the Harry Potter the franchise is an enigma that the game just hasn’t quite solved yet. There have been many attempts over the years, with different developers and publishers dabbling in the book and movie series, with mostly mediocre results. We’ve seen terrible film adaptations, a decent take on the absurd sport of Quidditch, some good Lego titles, and one of the worst mobile games I’ve ever had the misfortune to “play”.
If any game had a chance of breaking the spell of mid or lower titles, it was Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Featuring the gameplay made world famous by Pokemon Go and injecting a healthy dose of Wizarding World into it seemed like a surefire bet. Turns out it’s not as good a combination as I would have hoped, and after almost a month of playing I’m about to give it all up.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite (Android [reviewed]iOS)
Publisher: Portkey Games
Released: June 21, 2019
MSRP: Free-to-Play with microtransactions
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is about the closest we can get to living out our Wizarding World fantasy in a video game. When you download the game, you create your Wizard ID, upload a photo of yourself, and take charge of collecting all the Foundables located in your region. To like Pokemon Go, this is not a game for couch potatoes. You need to get out there, breathe some fresh air, and really explore if you want to get the most out of it.
I started playing wizards unite right after moving to a new city and it has really done an exemplary job of introducing me to my new surroundings. The Union of Wizards uses many of the same points of interest for its cafes, fortresses and greenhouses that Pokemon Go used for its gyms and PokéStops. While playing during the cool evening periods, I discovered a great bakery, a bike shop, and what I suspect to be a meth house.
The key conceit of the game is that you hunt down Foundables, different items, creatures, and characters from the various Wizarding World films and books. A wizard known as Grim Fawley may be responsible for the event known as Calamity, so all wizards are encouraged to join the Status of Secrecy Task Force to find all Foundables and bring them back in their rightful place and time.
Retrieving a Foundable means selecting an icon on the map and fighting with whatever Confoundable keeps it from returning home. Fighting a Confoundable is as simple as drawing a line across the screen with your finger to cast a spell. Do a good job and you’ll have a better chance of freeing the Foundable. If it’s too strong, there are potions you can use to improve spell power. Findables you free are logged into your registry, though some require multiple encounters before they’re actually added. This can be as simple as releasing the same Foundable three times or, especially with rare event Foundables, repeating the process a dozen times.
It is clear that Niantic used Pokemon Go as a template for this game. Catching All These Foundables is similar enough to Catch All Pokemon that the formula is instantly recognizable to anyone who downloads wizards unite. But I don’t think it’s the best solution for Harry Potter franchise. It doesn’t make enough sense to work, and it completely lacks the novelty factor that other games continue to exploit to this day.
When most people imagine pokemon in the real world, chances are they imagine themselves as a trainer. It’s wish fulfillment Pokemon Go has effortless for it. It tapped into that shared imaginative experience that millions of gamers have dreamed of since the 90s with resounding success. wizards unite does not have such luxury. I don’t think when someone reads one of Harry Potter novels or seen movies, they imagined themselves as collectors of wizarding stamps, traveling around the city to collect pictures of different objects that they can put in a book. Pokemon Go did what he could to make you feel like a real trainer and while wizards unite does a decent job of giving players a sense of what it’s like to be a wizard or witch; the central conceit is so dull and uninteresting that it became increasingly difficult for me to start the game even at night, knowing that I would undoubtedly have to save Filch and Mrs. Norris from a bewitched ball and chain for the umpteenth time this week.
A compliment I will give Harry Potter: Wizards Unite does it create a somewhat unique arc for each player. With the professions system, you can choose between three skill trees – Aurora, Professor, or Magizoologist – that are unique enough to warrant choosing carefully which one to pursue. I went with the professor and found myself well suited for battles against dark wizards and creatures in strongholds, although I would have been more useful if I could literally find another person in my town playing this game .
Beyond that sense of individuality, I’m just not sold on what Niantic has created here. There are annoying little issues with storage, access to needed potion ingredients, and the wild inconsistency of how it rates my spell tracing, but the much bigger issue with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is its failure to use IP and technology in a way that is not only appealing but also distinct from other Niantic games. I have no doubt in my mind that there is a great Harry Potter AR game there. It’s just not that.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game downloaded from Google Play]