This week the Harry Potter franchise turned 20 years old and the entire world seemed to join together for a communal reminiscence (which actually sounds rather disgusting considering how magical the whole thing was).
I feel I would be remiss in my duties as the writer of a throwback column not to take part in my own way, so buckle up Muggles – this week we’re flying to the wizarding world.
In the 20 years since the release of the first book, the Harry Potter series has become nothing short of a phenomenon, spawning films, theme parks and, most importantly for this column’s purposes, video games.
Naturally each film had its own tie-in game and eventually Lego got in on the action with its own adorable take on the series. The title I’ve decided to focus on for Throwback Thursday, however, is Harry Potter: Quidditch World Cup.
Quidditch World Cup was released during a lull period for the Harry Potter films and sticks out as an odd game as a result. It was the end of 2003 – the Chamber of Secrets had been released at the end of 2002 but the Prisoner of Azkaban movie was not expected until mid-2004. Consequently, publisher Electronic Arts wasn’t able to release a Christmas-period movie tie-in.
This left a big release gap in a period that must have started to look like a fairly solid gold galleon generator for EA.
Fortunately it had a creative solution to its problem and that solution was Quidditch World Cup. As the publisher with an arm that pushed out Fifa, NFL and NBA titles every year, sports simulation wasn’t exactly a stretch for EA. Although I imagine mashing elements of all of these sports together and adding broomsticks presented some interesting challenges.
NBA takes flight
I bought every single Harry Potter video game release across multiple platforms. Sometimes I bought the same game for multiple systems. You know those people that open a trench coat and reveal a dozen gold watches to sell for a suspiciously reasonable price? That's me, but with copies of The Chamber of Secrets on GBA. Meet me on Knockturn Alley.
Because I don’t have a house elf to give me the organisational help I desperately need I still own all of them, Quidditch World Cup for PS2 included.
To EA’s credit, Quidditch World Cup wasn't the exercise in exploitation it could have been. It actually was, and still is, a fairly well put together game with some genuinely creative elements.
The controls are extremely basic and clearly intended to keep children enthralled but (and I’m not sure if I should be ashamed to admit this) I enjoyed them just as much now as I did in 2003 when I was their intended audience.
I particularly enjoyed the special combination moves and goal celebration sequences that managed to keep gameplay slightly visually interesting. I say slightly. They start to repeat rather quickly and wear more thin than Voldemort's skin.
Back to basics
The game is also structurally sound (unlike those rickety looking Hogwarts viewing stands). It teaches you the basics by having you play one of the four Hogwarts houses in the school's league cup. After winning this you move rather quickly to taking control of a national team. No regional stop gap with the Chudley Cannons for you.
Quidditch World Cup never was going to win any awards for the way it looks and far more visually impressive Harry Potter games were released both before and after it (Philosopher's Stone for PS1 was certainly not one of them, though).
However, it doesn’t look terrible – special effects are often entertaining and I really enjoyed the way each nation’s stadium had been designed to reflect it in some way. Often the design was trite, bordering on stereotypical but I would have lived in the Japanese national stadium.
I also appreciated (and still do appreciate) that there was a genuinely good balance between male and female players across the national teams. When I was younger I had a tendency to lean towards the predominantly female French team with its frankly fabulous powder blue kits.
The commentary is, unsurprisingly, terrible. But it didn't annoy me any more or tell me much less than real-life sports commentary.
Quidditch World Cup was definitely a game designed with Harry Potter-loving children in mind. But it’s 14 years later and though the core Harry Potter audience is much older, this week has shown it’s no less passionate.
No, that wasn't a Nimbus 2000, it’s the sound of opportunity retrospectively wooshing past EA.
It’s odd to me that the publisher never explored the potential of Quidditch World Cup. It could have secured the love and repeated purchases of a different kind of sports fan. Quidditch World Cup would have been an excellent way for EA to secure a more long-lasting section of the financially lucrative Harry Potter universe and benefit from the fact that it wasn’t movie or book-dependent.
Like Fifa, Quidditch World Cup could have had yearly releases with incremental improvements. If EA had moved away from targeting a younger audience, the game could have become more complex; including player stats could have added a strategic team construction element and it would have been nice to be able to play in one position across a whole match.
Just imagine Quidditch World Cup on current-gen consoles with their more advanced graphics and physics engines. If EA Sports had taken the game under its Quaffle-holding arm, we could have had a Harry Potter sports franchise with cooperative and competitive multiplayer, online leagues, and a single-player The Journey mode. It could have been an eSport!
I’m still holding out – I think I’d make a great Beater.