Become Harry Potter!
The magic starts just as it did for Harry, with a trip to Ollivanders Wand Shop to select a wand. Since you are playing this game on Kinect, there are no controllers. You simply reach out your hand to pick up a wand proffered by the spry Ollivander. After casting magic (lifting your hand up and then flicking it down) with three wands that blow up various areas of Ollivander's store, you finally land on one that works, and live through the famous scene where Ollivander pronounces that "the wand chooses the wizard."
Selecting over 25 major scenes from the eight Harry Potter movies, "Harry Potter for Kinect" lets you play through these events in order. You get sorted by the Sorting Hat, and then play through five events from "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," the movie depicting Harry's first year at Hogwarts. Then it is on to the second year with four events from "Harry Potter and the Chambers of Secrets" and so forth through to the final confrontation with Voldemort in Harry's seventh year.
How to Play
Kids will see photos and short videos from the original movies before each minigame. The game recalls of what happened in the story so that you will understand the event you play next. The minigame recreates the movie's sequences with animation that looks remarkably like the movie. While the voice talent isn't the same, I don't think anyone will mind.
Kids use a lot of magic to play this game. They cast spells with the flick of their arms while using a reticule on screen. And for the first time, they can call out which spell they want to use before casting it. They also make potions by stirring their cauldrons, adding ingredients and using a pestle to crush herbs.
Attend Classes at Hogwarts
As wizards-in-training, kids study herbology, including donning ear muffs and pulling eardrum-splitting Mandrakes out of the dirt and repotting them into new containers. They also get to hit the Quidditch Pitch, even learning to tussle by throwing their arms out to knock opponents off their brooms. It is fast-paced and full of leaning, punching and quickly grabbing the hummingbird-like snitch.
Dueling -- minigames about casting the correct spells against an opponent -- occurs several times in the story mode. Kids take on Draco Malfoy, Professor Snape, and others. There is even a bonus mode called Duelling Club, where you take on progressively harder opponents.
Other bonus activities include Potions classes, Spells practice, and a Whomping Willow challenge where the willow gets progressively quicker at thumping while you dodge by jumping and crouching. As you play, you unlock bonus two-player mini-games of Duelling Club, Quidditch, and Cafe Duelling. You can even watch the sorting hat "sing."
The Overall Rating
Harry Potter for Kinect is a magical game to explore. Even if you don't know the story, it tells it to you; so you could be completely new to this universe and still enjoy the game play. By doing everything in the story (and seeing yourself play if you scanned yourself into the game) this game feels personal.
But it isn't perfect. At times, the quirkiness of Kinect seemed to get in the way. For example, in the last game in Year 1, Harry Potter climbs onto a rickety broom and flies up among hundreds of whizzing keys to nab the one to open the Sorcerer's Stone Chamber. This creates a game about using your arms to knock away the incoming bombarding keys. But we had trouble getting the Kinect to register our movements and had to replay this game several times to succeed. Contrast this to a similar game called Cornish Pixies found in the second year. Again the sweeping of the arms is used, and this time it worked like a breeze.
We also noticed some inconsistencies when taking on baddies like the Troll and the Basilisk. At times, it seemed that we couldn't fail. We played on the casual level, but there is also an advanced difficulty setting.
Because of this game's linear progression, if your children get stuck, they can't move forward until they win the current game. This means that some kids will be replaying games over again. Luckily, most of them are fascinating to look at and exciting to replay.
Here's the bottom line: Harry Potter for Kinect is a fun experience for young Hogwarts' enthusiasts. The controls seem a little fuzzy at times, but the game is magical to behold nonetheless. The game earned an ESRB rating of 10+ for blood, mischief, and violence; but some kids will be fine with it at an earlier age.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.