In case you haven’t heard, a new augmented reality smartphone game was unveiled June 21, created by the same crew that brought you the über-hit Pokémon Go. This time, though, you’ll be trading Poké balls for magic wands.
What is it?
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is a free iPhone and Android game created by WB Games and Niantic Labs. (Look for a full review of the game soon: This is more of a quick snapshot of what to expect, since some of you are downloading the game even as you read this.) As the title would suggest, it takes place in the Harry Potter universe. Players cast spells, collect potions, encounter magical beasts, and gear up to defeat dark creatures, wizards and witches. And like Pokémon Go, gamers also need to get up and walk around their real world to find virtual-world elements: AR inns, fortresses, greenhouses and other points of interest. It’s all in an effort to complete designated tasks and keep magical things from seeping into our, uh, muggle world.
What’s required to play?
When gamers first load up the free app they have to sign in with either a Google account or Facebook. Players of all ages will need to enter their real name, as well as a wizarding name of their choosing that the world at large can see. Once that initial setup is completed, the game then walks them through a basic tutorial.
What are the story basics?
The game takes place years after the adventures of the Harry Potter book series and Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and others have a new problem to deal with: something called The Calamity. It seems someone has magically ripped a hole in the fabric of things, and magical items (including people and creatures) called “Foundables” are dribbling into our non-magical, muggle world. As a member of the Statue of Secrecy Task Force, it’s the gamer’s job to return these objects, beasties and people to their rightful place and figure out what’s going on. Of course, to do that they have to defeat the spells that are magically protecting those misplaced things and dig into the clues on hand.
The core of Wizards Unite gameplay is to get out and about and fill registry lists with as many Foundables as possible. Graphorns, Gobstone sets, Mad-Eye Moody’s Eye, the Weasley’s clock, Hagrid’s umbrella, crystal balls, Quibbler magazines: the list of findable Foundables—which show up on the player’s in-game map as she wanders around—stretches on and on. They’re one of the main ways to collect experience points and upgrade a player’s character. Some Foundables can only be found in certain weather conditions, time of day, or moon phases in the game.
After finding a Foundable, gamers need to cast a spell (and many times more than once) in order to defeat the “Confoundable” spell that’s protecting it. Those protective spells come in different levels of threat difficulty and may require a strengthening potion or two to defeat. Speaking of which …
Casting spells is another constant in the world of Wizards Unite. There are no words or phrases uttered, but bluish-white glyphs appear on the phone screen. The faster and more accurately a player traces the glyph, the stronger the spell’s power. The glyphs also show up when visiting inns, greenhouses and fortresses—where, respectively, players gain energy to cast spells, find ingredients to brew potions and give battle to baddies.
And On the Magicking Goes
Gameplay goes on from there: You choose a wizarding profession. You go on special explorations. Gamers don’t have to worry about the game getting too tawdry or violent. But parents should know that, unlike the adventure-focused Harry Potter books, the major thrust here is spell casting and potion making—magic, in other words—and little else.
Uncomfortable with the kids being immersed in those kinds of ongoing wizardly and witchy pursuits? Then this may be the wrong app to invest in. Oh, and I do mean invest.
Like Pokémon Go, this game is technically “free,” but to really excel and achieve the levels and rewards that gamers long for, in-game purchases almost become essential. Storage for potion ingredients, spell casting energy and other necessities max out pretty quickly and gamers can only expand their inventory space with a bit of real-world gold. (One gamer friend has only been playing a few days and he’s already invested $30 or so.)
The fact that gamemakers have figured out the formula for transferring a favorite movie, book or game franchise into an at-your-fingertips smartphone AR endeavor only means that we’re bound to see more and more of these games. And fans, young and old, will certainly come a-flocking. After all, they’re fun, easily accessible and free.
Well … sorta.