Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban will be the first third-party game in the world to take advantage of EyeToy, and in addition to various mini-games reminiscent of the EyeToy: Play package, EA UK's Azkaban adaptation will also accept voice input to help repel Peeves and perform other tasks. "Accio jaw from floor!" as some of our more excitable colleagues might put it.
The Prisoner Of Azkaban is on course to launch on PS2, Xbox, Cube, PC and GBA this May 28th, but it's the PlayStation 2 version of the game that looks certain to draw the most focus thanks to the addition of EyeToy features. Players will be able to literally don the Sorting Hat on-screen to find their way into their respective Hogwarts house, and subsequently take part in a variety of mini-games. Speaking to EA this lunchtime, we were told the final number of mini-games has yet to be set in stone, but should be around six.
The addition of EyeToy support will certainly liven up EA's latest Potter title, interpreting simple hand gestures in addition to accepting voice commands. Spell-casting, perhaps! Although EA isn't planning an actual wand peripheral, an equally Potter-mad representative suggested we could always use our own makeshift example if we really wanted. Cuh, makeshift - as if we don't have our own wands!
Four of the PS2 version's planned mini-games were officially unveiled by EA this morning. In addition to the "shouting at Peeves" aspect mentioned to us in private, "Chocolate Frogs" will see players clapping their hands together to catch a Chocolate Frog and no doubt send the resultant goo splashing everywhere; "Exploding Snap" will see young wizards matching their cards with snap cards to make explosions, with a chain reaction feature for avid players; "Seeker Practice" will involve trying to grab the Golden Snitch whilst avoiding the Bludger; and "Zonko's Joke Shop" will have players using Frog Spawn Soap to explode Dungbombs as they whizz around the screen, using Hiccough Sweets to make them jump and Stink Pellets to slow them down. Oh, and the screenshot released by EA clearly shows a little chap clearing the Weasley garden of its unwelcome magical guests.
With this third Harry Potter title, EA's professed goal is to add a bit of depth to the expected third-person platforming and adventure gameplay, and with this in mind, in addition to the EyeToy features Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban will also see players swapping between control of Harry and friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger - and not just for their own individual levels either - as their third term at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry turns out to be another roller coaster. Unravelling the mystery of escaped convict Sirius Black will be the ultimate goal, but some of the Ministry of Magic's attempts to secure the school seem to be more trouble than they're worth, and will put up plenty of barriers to success. Fans of the book will remember an early encounter with a Dementor on the train to Hogwarts, and during the main adventure Harry will actually faint at this point, and players will have to take control of Ron to continue.
Budding wizards will also have to try and match each character's skills to the task in hand in some sections, picking Hermione when a certain spell is called for, for example, or switching to Harry whenever a stream of CAPS LOCK expletives is required. Oh wait, hang on, that was the fifth book. Never mind.
Of course, Sony is understandably thrilled at the prospect of combining EA's marketing machine and Harry Potter with its EyeToy peripheral. SCEE's executive veepee of development Phil Harrison called it "a ringing endorsement of the global success of EyeToy." Secretly of course Sony will be relieved to find a new talisman for the peripheral, which has done stunningly well the world over but didn't enjoy renewed success when the EyeToy: Groove dance title launched late last year in Europe.
According to a spokesman, EA is still aiming for May 28th to launch the game, a week before the film's June 4th premiere, and knowing EA, we'd say that's the way it's going to unfold one way or another. Unfortunately though we are wizards, not Mystic Meg, so we can't tell you to put money on it. Still, with EyeToy on board, a wider range of gameplay elements, and a focus split between the book and film's three main characters, Azkaban should certainly set pulses racing amongst Potter fans both young and old. It's also good to see EA UK making an effort to nurture their side of the franchise, instead of just falling back on a design that has so far earned them millions.