Thursday, 29 May 2014

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (GBC)

Today I'm taking a quick look at the Game Boy Color version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, also known as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in countries without philosophers (I guess).

Wikipedia claims that there are actually five different games based on this one book and movie, on eight different systems, and I don't see any reason to doubt it or actually bother to do any further research beyond that. Someone asked me to play the GBC version and that's just what I'm going to do.

Actually it just says 'Harry Potter GBC' in my notes so I suppose it's possible I was asked to play the game based on the second book (the last GBC game ever released in North America, random trivia fans!) But I've already made this cool animated title screen image so I'm committed now.

The game begins with this image of a letter telling Harry Potter that he's been accepted to Hogwarts! Well it seems legit enough to me.

Sure it's entirely vague about the details, the text has a bit of a lean to it, and the paper looks like a wizard wiped his ass with it... then accidentally set it on fire, but if anything that just makes it even more plausible.

Okay, I imagine that the first puzzle in the game will be to figure out where the school is and when the term starts.

Oh never mind, we've just instantly appeared in Diagon Alley with Robbie Coltrane and now Harry's off to buy a wand.

I'm honestly not sure whether I've seen the film or not, but I definitely get the feeling there was more to this story between these two events. It was something to do with owls... I definitely remember owls.

They also seem to have forgotten to establish that Harry grew up in regular mundane modern day London and was raised by cruel aunt and uncle after his parents were killed by an evil wizard while he was a baby. Definitely a sign that the developers were more interested in just letting players play through events from the plot than they were in making a game that stands on its own as an adaptation of the story.

The game thoughtfully let me walk into the shop myself but now I'm watching a little cutscene play out where the shopkeeper passes over wands for Harry to wave around and try out. Poor Harry is completely new to all this and has no idea how to use a wand or what they even do, but he eventually gets one to crackle a bit and that's apparently good enough for a sale.

Wasn't there supposed to be a line here that the wand that suits him best is the same type as the wand used by the guy who killed his parents? I don't know, maybe I'm just making up my own film in my head based on random clips I've seen.

Well I've received my wand! Now I can cast Flipendo and Vermillious Uno; though of course no one's volunteering to tell me what they do.

It's just occurred to me that there's something not quite right about this image. The developers have used some sorcery to squeeze way more colours out of the humble GBC than I'm used to seeing from the system.

Ah, that's more like a proper GBC game. Nice and indecipherable.

Before I could even take two steps out of the wand shop, a kid approached me and practically shoved a deck of magic cards into my hands. He was even considerate enough to ask me what deck I wanted to take from him!

He wasn't being purely altruistic, he's after the wiz-cred of helping out the famous Harry Potter, but still it was pretty nice of him.

Harry Potter Folio Magi
So now I've got 4 out of 101 cards, each one with a short description of a famous witch or wizard and a small icon to torment anyone who tries to figure out what they're looking at.

I think... I think I can make out a hat at least.

Harry Potter Folio Triplicus
Oh I see, the cards are like runes used to construct more interesting spells. First I need to know the spell, then I need to collect all the pieces of it to use it combat.

After that I was released into the wild to fend for myself. The menu screen tells me that my current quest is to "Find Hagrid in Gringotts' Lobby", but I'm going to investigate this blue sparkly cloud outside the bank first.


Oh it's a Final Fantasy type of RPG! The blue cloud was a roaming enemy encounter with a rat and walking into it brought me to this fight.

It's purely turn based combat with no timers. On my go I get to pick from 'Spell' to cast a wand spell, 'Card' to cast a card spell, 'Item' to cast an item spell... or whatever, you get the idea of how it works. Annoyingly all it tells me about my spells is that one of them costs 2 MP, but judging from the spell effects I figure that Flipendo is wind magic, Vermillious must be fire magic, and 'Uno' means that they're both level 1 spells.

I beat the rat, woo! Man, we're seeing way too much of Harry's gut in this game.

I've long stopped wondering why rats have money and food on them in RPGs, but in at least in this game there's a fair chance that a wizard really did do it. In fact I think I'll go zap a few more while I'm here, now that I know I'm being rewarded for it.

For this fight I decided to try out card magic and learned something very interesting! I learned that using a spell burns up the cards, permanently removing them from my collection.

How cruel is that? Giving me a grid of cards to collect, but then making it so that using any of them destroys them. Sure there's probably more than one of each card to collect, but then I have to keep track of which spells would be using duplicates.

Uh-huh. It's funny how these huge rats don't seem to be bothering anyone else here. Nope, they exclusively go after me, probably because they know I'm a level one weakling with no gear.

But I'm going to go do something about that. Hagrid's still waiting in the bank for me to meet him, but I've got the whole run of Diagon Alley right now so first I'm going shopping with my rat money.

Incidentally Harry's got a fair number of frames in his walk cycle, but he won't stop turning his head from side to side as he goes. I realise he didn't exactly have a normal upbringing, but I assumed he would have at least been taught to walk properly; the dumb kid's just going to make himself dizzy if he keeps that up.

I've only got 11 sickles cash on me so I can't afford the 80 Sc Robe on the next page, but I could get a belt and some boots. I mean plain wizard boots have got to be better than the plain non-wizard boots I've got on right? It would've been nice if they showed some stats to let me know for certain though.

On the other hand that pack of name tags is pretty tempting. Just imagine what kind of arcane power those things could have! Maybe I could use them like Poké balls, throwing them at enemy monsters to claim them as my own! Or perhaps I could write different names onto them and magically change my identity depending on which one I'm wearing.

Or maybe they're just regular name tags with absolutely no purpose at all besides letting people know who my pencil case belongs to. The shop isn't telling.

I decided to go with the belt and boots in the end, working on the assumption that they'll make me tougher, allowing me to earn cash faster so that I can eventually buy all the name tags I want.

It's nice to know that these things actually do something, even if they'll also slow me down. I guess wizards aren't really known for their athleticism. Shame the shop screen couldn't have even hinted at some of this info though. A single line of descriptive text would've been a start! Or even just a little arrow pointing up if it's an upgrade.

Alright my boots and belt are now securely slotted in place, doubling my defence and halving my agility. Nice picture by the way, I like how it makes it look like I'm equipping a Harry Potter mech. I'm still missing a new power core, improved sensors and enhanced arm cannons though.

You'd think they could have at least coloured in the sections I'd upgraded though, even if it's just a flat colour to show what level of clothing I've got in that slot. You know, like a red hat would give me +2 defence, but an orange hat would give me +3 etc.

Oh crap now I want to colour the thing in.


Well it's not perfect (I think he ended up looking more like Arthur Dent), but there are colours within those lines now and I can finally move on. It's probably a bad sign that I'm having more fun using the screenshots as a Harry Potter colouring book than playing the game itself, but it's only early yet. It'll probably pick up when I get Ron and Hermiony... Hermaeonie... Hermyonee... when I get the other two on my team.

It's nice to see that the sweet shop is just as vague as the clothes shop. Are Chocolate Frogs just a higher powered health item than beans or gum? Who knows? Maybe I'm supposed to try one of each and note down my findings. Actually I recognise that Chocolate Frog icon from the cards I got earlier, so I suspect that will give me a random card in each pack.

Oh shit I just noticed that shopkeeper's face looking down on me from above. That's another one for my NPC portrait collection:

I have to give the artists credit here, it can't have been easy pixelling portraits for the Game Boy Color's limited graphics hardware, but they've managed to pack a lot of horror into that those tiny windows. It really helps to express just how alien and disturbing these people must be to young Harry, who is discovering this new secret world of magic for the first time.

Or maybe it's just not very good art. I guess it is kind of a stretch to presume that the game's trying to be deliberately unnerving at this point.

Hey there, do you have any... owls... for sale...

Back away Harry. Slowly back away and begin stepping towards the door. Do not make any sudden moves. Don't whatever you do let them see your fear.

Okay forget owls then, I'm going to go beat on rats until I've killed enough for a new robe. I mean buy a new robe with the money, not literally make a robe out of rats, that'd be ridiculous. Can you imagine how many fights I'd have to win to get enough rat pelts to make a full robe out of?


Actually I did the math and realised that even buying a robe would take 40 more kills, so I've given up on that plan and gone met up with Hagrid in the dungeon vaults under the bank at last.

Then two seconds later Harry tripped over and Hagrid walked off without him. So now I'm alone, fighting rats again, in a maze. Would it have been so bad to just let him join my party?


Actually these encounters are so slow that it's easy enough to just walk around most of them. At least when they're not being clever and materialising under my feet.

This guy blocking the path in front looks like he's going to be more of a threat though. That's one big-ass sparkly blue cloud in my way. How did Hagrid not notice any of this?

Aww shit it's the king of the rats and he's got two henchrodents backing him up. Now would probably be an awesome time to use a bit of card magic, but I wasted that ages ago so I'm stuck just Flipendo and Vermilliousing them with my wand.

I can take out a small rat in two turns, I'm having a bit of a problem here though as they're hitting me for 9s and 11s each round and I forgot to buy any healing items. I still don't even know if there are healing items in this!


Well I managed to get Harry KO'd on the first boss of a Game Boy Color RPG made for 10 year olds. Sometimes I surprise even myself.

But this worked out great as now I've found out that if I ever lose a fight I just reappear at the nearest healer with all my acquired experience intact. I didn't even lose half my money. Though I do have to walk all the way back now.


I feel sorry for the poor writer who had to think up a comment for each and every door down here just on the off chance that someone would be bored enough to try them all. I won't have reached my own vault though until after I've taken care of that boss rat.

Fortunately the fight went much better second time around because of sheer luck. The giant rat kept missing me so all I did was spam the same attack over and over to win.

Whoa, this is all mine? Everything in this room is mine? Fuck going to wizard school, I'm just going to live off my family gold. Hagrid thinks otherwise and lets me take just a few silver Sickles to buy robes, a cloak, pointy hat and name tags etc. Then he leaves me to walk all the way back out through the dungeon again on my own and buy it all myself.

After I finish with my shopping Hagrid tells me to go off to King's Cross Station and find platform 9 3/4 to get on board the Hogwarts Express. I think I remember Harry having to walk through a fake wall to get there in the film, so I'm expecting that they're going to make this next map extra frustrating to navigate.


Found it!

I started at the bottom and went up, and that was it. I suppose I'll just get onto the train and leave then shall I?

Gratuitous train shot.

Well I've spent long enough with the game now to have a good idea of how it plays, but I haven't been anywhere or done much of anything yet. I can't turn it off before I even get to Hogwarts!

C'mon mate, I've only just had a chance to rest my feet and you're already trying to steal my delicious sugary health potions? Aren't you supposed to be reasonably well off yourself?

When Harry surprised him by not being a total pushover, the attempted robbery actually escalated into actual combat. So I shot the obnoxious little git with whirlwinds until he went away. Malfoy, that's his name, I remember now.

And then we finally arrived at the famous Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!

Oh sorry first I have to ride a boat down a river, dodging sea monsters and giant mutant dragonflies. Still I'm pretty sure I saw other students coming to the dock with me so at least if I get into a fight I'll have some backup this time.

Nope, I'm still all alone, selecting 'Spell' and then 'Virmillious Uno' over and over again. Man it's a good idea I spent every penny I had on health sweets, because I might need them if this drags on.

And then we finally arrived at the famous Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry! Well, after another underground dungeon maze, with Harry getting left behind by Hagrid again. Harry didn't even trip this time, he just deliberately waited at the entrance to give the other students a head start!

And so Harry Potter eventually survived his journey to school, the smug git.

I present to you Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, well the entrance hallway anyway. I stitched it together from a million screenshots because I am very very bored right now. Also I get the feeling that the rest of this place is going to look pretty similar.

Sadly those toy capsule machines on the right are actually some kind of device to measure how many points each of the four school houses have earned this year. Handy if I want to see if the teaching staff like Gryffindor more than Slytherin, less handy if I want to get myself a little Virtua Fighter 2 figure.

I couldn't resist stitching this together from a couple of screenshots too. It seemed ridiculous to have the shot cut off at Dumbledore and Snape's necks.

This is another classic scene from the movie and book, where Harry sits down and puts a talking hat on his head. I'm sure the film added some drama and suspense to it but in this it's treated as matter of fact as possible. It basically (but not literally) plays out like this:

I hope they put us in the same house, and NOT Slytherin.

Harry sits down and puts the mind-reading privacy-invading house determination hat on.

Not Slytherin, not Slytherin...

Fine, whatever. Go eat.

They sit down at a table together, chat a bit, enjoy their meal, and then are sent off to find their houses.

I don't know what it is, but I think it's art.

Well it turns out that when Dumbledore told me in the dinner hall earlier that I'd have to find my house, he really meant it. I've got free reign to wander around the whole school, but no one will tell me where my room is. Every floor in this place is roughly the same shape as the entrance hall, with classrooms around the outside, and it seems like there's no end to them. The floors just keep going up and up.

Wow, how did I know there'd be a card in there?

The answer is, of course, that there's a card everywhere. Each and every room in this place seems to have a card or two in it, and they're too useful to ignore. But they're also hidden secrets, without so much as a sparkle to reveal their presence.

I like secrets in games, I think they can add depth and replay value and reward players for straying outside of the obvious path. But designers need to be careful about what they're encouraging players to do. Doom for instance likes to hide some secrets behind mismatched wall textures, so observant players get a reward. Super Mario Bros. on the other hand occasionally hides secrets inside of pipes, so it's encouraging players to duck down on every pipe they see just in case; it's not really the kind of behaviour that makes a game more fun, but it's not a big deal.

Harry Potter 1 rewards players for walking up to every wall, desk, toilet and dumb looking statue and pressing 'A' on it, so this becomes normal gameplay. The game has become about examining toilets systematically on each and every floor of a school building.

Okay I'm just searching the last few curtains and then I should be done with the third floor. Or is it the fourth floor? If I'd known there were going to be so many I would've made more of an effort to keep track.

All the NPCs here have been as useless as ever by the way. I've been asking them all where Gryffindor house is and all I've been getting back are lines like "higher up than this", "sorry not my house" and "it could be anywhere".

Okay, this isn't a secret card. Well that's just awesome, now I need to find my way back upstairs again.

I actually did find a secret set of stairs to take me up a few floors, but now I've totally lost track of what floor I'm on and where I've been.

Oh did I mention that all the side classrooms are full of enemies? I guess there was no reason to bring it up as they're all so easy to dodge, and even if I do end up in a fight I can just flee most of the time. But I can't run from all my battles, that's no way to get XP and level up, so here I am standing my ground. One rat hits me for 11, one rat hits me for 12, I use a health item to recover 25 SP, one rat hits me for 11...

Basically I'm stuck in a loop where I'm only gaining 2-3 SP a round, but if I don't heal then I'll be KO'd in three turns. I guess I could use my cards, but that'd mean using my cards! I didn't search all those toilets just to burn them off in a pointless rat battle.

This would be a really great time for the game to give me a full party of characters already. Ron could throw me healing doughnuts while Hermione casts fireaga on them.

I guess the moral of the story is to make sure I have full health before the fight starts. I survived the battle in the end, but now I have to scroll through several pages of name tags, potion kits and school books four times over to eat enough pumpkin pasties to recover my SP. Each and every pastie I eat means a separate trip into the inventory, and it doesn't even tell me here how much health I get from an item or even how much health I have now.

Such a little problem but it gets just that tiny bit more frustrating each and every time I have to do it.


Wow, that advice sounds almost helpful. Thanks for that, and sorry about your face by the way.

Another portrait for me gallery of the grotesque. See if you can name them all! Or any of them.


Well she certainly fits the description I was given, but now she wants me to give her a password!

Seriously? Now I have to go find a house ghost?

I'm going to go find Dumbledore or someone else in charge and tell them that I'm out of here. I quit. The staff completely neglected to tell me where my room was and that I'd need a password to get inside and no one else here seems to have any idea what's going on either. I'm far too rich to put up with this bullshit.

Well I finally found the Gryffindor house ghost, but he refuses to tell me the password until I bring him... a tie. At least he has the decency of letting me know where to look for it instead of saying 'it's further down' or whatever.

By the way I'm not skipping past the gameplay here, this is really is all I've been doing lately.


That's not even a tie, it's a fish.

Didn't take me all that long to get back down. I found a shortcut to the the basement dungeon and got here that way. Getting back up might take a little longer though, I can't remember which shortcuts go where.


And now I may at last finally sleep.

I don't know what happens next in the book, but I'm really hoping it starts off with a long journey across the overworld with a team of no less than three characters and involves lots of, I dunno... gameplay.

Damn, that's the creepiest 'time passes' animation I've seen for a long while. "Sleep well, Mr Potter. Sleep in blissful ignorance of the fact that your time has already run out."

It almost looks like it crept in here from an old ZX Spectrum game or something.

You have got to be shitting me. Now I have to go around asking all the NPCs where the Potions classroom is!

Is this really what the game becomes after you reach Hogwarts?


Wow, that soup totally just blew up in Ralph Wiggum's face! I guess that means Potions class is cancelled, huh Snape?

"Your friend Mr. Longbottom seems to have hurt himself. I'll let you gather the potion ingredients to heal him, Potter. I will deduct house points for slowness."
Man I really hate this game.


Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Game Boy Color edition) seems less like an adaptation in its own right, and more like a way for kids to play through the highlights of the new blockbuster movie. There's enough of the story here to follow what's going on, but not quite enough to care. I've played worse licensed tie-ins on the Game Boy Color, but that's more a harsh criticism of the nature of licensed games in general rather than praise of this one.

Something that I've noticed this year after playing games like Saturday Morning RPG and Evoland, is that the Final Fantasy combat system works far better when you've got a few people in your team and you're given reason to try different tactics.

Saturday Morning RPG stuck me with just one character, so like in this I only got to make one decision each turn, but it gave me an arsenal of flashy limited use special effect super attacks so at least I had some options to choose from. I guess they weren't all that different from the card spells in Harry Potter, but they were replenished between fights, making them a viable move in every single encounter instead of being super weapons I'd hoard and never use.

Evoland was kind enough to give me two characters for the most part, but one was the fighter and one was the healer and that's all they ever did. Harry Potter isn't quite that bad, but I felt like most of my fights were spent spamming one or two of my spells as fast I could, as wasting a turn to use a healing item was often pointless. No choice, no gameplay, no fun.

But at least Harry Potter gives you interesting things to do outside of combat, like buying items from a shopping list, searching every object in a school for cards, and continually asking NPCs where a room is. I even saw Ron and Hermione once or twice! Granted I'm not exactly a Harry Potter fan and the game's really meant for people with an interest and familiarity with franchise, but this doesn't seem like it'd be much fun for anyone.

I don't want to tell you what to do with your time, especially not at the end of an epic 500 page essay on the nature of a Harry Potter Game Boy Color game, but if you feel like spending 5 minutes writing up a comment about the game, my article, my site or whatever, I certainly wouldn't want to discourage you.


  1. There's just no way to win with a licensed game, is there?

    If you stick to the original, you're telling the players a story that they already know. You're probably doing an awful job at it. The original didn't have to worry about cutscene lengths and neglected to add "And then Harry searched every toilet bowl in Hogwarts for valuable prizes. By the time he reached the third floor, he'd devised a system."

    If you diverge from the original, you lose plot points and scenes that drew in your audience in the first place. You may well end up with a platformer or a shooter that's so generic, you could adapt it to a different franchise by changing the graphics.

    If you make a prequel or a lower-deck episode, you get more room to breathe, but you again turn away from the highlights of the original.

  2. Man, I remember when I liked Harry Potter.
    Then it became so exaggerately famous that it was everywhere and I got fed up with it!

    One thing about this game: it's nice that it apparently bothers to give each single irrelevant npc a specific face (no matter if said face looks like it belongs in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

    Hey, I was thinking... you really need to review the freeware game TERRORDROME:

    on one hand, it's a new videogame, but on the other hand, it looks and plays like a nice old '90s fighting game! So it fills both bills, being both retro and new. Besides, the guys who made this did it all for free and they deserve some publicity in my opinion.

    1. I can't promise I'll be taking a look at Terrordrome as I don't generally play freeware games, 'T' is half an alphabet away from where I'm at now, and I've been trying not to play fighting games (for the sake of the poor fighting game fans who might end up reading my article under the mistaken assumption that I actually know how to play them).

      On the other hand though, that really does look amazing for a freeware game. Plus I can't deny that it has a great cast.

    2. Oh, ignore them fighting game snobs out there!
      I'm a competitive fighting gamer myself, and I hate the attitude of my fellows. In fact, it's refreshing to read a review from someone who is NOT a fighting game addict.
      The FGC often forgets that there is such a thing as playing fighting games for simple fun. That attitude is driving away everyone who just wants to enjoy those games!

  3. I loved this game as a child and i still love it as an adult today. I love the graphics and music and was entertained for hours by this. I can understand how its not for everybody, i think you have to have a strong appreciation/be a big fan of the potterverse to get into it. Thanks for making this cool blog entry. Uploading the pictures and animations was super cool too


Semi-Random Game Box