We recently asked you Nintendo Life readers to rate your favourite Game Boy Color games, and as we’re preparing to publish the Top 50 results, we’re taking a look back at a handful of our favourite GBC games. Here, Kate remembers one particular handheld Harry adventure — the one where the Philosopher and the Sorcerer bickered about whose Stone it was…
There have been an awful lot of awful Harry Potter games, from the janky, physics-bending Chamber of Secrets (“Flipendo!!” will continue to haunt my nightmares) to the downright disappointing Xbox 360 and PS3 games. Considering the vast fortunes generated by franchise, it’s honestly wild that it’s apparently been so difficult for Warner Bros. to find a studio that can turn the massively-successful Wizarding World series into a half-decent game that captures the magic of the books.
Now, I don’t want to tar all the Harry Potter games with the same brush. The PS1 Potter game brought us Large Hagrid, who is brilliant, and the LEGO Harry Potter games are lovingly-made versions that don’t stick slavishly to the movies. Apparently, the PS2/GameCube Prisoner of Askaban is pretty good, too, although by that point I had been FLIPENDO-ed into never checking out another HP game until the LEGO ones.
But, shining like a raw diamond buried in dirt amongst all the mediocrity lies one of my favourite games of all time: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on Game Boy Color. Among the readers right now will be two groups of people: the first will be thinking, “ah, one of your favourite games? That’s nostalgia talking, lassie”. The second will be vigorously nodding their heads and weeping tears of joy in the knowledge that I am extremely right.
The story is not groundbreaking, because the story is roughly that of the first Harry Potter book — i.e. young lad gets forcibly taken from his abusive adoptive parents’ house and dumped in a boarding school full of weirdos, where he spends the year attempting to break all the rules in order to get one creepy teacher arrested. Of course, it turns out to be the wrong teacher, but he doesn’t get punished. Unless you count being sent back to his abusive adoptive parents’ house.
There are a few extra plot points, because it’s a video game book adaptation, so every now and again Harry will have to fight rats in the library, or subdue a bunch of angry mandrakes in the greenhouse, which is more than a normal ten-year-old has to deal with, but by and large the plot is pretty familiar.
[turn-based battles] fit so well with the Harry Potter theming that it’s weird to see that they kept trying to make the sequels into 3D platformers
But the battle mechanics, and how the spells are integrated into the game, are what elevate the GBC version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone above the rest. It takes its cues from Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, you see — a turn-based JRPG-style interpretation of the magical world.
Harry is equipped from the beginning with a basic wand and basic equipment, each of which will affect his stats. If he manages to collect enough money, he can buy new clothes and a better wand; if he levels up enough, he can learn new spells; if he uses spells often, he’ll learn more powerful versions of those spells. It’s a system we’re all extremely familiar with by now, I know, and even back then it wasn’t revolutionary, but it fit so well with the Harry Potter theming that it’s weird to see that they kept trying to make the sequels into 3D platformers. When did Harry ever do platforming in the books?
Turn-based combat was a brilliant way to portray the wizarding world, because it put the focus on the spells, even if most of the enemies were… random rats (which were apparently a huge problem in Hogwarts — way more than Voldemort). Seriously, there are so many rats in this game. But there are also stealth sections, collectibles, shortcuts, and mini-games, including a Quidditch Flappy Bird predecessor, and a Wingardium Leviosa memory game.
There was even an entirely optional part of the game where you could collect Famous Witches and Wizards cards, either by buying and consuming Chocolate Frogs, or by finding the cards in the Hogwarts grounds. These cards could be combined to make extra-powerful attacks, or they could just be… collected, much like Pokémon cards (well, not at the moment — the Pokémon card scene is pretty crazy right now). You could even trade with friends, if you had a Link Cable. And friends.
There were secrets, too! Some spells can only be learned in side-quests, or by doing things in a specific order; there were small deposits of coins, cards, clothing, healing items, and potion ingredients hidden all around the castle, as well. As someone whose favourite Pokémon activity is “using the Itemfinder”, it was all I’d ever wanted.
Book and movie tie-ins were notoriously… not great in those days. They were oftentimes rushed through to coincide with movie release dates, and likely didn’t have much creative control over the story, either. A lot of game studios just had to make do with what they had, so it wasn’t until the movies were already out that we got better versions, like the LEGO ones, that could take their time with development. But, for whatever reason, HP & The P Stone is just… really good. Even without the Potter label, it’s just a good game. It’s Final Fantasy, but about ten-year-olds. It’s Chrono Trigger without the “Chrono” bit. Dragon Quest, but no dr—
Okay, no, Harry Potter does have dragons. It’s just magic, okay?
Don’t forget you can rate your favourite Game Boy Color games and help us build our reader-ranked Top 50 GBC games, to be revealed soon. And if you want to lust over some lovely colour variants of the GBC hardware, feel free to let us know your favourite Game Boy Color hue, too.