I reviewed mobile games for several years from 2009 onwards. I watched iOS games rise as a chaotic force that contended directly with dedicated handhelds like the Nintendo 3DS before it settled into a tamer, more predictable market filled with free-to-play Gatcha games. Not to make myself sound over-important (oh no, too late), but in that time I developed a keen sense that lets me accurately separate "fair" free-to-play games from the ripoffs.
I can therefore say with full confidence Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery for iOS and Android is a craven ripoff. It's the kind of ripoff I'm surprised still exists on the mobile marketplace. I haven't seen its like since my earliest mobile game-reviewing days, when the Apple Store brimmed with copycat stamina-based town-building simulators. It continuously thrusts out both hands to collect money from gullible young Harry Potter fans.
It's a damn shame, because the elevator pitch for Hogwarts Mystery is compelling. One day while minding your own business, an owl delivers an invitation to attend Hogwarts. You quickly find yourself in its hallowed halls, where you're swiftly sorted into a House (Hufflepuff 5eva), make friends, and begin your lessons.
You also run into the requisite Slytherin bully who tags incessantly at your heels to remind you "your" disgraced brother was expelled from Hogwarts. Will you follow in his footsteps, or won't you? You gradually unravel your brother's reasons for going rogue while you go through the motions in Charms, Flying, Potions, and the rest of the Hogwarts curriculum.
Yeah, the story for Hogwarts Mystery is kind of fanfic-ish. Though you won't meet Harry and his cadre (the game's events take place several years before Harry attends Hogwarts himself), you find stand-ins. Aside from store-brand Draco Malfoy, I also found a cowardly Gryffindor with no idea why he was sorted into the House known for its courage and heroics (a paint-by-numbers Neville Longbottom, in other words).
Despite the moments when it casts a familiar shadow, the story for Hogwarts Mystery isn't bad. I'd be happy to follow it to its conclusion—except the game is determined to make me cough up a ton of dosh if I hope to do so.
The narrative for Hogwarts Mystery is woven in and around your daily lessons, much how it is in the Harry Potter books and movies. That's fine. The problem is that to complete your lessons, you need to tap on the screen repeatedly to build up points and earn stars. One tap equals one unit of energy, and later lessons require a lot of taps to complete. Energy refills slowly over time, which means a single lesson can take ages to complete. You might stumble on a free energy fill-up, but it's hardly something you can count on.
I eventually got stuck in Broom Care Purgatory after my topped-up energy meter barely took me to the lesson's halfway mark. Irritated (and unwilling to spend 55 gems—roughly $3.00 CDN—for an energy fill-up), I put the game aside and played We Bare Bears Match3 Repairs for a while. When I returned to Harry Potter Hogwarts Hellride, I discovered one of the game's most charming traits: Lessons have a countdown, and when that countdown expires, you must start half-completed lessons all over again. That means any energy you spent to finish part of the lesson goes right down the toilet with Moaning Myrtle.
The monetization scheme for Hogwarts Mystery is appalling and demolishes what might otherwise be a fun little Harry Potter experience. I feel bad for every person who worked on this game and clearly wanted to tell a story, only to have the corporate side of Jam City, Portkey Games, and Warner Bros muscle in and say, "Okay, let's program a cash-grab here, here, and here. Oh, here too."
I'm not against mobile game developers utilizing microtransactions to make money on free-to-play games. I'm confident Warner Bros could make back development costs on Hogwarts Mystery and then some with its extensive wardrobe of costly robes that are only purchasable with hard currency. Sadly, the draconian energy system governing Hogwarts Mystery erects signs at every corner of the school declaring "YOU SHALL NOT PASS." Your runaway brother isn't the disgrace of Hogwarts. This game is.