LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Review
It's Leviosa not Leviosar! ... noob.
By Ben Salter
I’m a little surprised that Lego Harry Potter wasn’t developed sooner. It’s got all of the credentials to make it the perfect candidate for a Lego game. The films have a fairly serious narrative that can be re-told through a humourous light with Lego characters quite well and the gameplay is a perfect fit. That said, Harry Potter has a very dedicated fan base and one that could easily be offended and revolt if everything isn’t perfect, opening up an element of risk with developing such a game.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 follows the same conventions as all of the previous Lego video games. The world of Harry Potter is transformed into a world of Lego, as are all of the characters. The story is told through brief cut-scenes without any dialogue, only sound effects. Most of it stays true to its source material (the films not the books), with some minor changes to make everything more light-hearted and co-op appropriate. Developer Traveller’s Tales assumes players have a decent understanding of the Harry Potter series. While most events reference the movies quite well, they don’t do a fantastic job of explaining what is happening if you’re not completely up to date. That’s far from a bad thing though, as it’s fair to assume people playing Lego Harry Potter will be fans of J.K. Rowling’s series. Not to mention the huge fan base and the fact that Harry Potter was almost mandatory for anyone growing up in the late 90s and early 2000s.
The Harry Potter story is essentially a skin for the Lego gameplay, which hasn’t changed all that much since its inception. The same stud collecting and Lego building gameplay is here, complete with more characters than you can remember and great drop-in and out co-op play. Lego Harry Potter isn’t without its bugs and suffers from long standing issues that are more annoying than usual due to the general gameplay starting to become a little tired. However, it more than makes up for that through its in-genius use of magic and abilities, which fits the Lego-style of play better than anything yet.
Hey mum, ma, mum, mummy, ma, mum, look at me! You're not looking!
The magical elements of Harry Potter transition seamlessly into the world of Lego. The magic system is remarkable and sure to please even the most hardcore of Potter fans. Your main attack and aiming is handled by one button, while the current active spell is controlled with another. Spells can be rotated using the left or right trigger and you can change between characters at the touch of a button. The basic control scheme works marvelously and makes it a great game for younger fans that might be confused by the direct movie tie-ins; although, that isn’t to say the puzzles aren’t challenging. By the end of the game (the end of 4th year) you have a decent array of spells in your arsenal, all of which work just as they do in the films. Wingardium Leviosa is the first you’ll master and almost becomes your signature move due to its correlation with the Lego environment. It’s used to lift platforms, build new objects with Lego, open doors, throw items and attack.
Each objective is presented as a level, but overall it feels like a free-flowing adventure. These range from school classes, where new abilities are learnt, to fighting major bosses like the basilisk (or big ass snake). Between these levels, Hogwarts acts as central hub and allows you to walk from one area to the next. It feels fairly open, but in reality is restricted by the side-scrolling, linear, style of the Lego games. The Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley are used between years and can be visited at anytime as a shopping district. Here you can purchase a range of characters, use free play, bonus stages and the level creator. Building your own levels is cool and the epitome of Lego, but as there’s no way to share them online it’s somewhat useless if you want to show off your handy work.
Hogwarts is a busy environment where there’s always something out of the ordinary happening. It’s just as good in the Lego universe and the quirky nature of the Harry Potter series has allowed for some more complex puzzles. While it’s still the best recent Harry Potter game for kids, some of the puzzles are down right frustrating, even for the more experienced gamer. Lego Harry Potter is one of those games where you can spend way too long stuck in a single area and throw down the controller in a fit of rage, only to discover what you’re meant to do instantly upon return. That’s not necessarily the best formula for small children, but it does offer something of a challenge for the big kids that grow up in the Potter craze of ’01 and haven’t looked back since.
Chillax, Ron; Voldy won't come to power for a few years yet.
The more complex puzzles leave you spamming Wingardium Leviosa on everything until you find what you want. Making potions becomes way too repetitive after the first year, and finding the required ingredients becomes a burden, as does the resulting magic spam-fest. Most of the other building and unlocking style tasks remain enjoyable from beginning to end, but by the end of the game you’d rather use an Unforgivable Curse on yourself than make another potion.
The platforming elements are kept fairly basic, but they’re let down far too often by poor camera placement. Most of the time it’s hard to judge if you’re in-line with a jump or not, which leads to you diving into a hole more often that not. Similarly the combat is far from a strong point, but it never has been in the Lego games. The bosses are reminiscent of their movie counterparts, but all are defeated in much the same way. For that matter, every enemy is disposed of in a similar fashion, leaving little incentive to seek out combat. Having said that, combat isn’t a major part of the Harry Potter series, especially in the first four years, so it shouldn’t discourage fans too much.
The split screen co-op returns from Lego Indiana Jones and is by far the best way to play LHP. The second player can drop in and out at anytime without disrupting play and most of the puzzles incorporate some type of teamwork which is never ideal when partnered with A.I. When the two players are close together both will appear on one screen, which splits into two when they move far apart. It’s a great way to do it and, while not perfect, gives the distinct impression that both players are actually working together.
Oh man, we're on the wrong floor again
The absurd humour is fantastic, as always in the Lego games and what they’re all about it. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which might put off fans that live and breath Potter, but it’s a great laugh for the rest of us. The characters are detailed, as much as a Lego figure can be, and Traveller’s Tales has done an excellent job of bringing Hogwarts to life. There’s no dialogue besides the occasional grunt or laugh, but the music is top notch and makes use of most of the renowned Harry Potter tunes.
The Final Verdict
Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 is very similar to past Lego games, but the addition of magical abilities makes it worthwhile for fans of both the Lego games and Harry Potter. Humour is out in full force and is as good as ever, making Lego Harry Potter a joy to play through. Repetition becomes a problem after the second year and some core mechanics, namely combat, just aren’t varied enough; overall Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 is a good light-hearted experience for any Harry Potter fan wanting a fix before The Deathly Hallows is released later this year.