Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Wizarding fun has lost its spark
Forgive the pun but my introduction to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on the Playstation as a kid was a magical experience. My brother and I unwrapped it on Christmas Day in 2001, our parents clearly having noticed how quietly and peacefully we had shared Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. Oddly.
The gameplay could be frustrating and you would often spend unreasonable amounts of time trying to complete seemingly simple tasks (f*** you and your golden hoops Madame Hooch). It was full of horrible points at which you couldn’t find the one specific door that would move the storyline forward and, as such, you would spend hours revisiting the same locations and NPCs wondering what the hell you were missing. I remember closing my eyes at night and still seeing the back of the character running around the world
“The game felt imaginative and full of surprised with its own expansion on the world”
The narrative of the game took great liberties from the original story which meant that, rather than predictably rehashing familiar plotlines, the game felt imaginative and full of surprises with its own expansion on the world. Elements that the films fully or partially omitted, such as Peeves the Poltergeist, were refreshed and reintroduced in the games, giving them a new lease of life. This meant that those who were already familiar with the universe could still enjoy a level of discovery in the gameplay.
However, these departures from the linear plotline did occasionally feel jarring and contrived. We spent far too long searching through an underground maze of dungeons looking for a student’s kitten and, for some reason, ended up in Ollivander’s Wand Shop waddling after a peacock. Many of the small, isolated tasks had little relevance to the larger scope of the magical world and this soon clogged the originally dynamic and pacey gameplay.
That being said, I loved the game as a child which makes watching playthroughs now a strange experience. The graphics, by today’s standards, are revolting and the depictions of the human characters look almost deliberately insulting, with their sad soulless eyes and angular heads. However, back then I didn’t bat an eyelid and certainly didn’t consider the pacing of the plot, I was simply immersed in the storyline. It is only in adulthood, having experienced games that were created as passionate labours of love, that I see the game as a transparent attempt to further capitalise on an already lucrative franchise.
“The graphics, by today’s standards, are revolting and the depictions of the human characters look almost deliberately insulting”
The reality is that a game like this was never going to age as well as a cutesy platformer, for example, and as such it isn’t fair to expect the same kind of retro acclaim that other nineties and noughties games have achieved. However, it didn’t really need to. The Harry Potter franchise is a money making juggernaut and fans have never had to rely on nostalgia with new content released so regularly. There are regular and Lego games for each individual book, in addition to a mobile game and, of course, the ongoing Fantastic Beasts prequels. It’s great to be able to experience Harry Potter games that feel modern but, at the same time, the approach gives each incarnation a distinctly throwaway feel.
Before writing this article I watched a playthrough of the original game and initially felt a little sad at the realisation that something I had loved so much as a child was actually mediocre. I had hoped that the experience would inspire a longing to rush out and buy a Playstation and experience the game all over again but, instead, I now feel as though those memories should stay in 2001, where they belong.
I have since found myself feeling vaguely fond of how much fun I’d had all those years ago and after showing my brother how dreadful Hagrid looked, his blocky brown and cream frame more closely resembling a crushed Magnum, we laughed about it and went to play the Lego version of the game instead
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