When you've created an entire virtual Hogwarts school, it makes sense that you'll want to get the most out of it, but in the case of EA's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it means the game is incredibly similar to the publisher's previous effort. Once again you'll be guiding Harry through the school (and the odd off-site area), conjuring spells, completing tasks and loosely following the plot of the latest film. It might be ideal for fans of the books and movies, but as a game it's severely limited in scope and at times quite dull.
If you aren't already aware of the plot we recommend you see the film or read the book before starting your virtual adventure with the game. The story here is pretty light and not all that easy to follow if you don't already have at least a basic idea of what's going on. The Death Eaters are causing mayhem in the Muggle and wizarding worlds, and school for wizards Hogwarts isn't the safe place it once was. There's a love story here too, although this is even harder to make sense of through the video game alone. The virtual actors can't convey emotions that well, so awkward glances here and there and some brief lines of dialogue will have to suffice as Harry and co attempt to woo the opposite sex.
While the setting is largely the same as before, new to The Half-Blood Prince is a focus on three activities: potion making, duelling and Quiditch. All of these have been seen in previous Potter games at some time, but here they've been fleshed out and take up far more of your time. Duelling doesn't feel all that different to how it played in the previous Potter title, but encounters in Half-Blood Prince are far more common and there's more depth to the attack and defence mechanics. The Wii game feels the most authentic whenever spells are involved, simply because you need to perform each action, but the gestures are misinterpreted from time to time.
The potion system is perhaps the most Potter-like sub-game on offer, working well as a fun diversion and as a faithful recreation of being a young wizard in training. Here you'll be tasked with making various potions for a variety of uses, and the mechanic is actually well designed - albeit a bit samey. In the Wii version you use the Wii Remote to pick up ingredients, then either drop them into the cauldron or pour them in by tilting the remote. Once the potion has turned the colour indicated on the screen you stop and then move on to the next step - which might be pouring in another ingredient or shaking the remote to heat it up. This is all done against the clock and you're given a score based on how well you did.
Quiditch is the third key game type, but sadly by far the weakest. Rather than really having to play a game of Quiditch you simply have to guide Harry through a series of gates. A commentator will give a play by play account of what's going on, but you'll still be doing very little. As you progress the gates become a little trickier to make, but as long as you're not weaving all over the place it's never too much of a challenge and victory should be possible even for novice gamers.
Hogwarts has been faithfully recreated, and as such will be a treat for Potter fans, but it's not exactly easy to navigate and there's no map in sight. When you're told to go somewhere you're going to be lost unless you happen to already know the ins and outs of the layout. Thankfully EA must have realised this as you can summon ghost Nearly Headless Nick, who will gladly guide you to your next objective. This is all well and good, but the game soon starts to feel incredibly linear, despite the large open school that can be explored without loading times. You're essentially led by the hand from one location to another, which might suit younger gamers, but will leave older fans a little bored.
It's probably no surprise to learn that Half-Blood Prince is a fairly short-lived experience. You'll be able to clock the single-player campaign in about five hours, leaving you with some collectables to hunt down (many require the more advanced spells) and a fairly rudimentary two-player duelling mode - duelling is decent fun during the main single-player game, but its lack of depth soon becomes apparent when you're playing against another real person.
With the full licence to the movie EA has been able to create an authentic looking and sounding game, complete with all the key characters in likeness and voice. The school is easily the star of the show, packed with detail and character, but it doesn't quite feel as alive as it did in Order of the Phoenix. Less impressive are the character models. Harry, Ron and Hermione all look close enough to be easily identified, but their faces are strangely soulless. Harry looks especially vacant, and somewhat scary on the game's pause menu. Few complaints can be levelled at the audio work though, with solid voice acting and the score you'd expect.
Young Harry Potter fans will likely play The Half-Blood Prince and have a good time. The game holds your hand throughout and does a good job at recreating Hogwarts, but anyone with any serious gaming experience will find the whole thing to be too simplistic and at times dull. There's little to no challenge present throughout the entire game, the story only makes sense if you already know the plot and there's a lack of things to do outside of the three main gameplay mechanics. Buy if you're a mega fan, but avoid if you like your games with even a tiny amount of depth.