Wizards of Waverly Place: Spellbound
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2010-12-12 Nintendo DS Adventure E (Everyone) Disney Interactive Studios / Sarbakan Game Studio

I suppose Wizards of Waverly Place could basically be considered Disney's version of Harry Potter, of sorts, only in a much more lighthearted fashion. The TV show follows the (mis)adventures of Alex, Justin and Max, the three siblings of the Russo family. Born of a wizard father and a mortal mother, the three kids possess magical powers but unfortunately aren't able to use them without supervision. This doesn't always happen, as they still use them and tend to get in trouble because of it, and this is somewhat what the game revolves around.

Spellbound is a single-player adventure that allows you to play as the three wizards-to-be. The story revolves around Alex and a dress that she purposely created to enter a fashion show. The dress goes missing, and your task is to try to get it back and find out who is behind this disappearance and other strange related occurrences.

Moving around is done with the D-pad, while interacting with objects or people and casting spells is done with the stylus. The spell wheel appears when you hold the stylus over your character, and you can select any spell available by dragging it to your character or the person/object you want to cast on, and you learn more spells as you progress.

You'll be able to move objects, fix broken things, turn into a hamster, freeze things in place, unlock doors, undo certain things (like magic seals), take the aspect of another person, run faster, attract or repel people. Each of the spells is linked to puzzle solving in the different stages (for example, move objects around until you discover a hidden passage to the next area), and while the solutions are most of the time pretty straight-forward, executing them is not.

Since the wannabe wizards can't cast magic unsupervised, you must wait for the right moment to cast any given spell. At the bottom of the touch screen there is the "suspicion meter", a bar with an eye. If the eye is open, that means you're in line of sight with someone who will bust you for using magic. If the eye is closed, it's safe to use the spell. When the meter fills up, you'll be grounded and placed back at the beginning of the stage.

Casting a spell requires focus, and the focus meter will appear on the right side of the touch screen every time you cast a spell you haven't mastered yet. The bar will have a yellow area, which is what you must hit to cast the spell successfully. If you miss to tap the yellow area, your spell "fizzles" and you need to trace a line according to the shape on the screen to dissipate the failed magic. The yellow area on the focus meter shrinks the more you use the spell, and eventually you will master the spell and won't need the focus meter anymore - which means you will be able to select and instantly cast any given spell.

Throughout the game you will find yourself attempting to find the best position to cast a spell, while you keep an eye on the patrolling watchmen. Many times there will be more than one watchman, which makes things a lot more difficult. But what is extremely annoying and forces you into failing is that they are usually placed right in front of what you need to cast a spell on, and they ALWAYS stop and turn to stare at you if you come close. This is downright frustrating, because even if you move objects to block their path, they will place them back in the original position and carry on patrolling.

Another annoyance is trying to coordinate the spell casting with running, when chasing something or being chased. The timing isn't so easy to achieve and the spell wheel is fairly sensitive when you try to select something in a hurry (most of the times I'd end up in the wardrobe selecting outfits, instead of quickly casting Turbo and another required spell).

There are a few mini-games (of sorts) as well, one being a little bit like Diner Dash, where you serve the customers and hand them the check at the Waverly Sub Station, and another being the Wizard Challenges which unlock as you complete a chapter. The challenges require you to make your way through a maze within a time limit, while using the spell skills you have learned to overcome any obstacles. Completing them as well as goals within the adventure will unlock new outfits for Alex (also accessible through the Spell Wheel, in the wardrobe, which is the clothes hanger icon) as well as D-Gamer awards.

What the game does quite well is convey the atmosphere of the TV show through the music, landmarks (Tribeca Prep, the Loft, Waverly Sub Station), and likeness of the characters (aside from them looking like bobbleheads), as well as the "intermission" with the dancing characters. Fans of the show will definitely appreciate these details and most certainly enjoy the game.

Special thanks to Laura Bryce, Joseph Cariati and Disney Interactive for providing a copy of this title.