Two games about magic students

I know I said I’d be posting about just one Comp game a day, but today, the randomizer just happened to give me two thematically connected games one after another.

Winter Break at Hogwarts is obviously Harry Potter fanfic, but if Harry Potter himself is around, I never saw him. It seems to be set before the books, with the player as some other student stuck at school while all the other children are away. The result is an almost barren environment. The map is large — so much so that the author saw a need to enclose a multi-tiered map with the game. The map is as attractive as it is necessary, but it doesn’t change the fact that Hogwarts is sparse, composed mainly of corridors and rooms without interactive detail. A handful of locations house a familiar character from the novels, but they’re only minimally responsive to player actions. It all feels not so much like an interactive Hogwarts as a Hogwarts museum, with dioramas you can look at.

Ah, but what about the magic? After an hour of play, I still hadn’t cast any spells. You start the game with a notebook with various familiar-from-the-books magic words written in it, but your wand is missing, and you can’t cast spells without a wand. After extensive exploration, I managed to locate the wand, but it was out of reach, requiring more puzzle-solving — I’m guessing I could have gotten it by flying on a broomstick, but I failed to locate a broomstick. (The cleaning supplies closet was locked, and I didn’t have a wand to alohamora it open with.) And so I gave up. It’s entirely possible that the game really picks up once you have the wand, but I think that if a game locks the good stuff behind a dedication barrier, it’s fair to judge it on that basis.

Coming off that, I was immensely pleased at how quickly Remedial Witchcraft got going. It’s sort of a Sorcerer’s Apprentice variant: you’re a witch’s apprentice suffering through a series of mishaps that you fix with magic, which then causes more problems. The ending is pretty unsatisfying — it leaves you at the beginning of the biggest mishap yet, with no real indication that you’ll be able to get out of it at all. But other than that, it’s great fun. The map is small but dense, consisting solely of a ramshackle cottage and its garden. The magic you deal with is mostly in the form of enchanted objects rather than magic words, but that’s excellent adventure-game-puzzle fodder. In particular, it gets good mileage out of a stone that you can teleport to, wherever it is. I recall Zork Zero had something similar.

Mainly, though, Remedial Witchcraft has a lot of character. The protagonist is an adorable tyke who’s capable of working wonders but struggles to carry a crystal ball around. Her master, the Witch of the Howling Woods, is absent for most of the game (the better to leave the kid to her own devices), but makes an impression as a comically disorganized and overbearing foil, and the entire unkempt place reflects her personality. Her familiar, a cat, is wiser than you are, but still a cat. Certain objects become animated and have to be caught, and their actions are described like they’re small animals that got loose.

So, basically, this is the Hogwarts experience I wanted. I notice that the comments about it in the forum are mainly complaints about bugs, but twenty days into the Comp, they seem to have all been fixed.

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