Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Posted by Robert Michaud.
First posted on 01 June 2003. Last updated on 11 August 2009.
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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
The new economy system ensures that none of the beans goes to waste.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
A reward for scoring house points is access to the bean room.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
The graphics for Harry's spells are a delight to watch.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Some areas are inaccessible until Harry learns the correct spell.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
The multiple health bars are not just for show but essential for surviving combats.

Some may argue that anything to do with Harry Potter needs no introduction. JK Rowling's Harry Potter series is among the best selling fiction books in the world—for both children and adults—and has spawned several hit movies. The first game, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, is faithful to Rowling's work and a joy to play. The second game, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, while offering an enhanced version of basically the same game but with a different plot, is no different.

For the few who are not familiar with the history of Harry Potter, here is a capsule summary. Harry Potter is a young orphan living with his aunt, uncle, and bratty cousin. He is told that his parents have died in a car accident long ago and he is sent to live with his only living relatives. Then, on his 13th birthday, he is invited to attend the Hogwarts School of Magic. It is there Harry discovers that his parents are wizards and they actually have been killed by an evil wizard by the name of Voldemort. Voldemort, unable to kill Harry at the time, has destroyed himself in the process. The only souvenir of this encounter is a lightning bolt shaped scar Harry now spots on his forehead.

The second game in the Harry Potter series takes place in Harry's second year at Hogwarts. Someone is paralyzing the Mudbloods (so named because they wizards with human ancestry), and everyone is wondering about the location of the Chamber of Secrets. It Is now up to Harry and his friends to find the chamber and uncover the mystery of the heir of Slytherin.

The great thing about the Harry Potter series is that, in a sense, it grows up with its readers. Each book in the series deals with another year at Hogwarts with a slightly older Harry, and as such, each book is slightly more mature, and scary, in the way it deals with its themes. The games, which are based on these books, seem to follow the same path. This game is still meant for younger children, but rather than sugarcoating the story to take out elements of fear that are in the book and movie (a problem I have with the first game), the story in this sequel follows the book very closely. This is a wise move on the developer's part, as you no longer need to know the story ahead to follow the game.

As with the first game, the graphics are a mixed bag. The characters are texture mapped to look like the characters in the movie, and the mapping is done wonderfully. The problem is that the characters are rendered in such low resolution that it seems wasted. It is like putting makeup on a dog—great makeup job, but it is still on a dog.

On the plus side, the environment and enemy graphics have greatly improved in the sequel. The designers have gone to great lengths to provide a larger, more interactive environment to play with, and it does wonders to keep the game from becoming repetitive. Each level has a distinct theme, and each new enemy that is introduced looks better and better. Moreover, Hogwarts is finally the size I have imagined from the books, so large that a map is included on the menu screen so you do not get lost (by the way, you still may).

The sound is well done and a nice fit for the environments. Character voices are all well matched to their respective characters and are well acted. As with the previous game, the only downside is Harry's repeated yelling of the spell name that he is casting. This is great in the beginning and really draws you into the game. However, by the 50th "Alohomora", you may want to turn down the sound.

Let us get this fact out of the way first—this is an action/adventure game, and way over to the action side of the equation. If you are an old school adventure game fan and cannot stand jumping puzzles, then this is not the game for you. On the other hand, if you do not mind a little hybrid action/adventure here and there, then you are right at home with this sequel.

This game, like the original, follows a fairly set pattern. You watch a cut scene to move the story along, learn a spell, and then work through a level pertaining to the spell or cut scene. In between sections you are free to roam Hogwarts looking for secret areas or redoing challenges, a place where the game really earns its replayability.

The developer seems to have really worked hard at fixing the problems in the first game, because the improvements in the sequel are numerous. A particular annoyance with the first game is the console style saving, such that it requires you to replay sections over and over sometimes until you get them correct. The problem is that if you save the game with low health, then you have to replay sections over and over with very low health and a greatly diminished chance of success. Here, the developer has remedied this problem in a few different ways. The first is the addition of multiple save areas. In the first game, trying to find a place to save outside of a challenge is difficult and tedious. Now, save locations are scattered throughout the school to make saving much easier. The second is the ability to gain up to 5 health bars as opposed to the 1 bar present in the first game. This is done through the collecting of Bronze Wizard Cards hidden throughout the game and for sale from some of the students. For every 10 Bronze Wizard Cards you collect, Harry gains another bar. This makes hunting for secret areas even more important than in the first game, as going up against some of the later enemies with only 1 or 2 bars is an exercise in futility. The third is the hunt for Wizard Cards. This is the gameplay element that has kept me coming back to the first game over and over, and just when I think that I have gotten over my card addiction, the developer has added two more kinds in this sequel. That is right! There are now 3 types of Wizard Cards to hunt down over the course of your adventure. The bronze cards boost your health bars. The silver cards gain you keys to a secret room that contains the gold cards. I do not want spoil the surprise behind the gold cards, but rest assured that they are well worth the work to collect. The last is the ability to create healing potions from items found around the school, in challenges, and sold by students. Wiggentree Bark and Flobberworm Mucous, both are less disgusting than they sound, can be combined in kettles located around the school into potions that can be stored and used to heal nearly a bar full of health. These are essential later in the game, so be sure to stock up and use them wisely.

Another improvement that eases the game and makes replay a blast is the economy system. In the first game, Harry collects beans to trade to Fred and George for Wizard Cards, but the beans are never really put to good use beyond this. By the end of the first game, I have around 300 beans that are doing me no good. In this game, beans can be traded for everything from Quidditch armor that can absorb hits on the field, to faster brooms, to healing potion elements, to even more Wizard Cards. In addition, challenges now take on a much more important role, as challenge points become house points, which can lead to a trip to the bean room, an area filled with thousands of beans waiting to be snatched up before the timer runs out.

Action sequences consist of dispatching enemies with spells while jumping platforms looking for gold challenge stars. Challenges can be repeated for more points, so players can head through looking for secrets first, and then replay the challenge to beat their time and gain points. If you are not an action gamer, these areas can present a rather difficult challenge. By turning on the autojump feature, however, they become much easier to deal with. Quidditch is still very hit and miss in this game. Some people may love the way it is implemented, but I am still waiting for a standalone Quidditch game rather than in the arcade like mini game format that they have here.

There are quite a few highs in this sequel, more than I expect coming into the game. The environments have improved tremendously and the implementation of a different system of Wizard Cards has kept me coming back to this game for a while. A nice addition to the Wizard Cards is the new wizard dueling matches, in which Harry faces off against other students to test their spells against each other. Not as much fun as it may sound, but it is still enjoyable here and there. While there are a few lows in the game, they are not enough to keep me from recommending this game to others. If you are looking for a straightforward Quidditch game, then look elsewhere. The console saving feature is still a drag, though much better in this than the first game. As with the previous title, the character acting needs work.

If you have not played the first game in the Harry Potter series, then this sequel is well worth your time and money. If you have played it, then you may some difficulty getting over the repetitiveness of the series. Even with the new features, there is still a definite "been there, done that" feel to this sequel. Despite these reservations, I can easily recommend the game for its excellent replay value. In other words, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a great action/adventure for kids of all ages and even adults who just want to lose themselves for a while.

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