Developers: Jam City
Publishers: Portkey Games
Plot: You start Hogwarts, School of Witchcraft and Mystery, and get wrapped up in a mystery surrounding several hidden Cursed Vaults that your infamous brother went after years ago…
If you are a Harry Potter fan, it was very easy to get excited on the build-up to this massively hyped mobile game from the world of Hogwarts. Rumoured as Potter’s answer to Pokémon Go, the early snapshots looked exciting. This was a fully-formed Harry Potter game, sent straight to our phone, complete with stunning visuals, personalised characters and immersive experiences. At the very least, it was original Potter material, something the fans are striving for these days…
Yet how quickly things turned sour, when those fans got their hands on the mobile game at last. The sad truth is that no matter how exciting this mobile game sounded, it was, when all is said and done, still a mobile game. Cue the very typical mobile game pacing, where buying in-game content was the fastest way to move forward. It is impossible to get sucked into this game, because the mobile puts time-wasting obstacles in your way to stagger the gameplay. You need to wait four hours before the next level opens (or pay to access now!). Each mission requires using up your energy to get to the other side. This energy is topped up over time (or pay to recharge now!). Therefore, most of the gameplay revolves you drumming your fingers, waiting for your phone to let you progress that little bit further. Sometimes, the mission in hand will simply be a Potions class or something painfully dull, encouraging the negativity surrounding this game. It is all too easy to feel cheated at the cynicism of this mobile app game. As the levels go forward, routine quickly sinks in. There is a story at play here, but it is told in objectives that become identical after time. Search this room, using your energy. Attend this lesson, using your energy. Talk about what you have seen, using your energy. Perhaps if there was a sense that Hogwarts Mystery was a role-playing game in some way, there might be more to the experience. It suggests as much at the start, where you choose your appearance, gender and Hogwarts House. But as you dive into the story, expecting other divergences where your story can become unique, there is little chance. Your house doesn’t truly bear much difference to the story, except perhaps in the fact that certain Gryffindor or Slytherin buzz words like ‘courage’ or ‘cunning’ might be slipped into the dialogue. Character interactions aren’t as crucial as you thought they would be. Bully Merula cannot be bargained with, meaning that a selection of retorts to choose from is fairly meaningless. This means that as Hogwarts Mystery evolves, you find yourself with a fading fascination with it all. What starts out so promising soon whittles away into just another mobile app to tap away at in hours of boredom.
It’s not all bad though. Perhaps Hogwarts Mystery’s only crime was being a mobile game. Some argue this staggered plot is a necessity or understandable flaw to the format. Perhaps we should be really praising how the world of Potter can now be accessible straight from our smartphones. There is some minor joy to be had in this game if you are willing to look past the obvious design issues and sink into the story. As each year passes, the story does get thicker. While the gameplay is rote, it does have a mystery behind it, so your curiosity may push you into sticking with it. At the very least, get past the exposition-heavy Year One and give the later levels a chance. Outside of the main story, it does seem that Jam City and Portkey Games are trying to listen to the fans. There is more to do than simply play the game, as was the case when the mobile app started. Now you can personalise your wardrobe, buy your own Hogwarts pet and in your downtime, take part in some activities. There are several junctions where you can hang with the friends you pick up across the way, upgrading your relationships with them, which can earn you bonuses later in the game. There is also a duelling club in the Dungeons now, so all of those duelling sub-missions and spells learned in the lesson levels can actually be put to good use in some wizarding battles. Also, the app unlocks new areas and lessons with each passing year, so as you progress, there are some slight variations in the world around you. Year 3 unlocks Hogsmeade, which is fun to check out. Year 4 allows you to get Care of Magical Creatures lessons, which shakes up the rhythm of the Hogwarts Mystery’s lesson levels. And have you found all the hidden energies dotted around the map yet? So, while this game isn’t as ground-breaking as the marketing hinted at, for the fans, this is a thoughtful mobile game that works at solving the odd bored patch and kindling some fascination with the world of Hogwarts once again.
Final Verdict: Hogwarts Mystery fails to live up to the promises of the marketing but remains a charming mobile game in its own right.