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Wizards Unite is a bloated, slow, Harry Potter-ified Pokémon Go

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  • Here we are, on a quest to collect a bunch of magical detritus.
  • The "Time to first Hagrid" is about 2 minutes.
  • Cool, I got to add a picture of Hagrid to my sticker book. Such treasured memories.
  • There's a pretty good variety of "confoundables" trapping the various "foundables," but they all start to blur together after a while.
  • Oh, look who needs my help. And here I thought you were a master magician, Snape.
  • Rescuing wizards is one thing, but collecting a bunch of golden snitches feels a little pointless…
  • You get a random item when visiting an inn, presented with an overly elaborate floating dish animation.
  • No Ultra Balls here, but you can use potions to help catch tough foundables.

Three years ago, Nintendo and Niantic released Pokémon Go, and the resulting game became an instant cultural phenomenon on hundreds of millions of mobile phones. In retrospect, the formula seems simple enough: combine a beloved children's series with a wander-and-collect-with-your-phone gameplay hook, and everyone will fall in love, right?

This week, Niantic returns with an entirely new game, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, and it proves that the above formula isn't necessarily an instant winner.

Wizards Unite tries to expand the Pokémon Go formula with a few new features and a completely new visual and gameplay theme. But its barrage of timers, currencies, missions, and screens full of text does something interesting: it proves in its failures how much more elegant and focused Pokémon Go really was. Getting this particular AR gaming formula right isn't as simple as slapping fan-favorite characters on a go-anywhere phone game.

Why are we collecting magic stuff?

Pokémon's "catch-em-all" branding was a natural fit for the real-world search-and-find gameplay of Pokémon Go. Making the same premise work in the magical world of Harry Potter is a bit more difficult. So in Wizards Unite, now there's an overarching story about a mysterious wizard who cast a "Calamity" spell that has captured a bunch of "Foundable" magical objects and people behind a series of "Confoundable" traps. The wizarding world (i.e. you and your friends) have to join together and scour the map to find and rescue these foundables in order to maintain the Statute of Secrecy that keeps witches and wizards hidden from muggles.

That plot is a bit convoluted maybe, but it's fine enough to set up the walk-around-and-collect-stuff gameplay. But then you almost immediately find Rubeus Hagrid—yes, the Rubeus Hagrid—trapped in some sort of immense spider web. A bit later, you might find Professor Snape captured in a large bottle or one of a series of interchangeable Hogwarts students. These well-known humans (who can be found and saved multiple times from the same fate, somehow) are mixed in with random magical creatures and artifacts ranging from a Hippogriff to assorted Quidditch equipment.

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When you rescue enough copies of a distinct foundable (by tracing a simple shape on the touch screen as quickly and accurately as possible), you can put its picture in a massive registry of images that acts as Wizards Unite's version of a Pokédex. Perhaps there are some Harry Potter superfans out there who will be thrilled to finally find that last "Azkaban Wanted Poster" to fill up their Dark Arts sticker page. Personally, though, collecting such a random and disorganized assortment of Harry Potter ephemera has felt a little bit directionless so far.

To Wizards Unite's credit, each individual foundable is rendered with its own lovingly detailed 3D models and animations, complete with relevant and often unique spells you need to cast to free them from inventive confoundables. But the "realistic" style of these low-polygon models achieves a sort of uncanny valley effect that wasn't present in the brighter, more cartoon-infused Pokémon Go. And the "unique" animations start to feel a little less so after you see one for the third time in as many minutes, for instance.

  • There's a ridiculous variety of ingredients to collect and make into potions.
  • Don't have enough ingredients? Spend some coins, which can be purchased with real money.
  • You'll have to wait for your potion to brew, or pay coins to speed up the process…
  • If you pick Slitherin you are dead to me.
  • You can choose a wand to suit you, but it's not clear it has any effect on gameplay.
  • Like screens full of lore-heavy text? Wizards Unite is for you.
  • Just me, your friendly neighborhood wizard, taking a selfie.
  • The three personality types.
  • If you like getting in-game rewards for doing extremely basic things, Wizards Unite has you covered.

The animations and "rewards" interface also runs quite a bit slower than the zippier process of Pokémon-collecting, which in turn slows down the quick find-and-catch tempo of Niantic's previous game. Wizards Unite's complex animations and character models can often lead to long load times the first time you see a new foundable or object (you can get around this by pre-loading all the game content from a menu, but that requires a massive 3.3GB download to your mobile device).

Wizards Unite also seems to be trying to lay the lore on thick, with a lot of text-based discussions involving Harry Potter himself. A lot of these provide cute (if pointless) backstory—such as the source of the "foundables" name—butRead More – Source

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