Harry Potter Wizards Unite is the latest game from Niantic — the studio behind the massively successful free-to-play augmented reality (AR) game, Pokémon Go – and so it’s absolutely no surprise that Wizards Unite has, jokingly, been referred to as Harry Potter Go since it was first revealed in late 2018.
It also shouldn’t come as any surprise that there are similarities between the two games. Pokémon Go was so successful that it inspired the catch mechanic in the main-studio Pokémon games Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee. However, Harry Potter Wizards Unite is ironically lacking some of the magic that made its predecessor so special.
The biggest problem here is that Harry Potter is a wonderful franchise that started life as a book. This book became a movie which then spawned a series of other games. Pokémon, on the other hand, started life as a game, and that is a significant component in its success as a game. You know what a Pokéball is, you know what Pokémon are and you know how the two are connected. Catch Pokémon until you run out of Pokéballs; get more balls, get more mons. It’s not a big leap to take a successful model and simplify it for a free-to-play AR game — the resource management cycle inherent to how games work makes this an easy job.
Harry Potter, on the other hand, doesn’t have these things. Sure, there’s elements you could theoretically collect in the universe, but how do you go about the actual collecting? The lack of any real resource management that comes with a franchise starting out as a book makes life difficult for Wizards Unite because, right from the word Go, you’re trying to stretch a new skin over something that doesn’t really fit.
The basic premise in Wizards Unite is that the wizarding world is at risk of being exposed to the Muggles (normal people). You, as a volunteer at the Ministry of Magic, need to walk around the real world, magicking away the magical things that risk the Statute of Secrecy by tracing spells with your fingertip on your phone. The irony that doing this in broad daylight, in front of Muggles, thereby blowing the Statute of Secrecy right out of the water, is completely ignored. The things you’re magicking away are ‘Foundables’, which are being stolen and protected by ‘Confoundables’. You defeat Confoundables using ‘Spell Energy’ (think Pokéballs in Pokémon Go) and register the Foundables (think Pokémon) to the Registry (think Pokédex).
If you think this is confusing, you’re right. The game jokingly makes reference to this, saying it’s something that Hermione thought up. There are other things that make the game confusing, such as Spell Energy being an essential resource, but not having a means to check how much of it you have outside of when using or replenishing it. I also take issue with the term ‘energy’, as it is easy to assume that it automatically replenishes, as energy tends to in free-to-play games. Instead, you have to dine at inns (think Pokéstops) to gain a randomised amount of spell energy (up to 10) that you can put towards registering more Foundables.
The spell tracing mechanic is interesting, but difficult to do when walking, which makes the game far more start–stop than Go was. Each encounter with a Foundable gives you a particular spell that you have to trace and you’re graded, based on your speed and accuracy, which makes your spell weaker or stronger depending on how good you were. This will affect whether you get to register this Foundable or it simply runs away.
While the turf-war aspect of Pokémon Go has been done away with, there are boss battles of sorts — every now and then you’ll get into a duel with an enemy. This can be gone at the Fortresses (think Pokémon Gyms) or as random encounters. Sadly, the mechanics here are poorly explained and executed, which makes them more frustrating than something I’d go out of my way to beat.
Harry and friends all make an appearance in this game — some talking directly to you, others simply as Foundables. Despite this game being part of the Harry Potter universe, and taking place when Harry is a grown man working at the Ministry, it is full of characters that are canonically dead and characters that are the young versions of themselves.
This abundance of Foundables is likely a knee-jerk reaction to Pokémon Go releasing with a limited set of Pokémon. The issue here was never that Pokémon Go lacked Pokémon, it was that it didn’t have the full set of 150 at launch, as you would have expected from the game declaring it was Generation 1. Wizards Unite seems to have flipped this on its head and just gone ham with filling the game with weird and useless collectables. In the process they’ve over-egged the pudding.
Looking to other aspects of the game, Wizards Unite is perfectly serviceable. The music isn’t great, but it’s nice to have voice acting which Pokémon Go noticeably lacked. The graphics are a bit drab compared to Go, and the game has an annoying habit of letting you click through story too quickly (generally, tapping the screen while text is appearing just fills the text box so you can read quicker, but this game skips the entire box for you instead).