Memory Card: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

I remember the first time I played Harry Potter on PC. I was six. I managed to get as far as halfway through the Flipendo challenge, when I fell into a bottomless pit, got scared, and hassled dad into finishing the game for me.

He got as far as Fluffy, and then gave up.

Years passed. I spent most of my allocated one hour of computer games (per day) playing Age of Empires II, but I’d occasionally dig out Harry Potter to play up to Fluffy’s level – and then give up. A few summers back, I rustled up the first three games for PC and made a concerted effort to 100% complete them. Which I did. And yes, I do consider this to be my biggest achievement in gaming ever.

As I boot up the game and start a new save, the familiar and enchanting music is played over an introductory narration of Harry and Hogwarts. Jumping and climbing are explained to me in a tutorial, but I could already recite what Fred and George would say. “Talk to Fred, he’s the one with the Wizard Card.” See?

Speaking of Wizard Cards, they are a particular sticking point for players of this game. To obtain the secret Wizard Card, you must get all the other cards, collect 250 Bertie Botts’ Every Flavour Beans, and defeat Lord Voldemort. Problem is, you only get one chance to find a Wizard Card, as locations are rarely revisited and are never persistent. If you miss one out because you didn’t think to check that slightly misaligned wall, then you have to start all over again for that 100%.

Other petty niggles start to mount up. You can’t skip tutorial cutscenes (a change later implemented in HP II), you can’t move while casting spells (so gnomes can bite you while trying to use the unwieldy aiming), and you can only do the flying sections once (which are an absolute highlight of the game).

On the whole, though, I still enjoyed it. Partly because I’m wearing nostalgia blinkers the size of Kanye West’s ego, but also because it’s almost completely unique – not counting the sequels. There’s also an undeniable charm to it. The music for the game really captures the magic of Hogwarts, and the voice acting is pretty good. The characters animate like poorly assembled LEGO figurines, but I also used to have Harry Potter LEGO, so I’m snacking on double nostalgia.

I am now going to spoil the ending of the game, which I do with no shame as it has been out for fifteen years now. Fred and George are collecting all those beans so that they can pretty much drown Professor Snape in them, which was much funnier before JK Rowling wrote The Deathly Hallows. And that secret Wizard Card? It’s one of Harry Potter himself, presented by Ron to Harry during the narration sequence at the end of the game.

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