal. You can also use the bludger to whack the opponent's ball-carrier who, upon taking a bludger to the skull, promptly coughs up the quaffle to one of your team members. The bludger basically functions like a guided missile; you press the button when one of your beaters calls out and then guide the bludger to your target. However, this can be tricky since the bludger changes altitude whereas all the players stay on a 2D playing field.
That's right - Quidditch Cup takes place on a 2D plane and acts very much like a hockey game. Players will visibly zoom up and down in relation to this plane, but there is no controlling your own player's elevation or anyone else's on your team. This simplifies things, but also makes the game to go stale so quickly.
The final mode of play involves being the seeker and chasing the snitch. This mode occurs when two bars at the top of the screen meet. They advance upon every score and combo pass, and when they finally touch your seeker plunges after the elusive golden snitch. Based on how many goals you scored in the previous portion of the game, you'll have a longer or shorter boost bar. "Boost' naturally corresponds to a button and makes you go faster. Also, the golden snitch exudes a golden trail, and if you stay in this trail then your boost meter refills, allowing you to maintain a high velocity.
Unfortunately, there are no brooms to buy (what's the point of a Nimbus 2000 if everyone has one?) nor spells to learn, leaving the gameplay pretty light. Due to the overpowered steals, you'll need to keep the ball in your hands as little as possible, so you combo-pass like mad and the fastest way to do this is to simply mash the combo pass buttons until your team juggles the ball down the field. It's just not very good.
Still, there are some nifty details here for well-read wizards. Most surprising, and most pleasing for the sentimental Potter fans, is the ability to play as Cedrick Diggory, the late seeker for Hufflepuff. Although Diggory got blasted by the business end of the deadly Avada Kadavra spell (I'm purposely spoiling it for all you suckers who only watch the movies), in QC he lives on, happily seeking snitches. Equally cool is the ability to play as Cho Chang or score goals with Angelina Johnson (a Griffindor Chaser), not to mention the fact that Madamme Hooch tosses up the Quaffle at the beginning of every match.
Graphically, QC is very well done on all three systems. The players resemble their movie counterparts, the colors are bright and the animation is sweet. Almost every moving object in the game has a brightly colored trail accompanying it, leading to some of the trippiest visuals this side of lysergic acid-diethylamide. On the down side, the seating towers are poorly textured and the backgrounds generally aren't that impressive.
The sounds are decent but not exceptional. While it's exciting that the announcer announces himself as Lee Jordan, he doesn't have nearly as much personality as I've imagined Lee having in the books. Both the music and his comments get very repetitive.
The multiplayer, sadly, is pretty weak. Since the game is a mash-fest, there isn't much to compete over. The snitch race provides some competition, but it's so simple that it's hard to feel good about winning or bad about losing.
In fact, Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup as a whole doesn't elicit many emotions. It surprises with its cool references and attention to detail, but loses a lot of luster in attempting to appeal to a wee audience. Still, if you love the books and just want to toss some quaffles as Draco Malfoy or Viktor Krum, then Quidditch World Cup will deliver a decent but brief good time.