From the archives: Harry’s Legend

Originally published July 2005

Ten million or so copies of the latest Harry Potter book are currently winging their way to bookstores in every corner of the planet, and aspiring wizards are giddily practicing self-mutilation in the hopes that having their own cool scar will make them as awesome as their hero Harry. Meanwhile, EA is capitalizing on the upcoming fourth movie with their upcoming fourth HP film-to-game conversion for every console imaginable. “But what about the NES!?” you cry. Fear not, old school types — even you can enjoy HP action on your favorite console thanks to some anonymous group of Chinese hackers who have created a strange Harry Potter NES game based very, veryloosely on the Sorceror’s Stone. It’s pretty safe to say the only license these people had was “creative license,” which they’ve applied liberally. Anyway, I’ve take a bit of time to dig into this game, “Harry’s Legend,” which probably causes J.K. Rowling to vomit with sheer horror. Enjoy.

Here we have the first stage. Harry’s Legend is, wait for it, a platform game. On the NES? Unthinkable, I know. But here’s the evidence of my eyes. Players can choose to begin from any one of five different levels right from the start, all of which are equally horrible and frustrating.

Here’s the first level, the Dursley household. Which, it turns out, consists of an endless corridor with fancy drapery and doors which Harry can’t enter. It also has a terrible infestation of rats and bats, which Harry can maim with kicks, punches and side kicks. Well done, Harry! Oh, and here’s cousin Dudley. He can also be maimed. Do it for great justice.

The boss of stage 1 is, I think, Harry’s uncle Vernon, who appears in front of a massive staircase. Which could be a reference to where Harry was forced to live as a child, or could simply be due to the fact that the programmers had to make use of the stairway graphic the art team came up with.

Vernon here (Or whoever. It could also be a giant boulder with suspenders and an underbite. Our crack team of investigators is currently looking into it.) attacks by bumping into Harry with his enormous belly and by leaping into the air. He’s pretty spry for a porky old guy, capable of leaping over Harry’s head.

After beating Vernon you’re forced to fight against Professor Quirrel/Voldemort. Wow, you think, it’s the end of the game already? Silly you, of course not. Apparently Voldemort found a way around that whole proscription against being able to harm Harry while under the lad’s under the protection of a blood relative. Then again, his aunt never even appears and his uncle and cousin are trying to kill him, so maybe that’s that.

Whatever the case, Harry polishes off Voldemort before even learning he’s a wizard. Not bad, really. The next screen places him, in halting English, on the island where he meets Hagrid. Surprisingly, Hagrid is not an evil boss in the game. One 8-bit cliche down, but its honor is upheld by the billion others in the game.

This, of course, is the famous scene from the novel where Harry has to make mighty leaps over bottomless pits while killer dolphins try to knock him to his death and a strangely pink Draco Malfoy prances about like a ninny. I jest, but chances are pretty good that there’s a story exactly like that at Stupid Internet.

You know, the graphics in this game really aren’t too bad considering they were probably slapped together in half an hour by a couple of drunk guys hiding in terror from the secret police in a basement hacker’s den in Beijing.

Oh, expect to see this a lot. A lot. Collision detection in this game is pretty interesting, as it assumes that waifish little Harry is actually a massive tubmonster. An enemy simply has to get nearhim to send him tumbling. And the genius drunkards behind the game packed it with cheap, impossible-to-avoid hits so that you’ll go screaming to your death the moment you land from a nearly-impossible leap. Thanks for the reminder of why I kinda hated the NES, guys!

Good lord, it’s Dr. Mindbender, here to slap me into Dr. Venom’s Brainwave Scanner to learn the secret location of the Pit! No, wait, it’s just Quirrel and Voldemort again, here to re-enact their hilarious Kuato impersonation. Sorry, dudes, you’ve got it all wrong! The face is supposed to be in the guy’s stomach.

Anyway, at this point Hagrid was supposed to call Dursley a great prune and set fire to things, but instead Harry simply beat his madman-possessed future professor to death with his fists. I will say this for the game: At least it let me return the favor of all that dolphin frustration by knocking Voldemort into the pit.

What a happy lad he is. He must have just won the Where’s Waldo lookalike contest.

Ah, Gringotts! Home of indescribable wealth, magical defenses, Wicket the Ewok and… Dudley? Dudders, what the snot are you doing down here in the Gringotts vault, wiggling your grotesque belly at me? Go on, there’s no pie down here. Let me bludgeon rats to death in peace and quiet, would ya?

You’re probably looking at this screen and thinking, “NOOOOO! MINE CART SEQUENCE!” But for once, the creators’ sheer laziness paid off! The mine carts are completely stationary, just like in NES Ninja Gaiden. Harry’s Legend is true to its old-school roots, yo. Mine carts didn’t really come into vogue until 16-bit. (I blame Donkey Kong Country. Rare!)

The green creature to the right is one of three things. I haven’t quite decided. It’s either:

  • A Gringotts gnome, protecting the vaults from intruders and patrons alike;
  • Professor McGonagall, stuck in a horrible semi-metamorphosed state between human and feline;
  • J.K. Rowling.

I’m banking on the latter, especially since this sprite shows up in pink pretty often toward the end. She’s slipped into the game to wreak vengeance on everyone who plays party to this desecration of her life’s work.

Oh, and now on to Shining Time Station with your special pal, Thomas the Tank Engine! Sorry, that’s the Hogwarts Express. I halfway expected to have to kick Dementors to death in this stage, or maybe Hermione. Or even a chocolate frog. But no.

This would be a good time to mention that Harry can actually use magic in this game: Hold up and press A and B together and he’ll toss a, uh, a broomstick that drains a little life but does pretty decent damage to an enemy. You remember the Castigio Scopae spell, right? I hear Voldemort uses it to kill Dumbledore in book six. Harry can also, for some reason, pick up golden lobsters to restore his health.

Instead, the train turns out to be what appears to be a super-posh luxury hotel. It’s especially notable for having the first functional background elements in the entire game. Yes, you can use the elevator. To get to the upper floor of the train. Er.

Still, bravo to China’s pirate hackers! Way to embrace innovation, guys!

Still, you know, much as I’d like to completely hate this game, I just can’t. And here’s why. Whenever you jump on a couch or bed, Harry is sent bouncing into the air. Of course, it’s deeply annoying because you can’t actually attack while in the air, and if you accidentally leap from the floor onto a bed while fighting a tough foe you’ll start bounding around helplessly while the bad guy uses Harry’s face as a fist-polishing tool.

Still, the little odd details like this give the impression that the madmen behind this mess genuinely wanted to make a good game. They just failed miserably, is all.

Wait, that’s not a gnome, McGonagall or Rowling at all. The fact that it’s pacing around on the bed reveals it all — that bizarre sprite is actually the embodiment of a million Mary Sues, skulking about in search of a narrative opportunity to deflower Harry by way of an incredibly lurid (yet hilariously naive) adult-rated fanfiction. And unlike Harry, she’s capable of walking on a bed without being flung into the air.

Stupid fangirls. I bumped her off with extra relish.

Without question, <I>this</I> is the single strangest bit of the game. The fifth level (ostensibly the halls of Hogwarts itself, although these halls are pretty indistinguishable from the Durleys’ halls) begins not with more sloppy platforming and button-mashing but rather with… quiddich? Well, more like jai alai, but the spirit is there. Literally! Apparently one of the Hogwarts ghosts has been upgraded to professor and floats about at the top of the screen. Meanwhile, a ball caroms around the screen, reflecting off the walls or any of the characters it collides with. For some reason Harry has to play this odd game against another gnome/Rowling/Fangirl before he can advance. The gaps at either side of the screen are “goals,” and each time the ball bounces into Harry’s goal he loses a snippet of life. The same hold true for the fan girl, though… so, to advance, you have to defeat the little freak by chipping away its life with well-aimed shots. This would be a lot more fun if it were easier to aim said shots, but the ball has a tendency to bounce around inside Harry’s body and go flying into his goal when all you’re trying to do is bounce it the other way. I don’t think this is intentional unfairness. Just really, really sloppy programming that doesn’t quite do justice to this feeble effort at changing up the pace.

Defeat the fangirl at jai quiddalai and it’s off to the three hazards protecting the Sorcerer’s Stone! For budgetary reasons, the hazards have been reduced to one, the chess pieces. And it’s not even a full version… a couple of pieces bounce around and collide with you. Try thinking of this as the video game equvalent of a high school stage production of Harry Potter and it hurts a little less.

Without Ron around, there’s only one way to defeat those chess pieces: Wail on the attack button. Or run past and hope it scrolls away into oblivion, your choice. At the end of this is another impossible battle with Voldemort, and… who knows? I called it quits here, having suffered enough abuse, thanks.

The best part of this game? It’s pretty much impossible to find. You’ll never be able to track down the original Asian cart, and even the ROM is pretty tough to locate. Given its illicit nature, I could probably get away with distributing it… but I’d probably get fired anyway. For abusing 1UP’s readers like that.

Not too many things these days make me appreciate the brilliance of EA’s licensed work, but this makes the official Harry Potter games look as awesome as Burnout 4 and Spore. Makes you wonder why the ESA is always out to quash piracy, when it mainly serves to make the real thing look so much better in comparison.

2 thoughts on “From the archives: Harry’s Legend

  1. Ugh, this reminds me of the double dose of abuse I recently inflicted upon myself by playing another Chinese pirate NES game on a cheap Chinese knock-off game system (Tomb Raider, on a PAP-GAMETA).


  2. The first screen looks like something out of Kung Fu or NES Karate Kid. Is that to be expected from an unlicensed game from China? If Warner Bros is going to make more movies in this series, maybe Harry should go to the far east…

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