Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
And so is the setup for the third chapter in J.K. Rowling's phenomenally successful Harry Potter franchise. Prisoner of Azkaban for GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox is based on the book and movie of the same name and it follows the plot points closely, Dementors and all. The game also adheres to the 3D adventure formula that helped make first the Eurocom co-developed Chamber of Secrets and then the Electronic Arts-created Sorcerer's Stone "Boy Wizard" games hits. If the design were a potion in Snape's class, the always-moody teacher might ask his students to mix a splash of Zelda-like play mechanics into a boiling pot of Harry Potter for the end result.
Prisoner of Azkaban seems to have all the right ingredients for a fun and entertaining adventure romp through Potter's universe. The potter license has been utilized in full. There is a wide range of spells to use against in enemies and to complete challenges. Potter, Ron and Hermione must make their way through a hefty plate of environmental puzzles, some of which are real brainteasers. Hedwig and Buckbeak are flyable characters in the game. And you can control Harry, Ron and Hermione together or separately depending on the situation or puzzle.
And yet, this game lacks polish. It feels sluggish and clumsy at points. And there are some notable artificial intelligence and collision detection glitches that will yank you out of the interactive universe altogether.
The Prisoner of Azkaban represents a dramatic turning point in the Potter franchise. It's with this book, movie and (now) videogame, that the kids really start to mature. It's also here that the storyline turns darker. The enemy becomes a real threat and there are evil things that go bump in the night. The game successfully capitalizes on this change by updating the look of the characters so that they appear to have grown and by focusing on a nasty key nemesis in the story: the Dementors. These dark, Wraith-inspired creatures are a persistent challenge in Prisoner of Azkaban, as we learn in the very beginning of the adventure. In an atmospheric cut-scene, the Dementors attack Harry as he rides aboard the Hogwart's Express and as his best friend Ron you must drag Potter's body safely away from the Dementors before they can suck his soul from him. It's an intriguing idea and simultaneously a clever way to introduce the multi-character system.