Next up in our Harry Potter review series is the GameCube version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. As you may recall from my last review, Chamber of Secrets released alongside the movie on November 5, 2002, while the GameCube version of Philosopher's Stone was a late release in December 2003.
That's not the only difference between these two games. While "Stone" was developed by the inexperienced Warthog Studios, "Chamber" was made by the dearly departed Eurocom, who for almost 25 years built a sterling reputation for making high-quality licensed games and other spinoffs. The difference in development quality is immediately noticeable; while Chamber of Secrets is not exactly Eurocom's best game, it does a much better job at capturing the magic of J.K. Rowling's wizarding world than its 2003 prequel.
Much like the Philosopher's Stone game, Chamber of Secrets follows the bare-bones story structure from the book. Harry and Ron miss the train to Hogwarts, then learn that students are being attacked by a monster that lives in the Chamber of Secrets, built by the school's co-founder Salazar Slytherin so his heir may purge Hogwarts of those without pure-blooded magical ancestry. Harry accidentally talks to a snake in front of his class, which makes him the prime suspect for the attacks. It's revealed that the Chamber's monster is a basilisk, an ancient snake that can kill with its deadly gaze, and then Ron's sister Ginny is kidnapped and taken to the Chamber. The Heir of Slytherin turns out to be the memory of a young Lord Voldemort housed in a diary, and Harry kills the basilisk and destroys the diary. The end.
Many of the changes made to the story are clearly pragmatic in nature, meant to speed up the game's development time. Several minor characters are cut so the developers wouldn't have to make unique character models for such brief appearances. For example, Lucius Malfoy is responsible for both arresting Hagrid and firing Dumbledore, which removes Cornelius Fudge; while Ernie Macmillan, Colin Creevey, and Justin Finch-Fletchley are cut, leaving Nearly Headless Nick, Ginny, and Hermione as the only ones attacked by the basilisk. Dobby the house-elf is also cut, despite being much more crucial to the story. With no Dobby, there's no rogue Bludger in the Quidditch match, and instead of Dobby sealing the entrance to Platform 9 3/4, there's an admittedly hilarious scene where Lockhart talks to Harry at Flourish and Blotts for so long that Harry and Ron end up missing the train.
Additionally, since the developers never programmed pathfinding for NPCs to follow the player, Ron and Hermione always run ahead of Harry to meet up with him in class. This programming decision also results in a crucial story change: no tag-along NPCs means that Ron and Professor Lockhart do not accompany Harry to the Chamber of Secrets, which means Ron doesn't break his wand in the Forbidden Forest at the beginning.
That being said, some of the changes are genuinely clever and a good way to get the player more personally involved in the story. For instance, rather than learning about the legend of the Chamber of Secrets in a classroom like in the book, Harry sneaks into the Restricted Section of the library, retrieving an uncensored textbook on Hogwarts history that includes a passage about the creation of the Chamber. Even if the actual level is pretty dreadful, I appreciate the efforts Eurocom took change some of the exposition from the book and turn them into video game-style objectives.
Chamber of Secrets' graphics are nothing to write home about. The designs are cartoonish, but comprehensible, and there are no problems distinguishing interactive objects from backgrounds. The game has a much better framerate than Philosopher's Stone, though there are still some occasional hiccups. In addition, the open world from Stone is split into small sections when travelling on foot, and while the entirety of Hogwarts can be explored by broom, it is not possible to dismount except just outside the main entrance.
Jeremy Soule, who composed the music for the first four Harry Potter games, does a great imitation of John Williams' work while being legally distinct from it. This version of Chamber makes versatile use of what could be called the Potter game equivalent to Hedwig's Theme, which among other locations plays in the Gryffindor common room, while exploring Hogwarts in daytime, and when travelling to classes. While the music is great, some of the dynamic transitions between songs can be a bit clunky.
Chamber of Secrets was the first game in the Harry Potter series to use a gameplay formula similar to The Legend of Zelda, and while it's far from perfect, "Chamber" does a much better job imitating Zelda than Philosopher's Stone. Much like in Stone, classes are treated as dungeons, complete with the requisite "solve puzzle, collect item, fight boss that tests proficiency in skill with item" design. There are also dungeons outside of classes, such as the Forbidden Forest and the Restricted Section.
Collectible wizard cards act as heart pieces, and every ten cards will increase Harry's health bar. Like most Potter games, Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans are used as a currency, and Harry can buy special wizard cards or upgrades to other items from a shop run by the Weasley twins. Thankfully, beans are much easier to come by in Chamber than Stone thanks to an extra minigame when exploring Hogwarts, where flying through coloured rings rewards Harry with extra beans.
The magic system is fairly straightforward. Players assign each spell to a face button, which can be pressed or held for extra power. Some spells, like Alohamora, Diffindo, and Incendio, work as they do in the books. Others are modified, such as Lumos, which not only creates a light but illuminates secret doors and passages. Expelliarmus, meanwhile, has been completely changed, and is now a deflector spell reminiscent of Protego from the later books. "Chamber" also has some spells exclusive to the games, such as the standard Knockback Jinx Flipendo, the ectoplasm-removing Skurge, and the Transfiguration spell Avifors.
Harry controls much more fluidly in Chamber than in Stone. His spell-casting animations are quick and unobtrustive, and he can actually power up spells while running, which is very useful. Flying also feels a tad more precise, though the minigame for catching the Golden Snitch in Quidditch matches takes a little getting used to.
My main issues with Chamber are with the camera and some aspects of level design. While not as bad as Stone, the camera still has a tendency to face the door when entering a new room, and lock-on targeting is similarly problematic. There are also several sections with fixed camera angles or limited camera movement, which makes the brief stealth sections much more frustrating than they ought to be.
Two levels in particular were quite irksome. First, the Avifors spell challenge, which includes invincible ghosts that damage Harry on contact. This wouldn't be an issue, except the level also has several narrow walkways with guard rails, and other areas where Harry must sidle along a wall. During these sections, if a ghost decides to attack Harry, there is no way to dodge or block their attacks. I died several times because a ghost just decided to come after Harry while I was stuck on a walkway with no room to move.
The other, far more egregious level is a single jumping puzzle in the otherwise inoffensive Restricted Section level. After defeating an evil bookcase, the player pushes a box over to another bookshelf and must jump from bookshelf to bookshelf so Harry can obtain the Skurge spell. This jumping puzzle should realistically take about 30-45 seconds. It took me 15 minutes to make just five jumps, thanks to terrible enemy and obstacle placement, Harry's unreliable auto-jump, and a fixed camera angle that's at a partially tilted isometric angle which is the worst possible view for this kind of gameplay. I am usually relatively calm when playing games, even bad ones, but this level was a pointed exception. Not since the Gotham Gasworks in Batman: Vengeance has a level made me so furious.
Despite all the grievances I just mentioned, I still think that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is significantly better than Philosopher's Stone, both as a game and as an interactive representation of the Harry Potter brand. It may not be truly magical, but it's still a good time, and I'd recommend it warts and all.
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