Fans of the Harry Potter franchise are in luck this year, with two titles hitting mobile platforms in 2018. One of these games, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery is now live on the App Store and available as a free download for iPhone and iPad.
The RPG title sees players wandering the streets of Diagon Alley, attending magic lessons and exploring the secrets of Hogwarts. The game includes rich visual environments and features several of the original actors and actresses from the films as voiceover talent. However, the terrible free-to-play nature of this title becomes evident very quickly …
I’ve only played the title for a few minutes, but it seems surprisingly good. The game makes good use of the wide 18:9 aspect ratio of the iPhone X, allowing players to pan horizontally across stages with satisfingly-pleasing parallax camera effects.
Whilst many of the characters from the original series are present, you do not take on the role of any of the leads. Instead, the RPG-style game has you setup your own character — with Sims-like avatar customisation — to play as a newly enrolled Hogwarts student. This was probably to mask the fact they did not secure any of the lead stars like Radcliffe or Watson to provide voice acting.
The game tutorial is a rather bland affair of tapping around to fill out your inventory of magic supplies, but after that the game jumps straight into the sorting hat sequence, and you can choose your own house. Nevertheless, it’s a story-driven affair with sprinklings of spell casting (drawing shapes on the screen) and mini-games.
From the first few minutes of gameplay, it’s a very on-rails title with little room to escape from the story. It’s almost like an interactive book, although it doesn’t correlate with any of the plots in the actual book series. The protagonist encounters Devil Snare after just five minutes … Still, it’d pretty fun for kids to work their way through.
However, this game is a particularly bad case of the free-to-play mobile game stereotype. After the first three scenes, you run out of Energy and cannot progress the story without waiting at least fifteen minutes. You read that right.
The game ‘generously’ gives you one free Energy gem every 3 minutes and 20 seconds. To unwrap the vines, you need 5 gems. So that’s fifteen minutes of doing nothing. You have no option but to sit on this screen; the game literally doesn’t let you do anything else. You can’t escape the ‘adventure’ until it completes. A force-quit and restart takes you back to the same scene. There’s an ominous eight-hour timer ticking down at the top of the screen; who knows what that does.
Of course, what the game wants you to do is get bored of waiting and pay up. You can buy pink gems with In-App Purchases. You can then spend pink gems to get blue energy gems, which is the currency that you need to ‘tug at vines’. The currency exchange indirection obviously helps to mask the true cost of any purchase.
Basically, you have to spend a minimum of 99 cents to progress … or wait a quarter of an hour. I have no problem paying for games, but this is a kick in the teeth. There is no limit on the maximum amount this game could encourage me to spend. I have no idea if the game will continue to give out free gems every 3 minutes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it gradually elongates the time between free gems. I also have no idea how long it will be until I hit another fork in the game where I can wait or pay up. Every interaction in this game has some sort of numerical currency mechanic attached to it.
Up to the snare, I was actually having some measure of fun from this title. All of that enjoyment has now been sapped away in a matter of (literally) minutes. This game is designed to fleece money out of players, many of which will be children, with a near endless sequence of time-gated cutscenes, over and over again.