I was bound to discuss Harry Potter at some point in this series, because from 2nd grade to the end of middle school, I was a Fan. I got presents of themed Harry Potter gift sets, with a Harry Potter version of UNO, and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans, which I still think is a great piece of branded merchandise with a built-in excuse to make some absolutely terrible jellybeans.
It started when I was 7, in second grade, as I mentioned. By that point, I was more comfortable with reading, and had spent a year out of school due to circumstance; when I did get back to school, we had moved, and the new school district was the one I’d follow until I eventually dropped out. But, being a small child who had been out of contact with kids my age for a year, and being averse to exercise after discovering the joy of video games and reading kids’ books as a hobby, I didn’t always want to run around with my new classmates at recess. My parents also realized I could probably read something a bit heftier than my current fare (a significant chunk of which were Goosebumps), and thus had given me a copy of Sorcerer’s Stone, which I ended up taking to school and the local youth club so I could read it when I didn’t want to be running around like a normal kid. So began my habit of reading way too much.
After my parents realized my fondness for the series, they apparently told my grandpa, who, wanting to foster the good habit, bought me the first four books. This, combined with Scholastic being the publisher for Harry Potter in the US alongside with the organizer of every book fair that my school ever saw, meant Harry Potter was everywhere in a significant part of my childhood. Then the movies happened! And with those movies, and the widespread desire to make money off the license, came the video games.
I mentioned before in this series that I’ve been using a computer since I was first aware of, like, written language, with my dad teaching me “go” as a command to launch an edutainment title. We always had a computer in the house, and my parents were the sort of people who used BBSes and will reminisce about the days when their 25mb hard drive was cutting-edge. This, combined with our slow adoption of more recent consoles, meant the version I got to play of both Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets was the PC one! They were, I later discovered, both built on the Unreal engine! This means, as continues to be true of a startling number of games, they’re built on infrastructure meant for, basically exclusively, Unreal Tournament. It’s fascinating to find out what variables you can screw with because of this.
But this revelation isn’t terribly surprising for the first Harry Potter games on PC, given how they’re basically very primitive shooters, intended to be played with the keyboard, that use the mechanics to provide a Zelda-like adventure game, dungeons and all.
This is more true of Chamber of Secrets, which is a more hearty game, and also can be played like a normal third-person shooter without much control fiddling. There are secrets, collectibles, crafting, Quidditch and dueling minigames, an optional area you unlock if you get all the collectibles, and a fairly open Hogwarts to explore and comb for extra jellybeans (the main currency). It’s genuinely a pretty fun game, and once in a while I get the urge to go back and play it. It’s one of those things that, upon actually revisiting after a decade, held up surprisingly well!
That’s why I decided to focus on just Chamber of Secrets instead of making individual posts for Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. Sorcerer’s Stone is both a lot more linear and segmented, and gives a more narrow view of what Harry’s life at Hogwarts is like. It’s also got a lot of really annoying one-off bits. Even just off the top of my head, you have to evade Filch and Mrs. Norris via Invisibility Cloak in an annoying stealth segment that freaked me the hell out as a kid, and you get to do the entire series of challenges guarding the Sorcerer’s Stone before dueling Voldemort at the end in a boss fight that mixes tank controls and an awkward camera angle very poorly. I only beat all of that as a kid with… cheats and the unerring determination that children are often full of.
Meanwhile, Chamber of Secrets is a lot more even, and the one I spent more time with by far, with a lot more uniquely interesting puzzles and, in my opinion, a better use of the format. A game would be a good way to convey some of the minutiae of Hogwarts life that are unnecessary for the novels or movies. Stuff like having to sneak around to steal the Polyjuice Potion ingredients, needing to get out as fast as possible when the Polyjuice Potion runs out and you’re still in the Slytherin dorms, or having Professor Snape teach you how to make health potions are more interesting than the completely dry pace that Sorcerer’s Stone takes from dungeon to dungeon.