Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Despite popular opinion, Mark Twain never actually called golf “the good walk spoiled.” Maybe it’s because he knew, deep in his heart, that one day Harry Potter: Wizards Unite would exist.
To be clear (and despite my disdain), I have played the shit out of this latest walk-and-poke-stuff simulator from Niantic, the company that briefly dominated our collective phones/brains with Pokémon Go. But if we’re being honest, that’s only because I’m… kind of an idiot?
The hook of that earlier phenomenon—still happily played by numerous people, it’s worth noting—was obvious: What if the world really was filled with bright, colorful pocket monsters, just like in the billions upon millions of beloved Pokémon games people have been enjoying for years? Wizards Unite asks a slightly less compelling question: What if the contents of J.K. Rowling’s brain—as represented by a series of drab CGI assets—were dumped out onto a Google Map, like so many wizards shitting comfortably on the floor?
And yet. I’ve written in the past about my stupid fat game-addicted brain, which is largely incapable of exercising or going for a walk unless you can wire an expensive helmet or some augmented reality bullshit directly to my eyes in the process. And so it’s impossible to deny that Wizards Unite—which, just like Pokémon Go, tasks you with walking around and tapping icons on an actual map of the area, collecting Albus Dumbledore’s enchanted dandruff scruffle, or the entire contents of Newt Scamander’s stupid fucking suitcase—has been a net benefit in my life, just in terms of calories burnt. And while I have occasionally gotten sprayed by a sprinkler or been given weird looks from security guards—some of the “inns” you have to visit to get new poking energy are dang inconvenient to reach!—it’s been generally worth it in terms of feeling like less of a sedentary lump every night. (Plus: No need to look at actual grimy nature, which is always a bonus.)
None of which makes Wizards Unite—the premise of which was presumably horfed into existence by some sort of hideous, enchanted, synergy-addicted focus group—an actual good game. The basic loop (walk, poke, trace shapes, wonder why your legs hurt, repeat) is strong enough, in a “hands do something while podcast plays” sort of way. The real letdown is how it looks. If you’re going to bring the Wizarding World into the real one, you need to provoke a sense of wonder; lazily slapping Ron Weasley’s gormless face onto a grainy photo of my street doesn’t really pass muster. If I’m playing an AR Wizarding World game, I want to feel like my Hogwarts letter could fly in the window at any minute, while I’m delicately picking out my wand and choosing my wizard name. (Fiddly Tiddlebot, since you asked.) Instead, I’m the unpaid janitor at the Harry Potter PlayStation 2 Video Game Graphics Factory, shoveling up loose Luna Lovegood models and excess snitches that have carelessly fallen on the floor.
But hey: At least I’m walking!