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Pop CultureApril 23, 2018

How to return to Hogwarts (on your phone)


The latest addition to the vast and sprawling Harry Potter canon is out, and it’s a mobile game. Alice Webb-Liddall heads to Hogwarts in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery.

Apart from a very out of character (hungover) day last weekend when I played Little Big Planet non-stop for 10 hours, I’m not much of a gamer. I get physical shoulder-straining anxiety playing any kind of shooting games and as a kid would spend two hours putting purple neons and floral decals on cars in Need for Speed that would never be raced.

Then Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery came out (at least in beta, it comes out ‘officially’ on Wednesday, as if official game release dates mean anything anymore) and I thought it might be different, as it’s available on iOS and Android and potentially distracting enough to entertain me on my train commutes. I was wrong. This game can’t be played for longer than 10 minutes at a time, and I’m so into it.

The Great Hall, where, in this game you eat a lot of sandwiches.

You begin the game by naming your character and then receiving a Hogwarts letter. Put in your own name for a hit of nostalgic excitement as a letter reading “Dear (YOUR NAME HERE), We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry” pops up on screen. Good start. My dreams have already come true.

Then you design your character from very limited options. You’ve basically got skin tone, eyes and hair to play around with. Once you’re somewhat satisfied with your look, the plot begins.

I can only assume certain characters are different depending on the gender you choose at the beginning, but the general gist is you’re a witch or wizard about to enter your first year at Hogwarts. Simple, apart from the fact your family name comes with a bit of baggage from your older brother who went a bit loopy a few years prior. You navigate the school, taking classes like potions, charms, and flying while also trying to figure out the mystery of your brother’s disappearance.

Tryna mount my broom faster than the girl next to me. Oh, it’s on Hufflepuff.

According to the game website, “Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is set prior to Harry Potter’s arrival at Hogwarts.” And, alas, at your sorting ceremony Albus Dumbledore says Harry Potter is alive and has been taken to his aunt and uncle’s house in Surrey – a nice bit of context for the player, placing us on a timeline in the Potter universe. Harry was aged one when this happened in the story, so we can assume our character is around 1o years older than the famed wizard we all know and love.

Playing Hogwarts Mystery is essentially just tapping buttons to fill up ‘energy meters’ that improve your skills. That’s it. Once you run out of ‘energy’ you have to wait four minutes for another one. And you need an energy level of at least 15 to complete a task.

So the game actually made me put my phone down, since I used up my energy so frequently that I was basically forced to take regular breaks. There’s nothing else to do. Once you’ve mounted your broom or learnt the perfect swish and flick you’ve run out of energy and have to wait another hour or so to get enough back to complete the next lesson.

Yeah I’m top of the class, who are you?

For more focused gamers, I suspect Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery will be a bit frustrating, but given my horrendous attention span it was perfect for me.

It has all your favourite teachers, cartoonified and blocky; great depictions of the famous castle rooms; and a few ‘choose your own fate’ type dialogues where you can craft your character. It’s the kind of game you can leave for a few days and chip away at slowly without pressure.

It’s free to download so really you’ve got nothing to lose. There’s something vaguely mindful about wandering around on the grounds of a sprawling Scottish castle, and for the many who waited in lines for the next instalments of the Harry Potter story beginning over 20 years ago, it may provide a taste of the Hogwarts experience they’ve long desired.

There are hundreds of games that run with the same premise: you have energy and do tasks and follow a set plot. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery adds a sense of nostalgia to this template. People who love J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world may find joy in exploring the castle and unlocking their own mystery, but, much like the franchise’s website, Pottermore, the game may not have a whole lot of lasting power.

It’ll be huge, just like everything related to the Harry Potter franchise. For the first month or so it will top charts, but the format is nothing too special, so I’m expecting a slow fade out after that.

Once the hype for Hogwarts Mystery is dead, the books and movies will still exist. And those are definitely still amazing, after all this time.

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