The best way to describe Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is ultimately as an attempt to force lightning to strike the same place twice. That’s because lightning can do exactly that — the old adage is kind of ridiculous when you consider the concept of extremely tall buildings and the existence of lightning rods. But the conditions have to be right and, in the case of Niantic and Warner Bros’ joint AR mobile game, it doesn’t feel like much of a storm is brewing.
The building certainly is towering enough to attract attention, as for many people who undoubtedly own mobile phones, it seems like the Harry Potter books are the only ever to be binded and sold for profit. The ubiquity of comparisons between J.K. Rowling’s fantasy epic and just about everything else in the real world are a meme of their own at this point, so a big budget Harry Potter mobile game is less a marketing partnership than an inevitability of life in 2019. But a fortnight into this augmented reality has made it unclear if even the most ardent fans of Hogwarts hijinks will stick around for long.
The stickiness of Pokemon Go in 2019, three years into its release, is surprising in a lot of ways. Older people who have no nostalgia for Pokemon Red or Blue on their GameBoys have taken to the game in a big way, and despite the initial problems with crashing and loading times and a nightmare that was the first Pokemon GO Fest, people are still playing. After some significant tweaks and additions it feels like a real game, one that’s gone far beyond a freemium time-waster with a big brand attached to it.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is built on the same technology as Ingress and Pokemon Go, but unlike the former two, the concept of exploring doesn’t really make sense in Harry Potter. To fix this there’s a “Calamity” in the wizarding world that has spread things — all kinds of things — from their rightful places out into the rest of the world. There are countless references to the books and movies, including digitized characterizations of those actors who played Harry, Ron and Hermione. It’s an interesting concept, and it makes the game a bit of a mystery, but it’s also kind of a silly way to get the highly-licensed gang back together.
Basically, this tweet.
The game is essentially about filling a sticker book of things from the Harry Potter world, which may sound like an oversimplification but is exactly what it feels like. You tap on an icon and a quidditch ball or student in robes signifying a Hogwarts house appear trapped by some “magic,” often with a literal ball and chain around their ankle, and you try to do a magic gesture to free it. Again and again. And though there is a lot to do, it also gets freemium in a hurry.