While we wait to find out whether there’ll be a Fantastic Beasts video game, here’s a definitive and totally non-contestable* ranking of the eight existing Harry Potter movie games.
(*just kidding, this is the Internet. Contest away.)
You would think that one of the most inventive, expansive book series of our time would lend itself perfectly to a series of rich, challenging, fun video game adaptations for all ages to enjoy. Well, spoiler alert, that didn’t work out super well.
While J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter story obviously saw huge success translated to the big screen, the video game spinoffs of those eight movies didn’t fare all that well with game critics — although, arguably, some of them are a lot more successful than most video game adaptations of movies.
The Harry Potter games were average at best, enjoyable only to hardcore fans of the series who wished to spend more time in Harry’s world.
Ironically, the best Harry Potter games aren’t based on the movies at all, but rather the LEGO installments and the FIFA-inspired Quidditch tournament.
So what about the rest of them — you know, the actual main games based on the eight Harry Potter movies you know and love? If you are anything like me, you played them all multiple times even though you knew they weren’t that good just because the thrill of running around Hogwarts and interacting with your favorite characters was too good to resist.
Here’s a run-down of the eight main-story Harry Potter games, ranked by graphics, story, playability, and general enjoyment.
The best Harry Potter video games
8. ‘Deathly Hallows – Part 1’
The worst thing about this game is the lost potential — it could have been so great. Splitting the final Harry Potter book in two parts meant that Deathly Hallows – Part 1 became a bit of a road trip movie, with Harry and Hermione (and Ron, kinda) traveling around the country. If the makers of this game had had any kind of ambition (as Order of the Phoenix‘s team genuinely did), they would have taken that idea and run with it, creating a unique Harry Potter gaming experience. But they didn’t.
Graphics: The final three Harry Potter games are undoubtedly the best-looking of the lot, but that’s not saying much. Still, even by today’s standards, it actually looks decent.
World-building side-quests: While the execution is terrible, the idea of this feature is great: Through the game the main story gives way for side-quests that involve rescuing Muggles and going through areas that aren’t in the movies. This is what I would have loved for the game to be, so I’m gonna count it as positive, even though it feels pointless and distracting in practice.
Stealth: This game relies heavily on stealth mode. In fairness, I suck at stealth, but this game makes it particularly buggy and frustrating. And since when does the Invisibility Cloak have to recharge?!
Gameplay: Let’s be real, this is a point-and-shoot game in disguise. I’m always annoyed with how the movies depict wizarding duels — it’s basically just Wild West gun fights — so to have a whole game of third-person-shooter just doesn’t feel like Harry Potter in any way, shape or form.
Version played: PS3
7. ‘Goblet of Fire’
While not the worst of the lot, Goblet of Fire deserves a particularly low placement on this list because of the INSANELY frustrating aspect of having to repeat each level multiple times. What do we need so many shields for, anyway?!
Storytelling: Goblet of Fire feels more like a ‘real’ game in the sense that it has a coherent structure, and your actions feel like they matter in terms of advancing the story. Of course the three-task structure of the book gives the game a leg up in this regard, but the developers translated those tasks really well.
Multiple playable characters: You can’t switch freely between the trio, but you can spend a good chunk of the game playing as either Hermione or Ron if you so choose, which is always fun.
Difficulty: Or rather, lack of difficulty. This game is short, easy (except for the damn shield collecting) and unimaginative.
Scope: Unlike previous games, this is a closed, linear experience that doesn’t allow you to explore Hogwarts or its grounds. Booo.
Version played: PS2
6. ‘Deathly Hallows – Part 2’
You’d think EA might make a little more effort to make the final Harry Potter game great, but you’d be wrong. They wanted it to be over, and although not as rushed as Part 1, the finale is a by-the-numbers, tedious hack and slash slogfest that completely lacks the emotional gravitas of the book and movie.
Multiple playable characters: A few of the games allow you to switch between different characters, and while Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is far from the most enjoyable (you can only switch at key moments and it seems a little arbitrary), it is satisfying to get to inhabit some of the side-characters we’ve come to know and love.
Apparating: When you finally get this ability, it’s a lot of fun. Too bad you don’t get to enjoy it for very long.
Gameplay: Similarly to Part 1, the final game is basically a third-person shooter with spells serving like different gun attacks, which is fine and even mildly entertaining at times, but not exactly what you want from a Harry Potter video game. It also gets incredibly repetitive.
Story: Since this is the final game in the series, it feels particularly egregious that you literally can’t affect any event whatsoever. Not that I’d want you to be able to save Lupin or Fred or anything, but playing through the Battle of Hogwarts knowing that literally nothing you do matters kind of takes the thrill out of it.
Version played: PS3
5. ‘Half-Blood Prince’
Half-Blood Prince is not one of the best Harry Potter video games, but it’s certainly not the worst, simply because it’s less annoying than most of the other ones.
Storytelling: Half-Blood Prince isn’t really concerned with re-telling the story of the movie, but rather with exploring the fun parts of Harry’s sixth and final year at Hogwarts. That makes for a more fun gaming experience.
Scope: Like Order of the Phoenix, this one offers an open-world Hogwarts for the player to traverse, though I found it a bit less enjoyable this time around. What I did love was the crest-collecting, which encourages you to really explore every nook and cranny.
Quidditch: Might not be a weakness to everyone, but it felt formulaic to me. You’d think they’d take advantage of the increase in possibility since the Quidditch World Cup game, but nah.
Repetitiveness: In my opinion, Half-Blood Prince is actually worse than Order of the Phoenix in this regard, hence its lower placement. There are basically three things to do in this game: Duel, brew a potion and play Quidditch. That’s it. Zzz.
Version played: Wii
4. ‘Sorcerer’s Stone’
This is a lot of fans’ favorite Harry Potter game, probably because it’s the first (and maybe the only) one they played. And it’s certainly not bad… especially if you have a fondness for Harry shouting “FLIPENDO!” at everything.
Quidditch: A lot of the games have Quidditch in some form, but this version is actually kind of enjoyable. You have to navigate through hoops in the courtyard, and the controls are so sensitive, it’s actually pretty challenging. Plus, Madam Hooch is shouting at you as you go, which is always fun.
Story: Perhaps reflecting its target audience, the plot of Sorcerer’s Stone is presented in storybook format, which is super cute and a fun alternative way of experiencing the story.
Graphics: In its defense, the game was released in 2001, but even for its time, the graphics were pretty terrible. Some of the characters look downright scary, the frame rate jumps so much the game is almost unplayable, and it’s actually pretty hard to navigate Harry because of the rigid angle of the camera.
Harry’s voice acting: I get that they were going for a Zelda-vibe, but my God do his little grunts become unbearable. Especially because most of the game’s action involves jumping around from place to place, and it’s always. the. same. sound. His aggressive use of “FLIPENDO!” — while charming in retrospect — is also pretty maddening in-game.
Version played: PS1
3. ‘Order of the Phoenix’
Controversially, I think there’s a case to be made for Order of the Phoenix actually being the best Harry Potter video game if judging by graphics and scope alone, and if all you want from a Harry Potter game is the ability to freely discover the secrets of Hogwarts without any pesky plot standing in your way, this is the game for you.
Graphics: Order of the Phoenix is a beautiful Harry Potter game, not only because of the advanced technology at the time of its release, but because of the care that went into the design of Hogwarts and its inhabitants. The developers said at the time that the design of Hogwarts was their main focus, and it shows — the castle’s design is canon, and include areas you never see in the films.
Scope: This is the most expansive ‘open-world’ game, with the majority of the action taking place at Hogwarts, and the player being able to move freely around the castle almost from the start. The main portion of the game involves discovering Hogwarts’ many secrets and unlocking trophies as you go, interacting with all of the many students to solve various quests. It’s a lot of fun… but would be a lot more fun if the tasks themselves weren’t so mind-numbingly repetitive.
Voice acting: Order of the Phoenix is the only game that features almost every actor from the Harry Potter cast, bar Dan Radcliffe and Emma Watson, and this does a lot in terms of making the otherwise tedious gameplay more interesting. Everyone, including the student ‘extras,’ do a really good job not sounding like video game characters, and one of the game’s best features is the distinction between students from the four Hogwarts houses: Slytherins hate Harry and yell slurs at him whenever he’s near, Gryffindors love him, etc. You even get little pieces of characters’ backstories by talking to them that weren’t in the films.
Story: The story of Order of the Phoenix is told in cutscenes, and have almost nothing to do with the game itself. Yes, you have to do things like find all members of Dumbledore’s Army (a fun way to explore the castle), but it’s repetitive, non-challenging and quickly devolves into pointlessness.
Gameplay: Order of the Phoenix is basically a string of minigames that range from arranging four pieces of a painting on a wall (challenging only because of the shoddy movement system), challenging random students to one-dimensional ‘duels,’ lighting torches, cleaning courtyards, and playing exploding snap. Oh boy, do you play a lot of exploding snap.
Controls: Harry Potter fans were urged to get the Order of the Phoenix game on Wii specifically in order to physically “cast” the spells with the Wiimote, but the amount of nuance the game required for its multiple spells simply didn’t match the technology’s capabilities at the time. (It should be noted that Zelda: Twilight Princess came out the same year and definitely wasn’t perfect either, but worked a lot better than this mess.) As you can’t advance in the game before correctly moving that damn furniture around Grimmauld Place, this is an immediate deterrent, but even after being free of that nightmare the entire game relies on you being able to know your Repulso from your Reducto, and the Wiimote makes this a niggling annoyance rather than a thrill.
Version played: Wii
2. ‘Chamber of Secrets’
This is gonna be controversial, since Chamber of Secrets is considered the best Harry Potter game by many fans. And it’s a good game — just not the best.
Gameplay: While Sorcerer’s Stone largely takes place inside Hogwarts, Chamber of Secrets spends a lot of time in the Hogwarts grounds. This is a nice change, and allows for some fun new puzzles. The game introduces a couple of new spells for Harry to learn, too: Incendio (or should I say “IIINCEENNNDIOOO”!) and Petrificus Totalus. Always fun. In the grounds you also encounter various magical creatures, the best being the Puffskein, an adorable blob that follows you around and which you can inflate or deflate to fit into holes of hot air (don’t ask), allowing you to ascend to new heights.
Ginny Weasley: The game opens at The Burrow, and Harry spends a lot of time with Ginny Weasley, moving around the pumpkin patch and solving puzzles. Not only is this fun in a I-know-you’re-gonna-get-married kind of way, but it also makes the Chamber of Secrets game the only version of the story that manages to make the audience pay attention to/care about Ginny before the events in the Chamber. The Harry Potter books largely ignore Ginny until Harry develops a crush on her, and the movies follow suit, but this game actually puts her front and center at the very start, making her an ally and even mentor to Harry. Nice going, game!
Graphics and controls: In many ways, Chamber of Secrets is genuinely a good game, but I’m bumping it down because the graphics are genuinely terrible, even for its time. Of course graphics don’t have to be a deal-breaker — you wouldn’t rank Ocarina of Time lower than Skyward Sword for the same reason — but Chamber, which came out four years after Ocarina yet looks half a decade older, is jagged and lacks detail in a way that other games at this time simply didn’t. And, even more importantly, the controls are terrible. You can forgive dated graphics a lot more easily if you don’t constantly want to rip apart the joystick because the character isn’t doing what you want it to do.
Scope: In my opinion, the best Harry Potter games are the ones that open the Wizarding World up to the player and incorporate RPG-elements of gameplay into the Hogwarts experience. Chamber of Secrets expands on Sorcerer‘s model of Hogwarts, and the ability to fly around on your broomstick is very enjoyable but it simply doesn’t have the scope or detail of my top pick.
Replayability: For me, this is the main reason Chamber lands at #2. Compared to my #1 and even Order and Prince, there simply isn’t as much to do and see around Hogwarts, and no reason to stay ‘in the world’ longer than you have to.
Version played: PS1
1. ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’
Far and away the best game in the Harry Potter series in my opinion, effectively creating an open-world-ish model of gameplay while allowing the player to feel like their actions advance the plot.
Scope: Like Order of the Phoenix, Prisoner of Azkaban takes place at Hogwarts, and the player can move around the castle (almost) freely. It isn’t quite as expansive, but PoA has a major advantage: The player can fly around Hogwarts on Buckbeak, and discover previously inaccessible places. You can land on the roof of Hogwarts, find hidden alcoves, and see the castle from every desirable angle. This is just so much fun, and arguably a lot more satisfying than what OotP and HBP offers.
Multiple playable characters: PoA is the only game where you can switch freely between Harry, Ron and Hermione through most of the game. Each character has different capabilities and weaknesses, and sometimes it’s necessary to switch between them to advance the story, but most of the time you can simply choose whichever of the trio you want to lead the group around the castle (I’m always Hermione, obviously). Of course it would’ve been fun to have multiplayer capabilities too, but not strictly necessary.
Gameplay: The gameplay isn’t bad — definitely not as bad as OotP — but Prisoner of Azkaban features a very repetitive dungeon system, as various teachers make the trio enter hidden areas to complete a series of minigame puzzles. It’s hard to tell whether Prisoner of Azkaban wants to be easy enough for kids or challenging enough for adults, since these puzzles are sometimes very unintuitive and other times painfully dull.
Version played: PS2