- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by Electronic Arts for PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox, rated E: content suitable for ages 6 and older, $39.99. As video games attempt to merge with cinema, they also have increased their compatibility with cutting-edge peripherals and other entertainment systems.

A perfect example can be found in the latest 3-D adventure game that allows one player to control some of author J.K. Rowling’s most memorable witches and wizards while enjoying some slick bonuses depending on the entertainment console used.

Through an on-screen team effort, the player can control or get assistance from Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger while working through typical days at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry — which always involve atypical happenings.

In what I consider an extended version of the latest Harry Potter movie, the title takes the player through all of the crucial parts of the storyline while adding a remarkable amount of background action and exploration.

Challenges include controlling Ron and dragging Harry away from the grips of a dementor while trying to track down Scabbers the rat on the Hogwarts Express, and getting Harry to learn to control the hippogriff Buckbeak and then honing his flight skills by soaring around the magical lands. Ron also gets the chance to save Neville Longbottom from a ghoul by using a wand-lighting charm to trap the creature in a cage.

The title nicely prods the player on where to explore as his mates scream clues while mixing in puzzles, spell acquisition, plenty of creature battles and wand duels with members of nasty Slytherin house.

For example, after Hermione successfully acquires a freezing spell, she uses it to create blocks of ice to act as weights to open doors or to freeze waterfalls for climbing. Her famous repairing spell, often used to fix Harry’s glasses, works well when trying to build boxes to climb on or to reassemble a broken bridge.

Characters also can talk to one another; work in tandem on solving problems; and collect Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, potions and trading cards to enhance powers.

I found the overall action a perfect fit for the younger gamer entranced with Harry Potter as well as for the older player looking to conquer a video game.

PlayStation 2 owners who also spent the money on the EyeToy ($49.99), a small video camera connected to the console that incorporates the player into onscreen games, will be rewarded with six challenges.

Simply adjust the camera to frame the torso of the player, and he or she can de-gnome Hagrid’s garden by pushing the pests off screen, smash gobstones, splat dungbombs and even catch the golden snitch.

Nintendo GameCube owners who also have a Game Boy Advance can attach the handheld system to the console and download a virtual owl. Once it is trained, the pet can be uploaded to take part in races.

The player must first acquire an owl-care kit (purchased in Fred and George’s shop) during the GameCube action. Then, move the owl over to the GBA to feed, clean, groom and teach him before the potential champion takes part in races.

‘Shrek’ tech

William Steig’s green ogre, star of the animated blockbuster “Shrek 2,” has invaded Burger King and unloaded a clever group of interactive toys to accompany Burger King’s children’s meal. The days when a simple action figure or stuffed mini-toy were thrown into a colorful bag with fries and a hamburger are long gone, thanks to the fast-food giant’s marketing creativity.

Kiddies now will find items such as a mini LCD video game in which children maneuver Shrek’s head back and forth onscreen to gobble up flies; the Once Upon a Time Donkey LCD clock that keeps time and the date and can act as a stopwatch; and a tiny refrigerator that uses bar-code technology to read a couple of cards that offer a few audio clips of the famous Gingerbread Man.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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