HEAT VISION

'Harry Potter: Wizards Unite' Mixes Magic of J.K. Rowling's Universe With 'Pokémon Go' Gameplay

The free-to-play AR mobile game hopes to match the massive success of Niantic's pocket monster-catching blockbuster.

With its latest offering, Pokémon Go creator Niantic Inc. invites gamers to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

For its new, free-to-play, mobile augmented reality game, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, Niantic has teamed up with WB Games to transform the real world into a fantastical imagining of J.K. Rowling's magical universe.

Players traverse their own neighborhoods, visiting local parks and landmarks that have been turned into inns or shops from the Potter-verse, while also searching for traces of magic, wayward fantastic beasts and rogue wizards who have begun sprouting up following a "Calamity" players are tasked with rectifying. 

"We're always looking to push forward with each successive project," Niantic CEO John Hanke tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We took everything we learned over three years with Pokémon Go and tried to build that into the bones of this product."

Wizards Unite features quick load times when players encounter a "Confoundable" (challenges and collectibles that appear as interactive icons on the map), which overlay on players' mobile screens using the devices' cameras. Goblins can sprout up on a player's desk, dark wizards may be standing on their bed, et cetera, and with each new challenger that appears a meter judging the danger it poses is shown. Depending on the level of difficulty, players must perform a pattern match on their screen to cast various spells in order to defeat, and collect, the Confoundables. 

Players can also create their own wizarding passport, which allows them to pick their house, pose for a photo with Potter-esque round-rimmed glasses or a pointy witch's hat and, at higher levels, pick a profession and title. With just a few additional clicks, users can share their passport to their preferred social platform. 

"The line between playing the game and communicating with friends and putting stuff on social is almost nonexistent," says Hanke.

The social element of Wizards Unite is a big part of the experience. Players can join up in teams of five to face off against "Fortress Challenges" that offer more demanding tasks and foes. Adding friends is as easy as clicking the dedicated home-screen icon and inputting their IDs.

"For us, connecting people in real life is our mission," says Hanke. "We find people using our games more like social activities, like going out to the movies or to a bar. People use it in that same way."

For those looking to tackle the game alone, however, daily challenges are available that offer various awards, such as potions, coins and other collectibles when completed. Speaking of potions, at level four, players can craft their own using the items they've amassed from battling Confoundables.

The game is loaded with references, nods and insider information that will be a familiar treat to die-hard Potter fans, but newcomers (as few as those may be given the popularity of the Potter IP) will also find deep gameplay and enjoyable world-building enough to bring them back following the initial free download. 

"It's a very well-developed world," Hanke says of the Potter universe. "The nature of any adaptation like this is to work to bring that to life in a new way but one that is absolutely loyal to the canon and the core of the IP."

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is available as a free download on Android and iOS mobile devices on Friday.

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