- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2007

Here’s a look at a new addition to the world of Harry Potter: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, from Electronic Arts for Wii, rated E10+ for players 10 and older, $49.99.

J.K. Rowling’s famed young wizard returns to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his fifth year in a new film and his most advanced and interactive third-person game ever.

Harry finds himself in more danger as he assembles Dumbledore’s Army to prepare for the war with Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

Honed gamers may feel a bit unsure of themselves as they enter an open-ended world dictated by discoveries rather than the usual health and power meters, coin collections, and power distribution bars.

The player uses the extremely knowledgeable Marauders Map to plot courses for places in and around Hogwarts as determined by conversations with characters and the situations encountered. Once set, footprints lead Harry to his next micro-adventure.

As Harry, the player has Ron and Hermione by his side and will converse with an incredible cast of characters and a variety of enchanted paintings, many of which hang amid the beautifully designed moving staircases.

These paintings can be coerced (with a password) into opening up and offering shortcuts around the grounds.

Most exciting, any pop-culture geek who has held a “Wiimote” will be just giddy to know the motion-sensing controller is extensively used as a working wand. EA got it right as the game takes brilliant advantage of Nintendo’s motion-sensing system and allows the player to deliver a dozen spells, with occasional help from the system’s other controller, the “Nunchuck.”

That means simple maneuvers such as flipping a bulletin board with “acccio” (jerk the Wiimote up) or repairing a suit of armor with “reparo” (wave the Wiimote in a circular, clockwise motion) or moving a table into position with a rousing “wingardium leviosa” (pull up the Wiimote and Nunchuck together and use them to guide the object) are a true joy for the Potter fan.

Dueling is particularly rewarding with moves that include “stupefy” (stun an opponent), “protego” (deflect a cast spell) and “levicorpus” (lift an opponent) in the arsenal.

Moaning Myrtle has a surprisingly large and annoying presence in the game as every time Harry succeeds with his wand and missions to reach Discovery Point milestones, she pops in to remind him to visit the Room of Rewards to view unlocked production and behind-the-scenes videos with the film’s developers and stars.

The game will overwhelm with missions that sometimes offer few clues and ground that needs to be covered, but a respite can be found in a game from the book series. The player can choose to take part in rounds of Gobstones (a bit like marbles), Exploding Snap (a matching challenge) and most impressive, Wizard’s Chess, complete with pieces that destroy one another.

However, all is not perfect with the Potter video game world. Developers boast they used computer head scans of the actors, but the design and execution is still a mixed bag. The humans look a bit odd and Harry reminded me more of devilish Stephen Colbert than Daniel Radcliffe. Additionally, the story is so muggled — I mean muddled — amid the wand-waving chores, that non-Potter players will feel pretty lost.

Also, unlike previous Potter titles, there is no multiplayer option. EA needed to include a two-player wizard duel. A pair of players wielding the Wii remote and screaming “petrificus totalus” at one another would have made for some fine YouTube moments, and free publicity.

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