The Straits Times/Asia News Network
Wizards Unite improves on Pokemon Go in several ways. It is prettier, has more interesting game mechanics, more things to do and a storyline to boot. (Shutterstock/KeongDaGreat)
After striking gold with the 2016 smash hit Pokemon Go, Niantic is now giving a well-loved book franchise on magic its augmented-reality treatment with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.
Wizards Unite improves on Pokemon Go in several ways. It is prettier, has more interesting game mechanics, more things to do and a storyline to boot.
Like Pokemon Go, Wizards Unite superimposes a cartoony, but prettier, virtual game world onto the real world - the colours are more vibrant and there are more visual flourishes.
The game encourages players to venture outdoors to collect virtual items "found" at real-world locations while battling and cooperating with other players to get rarer items.
Among the virtual items are the randomly occurring Foundables, which are magical people, creatures or objects yanked out of their usual haunts and "dumped" in the real world.
This threatens the game's wizarding world and it is up to the player to return the Foundables back to where they belong, with an unravelling plot to accompany the proceedings.
Finding a Foundable is one thing; setting it free is another.
Players do so by casting spells, using spell energy collected along the way, to overcome challenges such as monsters that stand in the way.
To help them, players can use potions that can, for instance, boost their spells against foes. These potions are made using crafting materials players find.
But this is more involved than acquiring the equivalent of potions in Pokemon Go and makes Wizards Unite harder to get into.
I am not sure Wizards Unite's added layer of complexity will appeal to more people, since one of Pokemon Go's strengths is its simple and intuitive gameplay.
Another problem is that a Pokemon Go-styled collecting game does not mesh well with the wonder and aspirational fantasy of the Harry Potter universe.
There is no proper Hogwarts experience to sort players into different magical houses in Wizards Unite and, unlike the books, players do not discover a new magical world previously hidden from view.
Work seems to have gone into creating a plot for the game, but the story often feels like an elaborate excuse to collect stuff like Flobberworms or Quaffles. Scavenger hunts are not one of the reasons the wizarding world is popular.
Even so, discovering which pieces of Potter lore have found their way into the game is fun.
One gameplay mechanic I really enjoyed that captures the magic of Harry Potter revolves around items called Portkeys, which create the illusion of "walking" through magic portals in real life to reach mystical areas to collect more items.
It is still early days for Wizards Unite and the game is certain to evolve further. But, for now, it does not exactly inspire the same kind of fervor as The Boy Who Lived.
• More to do than in Pokemon Go
• Gameplay was built for Pokemon Go, not for Harry Potter
• Greater complexity might turn off players
PRICE: Free with in-app purchases (iOS, Android)
GENRE: Mobile augmented reality