Tear apart a bookshelf speaker, and you’ll find a big donut-shaped magnet. Open up another, and you’ve got two, identically shaped, bloody giant magnets.
Flip one in reverse, thread them on pen, and the top one will levitate.
That’s not magic, that’s just science. Opposing poles repel, and a repelling force makes floaty business.
In 2001, Mattel unleashed one of the most magical hunks of plastic on the planet: Harry Potter’s Levitating Challenge. It put you in first year Harry Potter’s cloak, tasking you with completing the entry-level levitation exams. Providing an opportunity to master your ‘wingardium leviosa’, thousands of early naughties pre-teens probably got their rocks off from this wizard fantasy.
Harry Potter’s Levitating Challenge didn’t appeal to Hogswarts fan inside me, because that fan doesn’t exist. Despite being born in 1993, I’ve only read two and half of the books – and watched four and a quarter of the movies.
Witchcraft – in-front of my very muggle eyes – is what did appeal to me. Somehow, a strange, shield-shaped orange-coloured peice of plastic could break the laws of physics. Flip the switch and you’ll hear the memorable “boo-dee-doo-dee-doo-bo-de-dee” chime. Within seconds, a tiny ball will poltergeist-itself right out of the cauldron. No strings, no tricks. Just pure magic.
A voice which resembles Microsoft Sam far too closely reminds you to “co-emple-ete the cou-erse as fast as-you-can,” and then it’s over to you. By virtue of turning a giant crank, you too can control that magic floaty ball that spits right of the face of God.
Levels of detail unrivalled in other Mattel games always stuck out for me in H.P.L.G. (that’s what us cool kids abbreviate it to).
In addition to moving the ball around the course, you could control the height with a little lever. As the lever moved up, the ball moved up – and also Harry’s arm moved up at the same time like he really knew what was going on and wasn’t just a poorly painted figure.
In a way, it showed a very primate example of inverse kinematics. Pretty impressive for a 14-year-old game that RRP’d for about £25.
Like the best modern games, H.P.L.G could be reconfigured for a whole host of nimble challenges. Pop all the plastic pieces of the board, and you could make the ball do sick flips and trick on a blank canvas.
You had 10 unique pieces to play around with. Rather than go into detail on each, it’s simply easier to rank them all in order of not-shitness:
10. The shit plank with a shit hole in it.
9. Hollow no-challenge ghost totem pole (for casuals)
8. Impossible twirling purple barrel (RIGGED!)
7. Nerf’d guilliotine that my cousin said he didn’t break.
6. Stupid broom.
5. Godly cage.
4. Sit’n’spin ledge for true gamers(tm)
3. ‘The Good Hoop’
1. Almighty spinning hole-wheel (ENTER IF YOU DARE!! NO LOSERS!!)
Configurations were literally endless. I’ll admit I never achieve my dream of buying multiple sets to enable a course entirely spinning hole-wheels, but there’s still time to dream.
Back in ’02, the beauty came in balancing these components to make a course that’d you easy for you (the master games man), but devilishly difficult for siblings or playing-because-mum-said-so distant relatives.
If none of this sounds magic enough, you might be please to know that Mattel up-cycled the gamed in 2009.
Rather than re-branding the game for Harry Potter’s Bad Year: Parts 1 and 2, they removed witchcraft entirely. Science took it’s place, in the form a game that hooked directly into your brain.
Duotone, bland and uninspiring, it didn’t score very good reviews. But if you want to grab a copy, you can still get it here, for £151.
Failing that, there’s always giant, donut-shaped magnets.