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Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Kids will love this game and adults will have fun if only the bugs could be removed with a quick Flipendo spell
Kids will love this game and adults will have fun if only the bugs could be removed with a quick Flipendo spell

Mac gamers missed out over Christmas when the PC and PlayStation versions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone were released. The Mac version is finally here and, while differing from the two PlayStation games, it's identical to the PC version.

For Harry Potter fans, the game stays fairly true to the plot of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. (The game takes the title of the US edition of the book.) The adventure begins after Harry's arrival at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The Sorting Hat has just announced that Harry will be in Gryffindor House, and he has to make his way to his first lesson. As Harry, you attend lessons to learn the magic spells, such as Alohomora to unlock doors and chests, and Wingardium Leviosa to levitate objects.

After learning a spell, you practise on an assault course. The actions are all initiated through Harry's Wand: you point the Wand at an object and click the mouse. The Wand casts the right spell and Harry yells 'Flipendo' or whichever spell is appropriate.

You spend much of the game running around, jumping on blocks, shouting magic incantations and trying to earn Gryffindor House the most points so it can win the House Cup. As the plot thickens, you'll find yourself investigating the mysterious goings-on and coming face to face with You-Know-Who. You can also collect the Famous Witches and Wizards Cards and Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans, aided by the surprise appearances of twin menaces Fred and George Weasley.

Troll for one
The game could become repetitive if not for the different challenges. There are fights in the lavatory with the troll, a brutal chess match, some tricky flute-playing to send Fluffy the three-headed dog to sleep, and a midnight sneak past Filch and Mrs Norris. The one-on-one battles with Peeves and Harry's nemesis Draco Malfoy are unusual, as Harry's movement is annoyingly restricted to the arrow buttons, making it easier for children to fight the foes.

The game is sensitive to its young audience. Harry has a lightning bolt stamina indicator, and when that reaches the bottom Harry faints - he never dies (although just how someone can plummet to the bottom of a chasm and just faint stretches the imagination more than a nearly headless ghost). Luckily, there are chocolate frogs lying around to boost Harry's energy level.

After Harry faints, the game picks up from the last saved point. You can only save the game at a save point, which is irritating as you have to go back and repeat all your hard work.

The controls are simple and use a mixture of arrow keys and mouse movement, plus an additional two keys for when you're flying a broomstick. Younger players can also choose Auto Jump from the Option menu, which does all the tricky jumping for you. For adults, though, the game is entertaining, but not that difficult - we managed to finish it in around six hours.

Don't despair, though: the Quidditch Matches make up for any shortcomings. A great feature of the game is that you can play Quidditch matches independently by choosing the option on the main menu, after which you're entered into a Quidditch Championship with the other three houses. This option only becomes available after you've unlocked this feature in the game.

Flying a broomstick isn't as easy as it looks. The Option menu has a checkbox to Invert Broomstick, which basically means you go up when you press the down key, and visa versa. Don't attempt flying a broomstick without first inverting: it leads to bruises and fainting.

Cloak and dagger
The Quidditch match looks superb, but most of the graphics are average. They're only impressive in a few places, such as when Harry is wearing the invisibility cloak, or the 360� camera sweep when he picks up the Wizards Cards. The music, however, is atmospheric and similar to that in the film.

Unfortunately, the game has a few glitches. Between the different levels is a page telling you the aims of the level, for example, go to your herbology class or find two Wizards Cards. This page only appeared once when we started the game and was replaced by a black screen. If we quit the game and restarted it, the page briefly emerged. This was extremely frustrating, as the Cards are quite difficult to find. There were also visual glitches on the spellcasting levels, and Harry's glasses occasionally disappeared.

Kids will love this game and adults will have fun chasing the Golden Snitch on their Nimbus 2000. If only the bugs could be removed with a quick Flipendo spell.

NEEDS: Mac OS 8.6 or higher, PowerPC 300MHz or higher, 96Mb RAM, ATI RAGE 128 graphics card or better

// Overview
Uppers
  Imaginative and faithful adaptation of the book
  Easy controls
  Child-friendly options
Downers
  Mediocre graphics
  Occasional glitches
// Interactive
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