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Niantic, the company that built the hit game Pokemon Go, launched its new game this week based on another popular franchise.
It's called Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and, like Pokemon, it uses augmented reality to place digital objects, such as monsters and popular characters from the "Harry Potter" books, into the real world.
It's a big next step for Niantic, which spun off from Google's parent company Alphabet and, earlier this year, raised an additional $245 million at a $4 billion valuation. Niantic is said to have generated nearly $2 billion from Pokemon Go in its first two years, according to research from Sensor Tower. With a potential new big hit on Niantic's hands, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is a game to watch.
The game is free to play and is available on iOS and Android, which means pretty much anyone with a phone can play it. And like Pokemon Go, Niantic stands to make money off of in-game items that players can buy, which range in price from $1.69 to $34.99.
The game appears to be an early success, too. It already has more than 500 positive reviews with an average score above four stars on the Apple App Store, and gamers everywhere are talking about it. I decided to give it a quick spin to see what it's like.
I admit I couldn't get into Pokemon Go, maybe because I wasn't always a huge Pokemon fan, and only played some of the original games back on the Nintendo Gameboy. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is more compelling to me, since I've read the books and watched the movies.
And that made starting Harry Potter: Wizards Unite fun. Just minutes into the game, I saw Rubeus Hagrid, the half-giant, half-human from "Harry Potter," standing on my living room table. Using AR, the game rendered a version of him, big and tall, caught up in a spider's web. My job was to free him using a spell, which meant just swiping on the screen.
Like Pokemon Go, however, Wizards Unite requires you to walk around and explore where you are. If you remember when everyone was playing Pokemon Go a few years ago, you may have seen groups of people gathered around your neighborhood trying to catch Pokemon.
Wizards Unite offers the same encouragement to explore the neighborhood to find new creatures and things to do. It uses a real map, but morphs places, like a nearby cupcake shop, into in-game points of interest, like a "green house" where you can get ingredients to make potions, or a catering shop that's transformed into an inn where you can recharge your spells.
As you save characters from the "Harry Potter" universe from danger, whether they're trapped, possessed by a monster plant or something else, you'll collect them, much like people collected monsters in Pokemon Go.
You can download Wizards Unite from the iTunes App Store or Google Play on Android. You'll need to log in with either a Facebook or Google account before you get a tutorial on how to play. After a few minutes of setup, it's up to you to continue. Open it up and take a walk around the block, or pick it up and see what kind of characters you can save while you're at home.
There's no need to buy items in the game if you don't want to, but you can if you want a leg up on finding characters, refilling spell energy without traveling, dressing your character in new costumes that you can apply to your profile picture, like robes from the popular houses in "Harry Potter." (Go Slytherin.)
It's not much of a game to sit and play idly, which will attract some people, especially parents who don't want their kids sitting on the couch all day. In the summer months, it could push people to be outside more while playing the game, just like Pokemon Go did.
It may be too early to know if this will take off the way Pokemon Go did, but it has similar features and will appeal to a wide audience of "Harry Potter" fans. It's also fun for all ages. If anything, give it a try just to see the future of mobile gaming, and what Niantic's next game is all about.