First Impressions: Score one for the muggles?
J.K Rowling as an author has done many things in one book series that many authors don't do in their entire careers. As you probably know, J.K Rowling is the woman behind the fantastic Harry Potter series, which other than capturing millions of children's (and adults) imaginations the world over has also raked in millions for J.K Rowling and her publisher. And why not? The books are great examples of believable characters and superb writing woven around a premise that is as original as it is engaging.
Due to the popularity of the books Harry Potter fans recently have been bombarded by tons of products that were obviously created to grab a few more dollars out of your wallet in the name of the Harry Potter craze. Though some offspring of this Harry Potter mania, namely the movie adaptations, have done a good job at presenting the Harry Potter universe to new people much of the Harry Potter product line has "cash-in" written all over it. Products such as Harry Potter action figures, trading cards, and candy were obviously made for no other reason than to grab some cash, and as such some truly mediocre stuff has spoiled the Harry Potter name.
So, with this in mind, I was admittedly a bit apprehensive when I heard that Electronic Arts was planning to release a sports game based on the Harry Potter universe entitled Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup. Though the idea of a sports game coming out of a fantasy series may seem a bit ludicrous at first, once you know more about the Harry Potter books it becomes clear that QWC isn't going to be the equivalent of Lord of The Rings: Xtreme Beach Volleyball.
You see, in the Harry Potter books Harry and his wizard friends don't really care about Baseball, Soccer, or other popular muggle sports. The big sport in Harry Potter's world is a game called Quidditch. Quidditch is a lot like Hockey or Soccer, in that two teams try to put something into a goal for a certain point value (that something in Quidditch being a flying ball called a "Quaffle" and that certain point value being ten points). Unlike soccer and hockey though Quidditch has some twists. For one, Quidditch isn't played on the ground. It's played in the air, with each player flying around on flying broomsticks, and there are three goals for each team to keep track of instead of just one. Also, the Quaffle isn't the only ball out there; as there are three others that players need to worry about. Two of these balls are called Bludgers, large black balls that fly around and try to knock players off their brooms. The other ball is called the Golden Snitch, and unlike the Bludgers and the Quaffle it's not easy to find. Though a creamy white color with gold wings, the Golden Snitch is only about the size of a golf ball. In addition to being smaller than the other balls on the field, The Golden Snitch also isn't always on the field, as it only pops out to make an appearance when it pleases.
To tame the Bludgers, Quaffle, and Golden Snitch you will need to use every last person on your team. Like in other sports though, Quidditch players are designated to certain positions that have certain responsibilities. The three Chasers and the one Keeper have the most traditional roles to play, with the Chasers job being to get the Quaffle through one of the opposing team's hoops and the Keeper's job being to keep Quaffles from going into those hoops. The more untraditional positions that can be found in the game of Quidditch are those of the Seekers and Beaters. The Beaters job is to protect the rest of the team from oncoming Bludgers, and the Seekers job is to look for the Golden Snitch and try to snatch it up, thus ensuring that the game ends and their team is awarded 150 points.
Given the game's similarity to many really world sports it shouldn't come as a surprise that someone out there came up with the idea of making a game based on Quidditch, and what could be better than that person coming from EA, the greatest video game sports publisher that ever existed?
So, now that we're done with that long introduction (don't you whine, it took me longer to write out than it took you to read), let's get into why QWC is actually worthy of some attention from the gaming public.
For one thing, the way that EA has designed the game looks pretty interesting. Playing as one of the houses in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, you will guide your team to victories against the other houses until you win the House cup. From there, you move toward The International World Cup Tournament, a tournament much like the one held for the soccer World Cup, with teams from countries such as the USA, Bulgaria, Australia, Japan, England, Germany, and France. Each country sports their own unique team of players (some pulled right out of the books), stadiums, logos, and their own unique style of play.
Progressing through this tournament though is going to take a lot more than just wins. In order to beat the team that's above you in the leader board you not only have to win the match, but you also have to win the match by a certain number of points. This implements some strategy into the game, as you may not want to grab that Golden Snitch and end the game when you only have 30 points on the scoreboard and you need to win by 200. Also, by progressing up through the rankings you will be rewarded with Quidditch cards. Much like the cards you win in many of EA's other sports games, Quidditch cards will unlock things within the game that are sure to please Harry Potter fans and those who just want to win the next match with a cheat on their side.
This all sounds well and good but none of it really matters if the actual gameplay isn't anything, where EA tends to fail at times because they focused too much on making their game modes deeper (see NHL 2004). Fortunately though it seems that EA's working hard in this department as well. The game at this point plays quite like many hockey and soccer games, with players focusing on passing the Quaffle briskly and quickly before they make the score. Of course, since Quidditch is a much more complicated game than those sports, the game is far more complex which should mean a deeper gaming experience.
Of course, that could also be one of the game's cons as well, as the question arises - how well will Quidditch translate to a videogame? Many sports developers have their difficulties creating good hockey games, spending immeasurable amounts of time on passing mechanics and collision control, so how well will EA's development studios do when they have to deal with players searching for Golden Snitches, flying Bludgers, and of course, that small little detail that the players are FLYING. It almost sounds like a recipe for disaster, but if there is anyone who can handle the challenge it's EA. Remember, these are the guys who made the gigantic world of Middle Earth into a fun game, so I think they deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Besides the Quidditch gameplay and the frills that go with it the game also is sporting some fine looking animations at this point, and some decent looking stadium models to go with it. Little is known so far about the game's audio, or whether or not the actual child actors from the movie will be doing voice-overs for the game. If I'd have to make a guess though I'd say there's little chance, seeing that EA didn't bother to have the kids work on previous, more story-driven Harry Potter games, so it seems really unlikely that they'd spend the money to get Harry to voice a few grunts for a sports title.
Some people have voiced some displeasure with early builds of Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup. In the words of many a religious man and Cubs fans though, "ye have little faith." Though the game maybe displaying some flaws right now that definitely need to be addressed before the game's release fall release date, EA isn't dumb enough to release anything that bears the name of their most coveted license that'll have us screaming, "Oh my God, it's worse than Angel of Darkness!" So trust me, have some faith and if the game does turn out to be a stinking pile of poo' then, well...I hear the books are pretty good.