Calling all muggle-born Harry Potter fans. Grab your wands -- I mean your Wii remote controllers -- because you are about to enter Hogwarts' heaven.
The Nintendo Wii version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix puts the magic of Harry Potter into your hands as you cast your way through this magnificent video game.
By holding the Wii remote controller in your hand as a wand, you move your arm in different ways to cast spells, and watch as the Harry you see on the screen mimics your motions. With this Wii version, you truly feel a part of the game. You become Harry Potter.
While this video game is also available on Sony's PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, the PC and Microsoft's Xbox 360, it is best played on the Nintendo Wii system because casting spells is so much a part of the gameplay. This Wii gaming experience is so compelling that if you have been thinking about getting a Wii but haven't yet, buy it now.
While each of the past four Harry Potter games has been great, this one far exceeds those built-up expectations. It closely follows the story of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix book and is based on the movie version, which is due out on July 11.
Most of the time, you play as Harry Potter; but you also get to play as the Weasley twins as they fly out of the school on their brooms, Sirius Black as he fights the Death Eater Bellatrix, and even Headmaster Dumbledore in his duel with Voldemort.
The game cleverly incorporates a series of missions (tasks) into the storyline, which is moved forward at various times by video sequences. But this is not a linear game. You are free to explore the massive castle and grounds of Hogwarts and pick up or change tasks at will.
This is the Hogwarts the previous games made us long for.
The castle is built from the blueprints of the movie set, and it looks like the world presented in the movie. The portraits on the walls all talk and move about, the staircases rotate, and there are magical surprises sprinkled throughout.
If you discover the passwords, you can use the secret passageways hiding behind many of the animated portraits. But what is even better is that you can go anywhere and talk with anyone you meet. You can run down to Hagrid's cottage, up to the Owlery, and everywhere in-between. And all of this is possible with no load times as you move around this enormous game.
The game will also take you to other locations including Grimmauld Place and the Ministry of Magic.
The game cleverly adopts Harry's Marauder's Map as a way for you to find people inside the castle and its grounds. Once you select the person or destination inside the map and then close it, when you start to walk around, black footprints appear on the floor showing you the direction to head.
The first part of the game is spent finding and helping the 28 students who signed up to take a secret class from Harry about defense against the dark arts. The group, known as Dumbledore's Army (DA), meets in the hidden Room of Requirement. Helping DA could send you searching for the five talking gargoyles in the castle, using magic to repair the trophy room, or fighting a group of Slytherins in a duel.
Other mini-quests involve talking to teachers, the ghosts, and the portraits. Some require you to win the popular wizard games of Wizard Chess, Gobstones and Exploding Snap. Only when you have helped and assembled all 28 members of the DA can you move on in the game.
Thereafter, Professor Umbridge takes over Hogwarts and your tasks become secretive with the purpose of annoying her. You will help the Weasley Twins activate swamps in courtyards and scramble the school announcement speakers so Umbridge appears to say nonsensical things.
In addition to helping others and completing tasks, you are also seeking Discovery Points, which strengthen your ability to do magic and unlock interesting video clips about the making of the game. You earn these points by doing magic around the castle to repair broken things, light torches, or find hidden magical statues and plaques.
Following the story of the book, you eventually confront the Death Eaters and Voldemort at the Ministry of Magic. These magical duels are intense and somewhat violent, warranting the game's "E+10" rating.
This beautiful game is so large that it will take days, if not weeks to finish. Even when you have reached the end of the story, you may not have completed all the tasks; so the game allows you to keep playing in the Endless Day mode. And you can play it all over again on a harder level.
Not only will you hear 22 of the original voices from the movie, including Rupert Grint as Ron and Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort, but many of the actors' heads were scanned into the game to make its animation look more real. And as you play, you hear the fully orchestrated music from the movie.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a vast, gorgeous, and superb children's game. It creates a powerful gaming experience by immersing kids into the world of Harry Potter. It delivers the wish that many children share: the ability to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and do magic.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Best for kids ages 10 and up
From Electronic Arts, www.HarryPotter.EA.com, $49.99, Nintendo Wii.
Jinny Gudmundsen is the kid-tech columnist for the Gannett News Service and USA Today.com, and is also the editor of Computing with Kids Ezine.