Lego Harry Potter Years 1 – 4: review

In theory at least, the phrase ‘Lego Harry Potter Videogame’ is to children what the phrase ‘Excruciatingly Detailed Violated Childhood’ is to book publishers. Regardless of quality there are masses of people ready to pounce on it cash in hand, and the sales have already reflected this. Doubtless aware of this fact, have Traveller’s Tales tried to give the fans a decent game for their money?

Every Lego game so far has stuck to the same basic formula, and this is no different in that regard. Much of the scenery, and all of the vehicles and characters, are designed to look just like Lego – exact replicas of the real life sets wherever possible (kerching!). This means that destroyed characters and objects collapse into their component Lego parts, and the currency used to buy unlocked extras are the Lego ‘studs’ scattered when such destruction occurs.

Again as in previous Lego titles, you’ll be building as well as destroying (though you’ll usually have to break something to get the parts). Most of this building is automatic once you have the bricks but now and again, you’ll need to guide one brick onto another. In this way you can progress by creating platforms, bridges, and less obvious items. The building is done via the first spell you learn, Wingardium Leviosa – which works in an identical manner to The Force in Lego Star Wars.

"I'm not wearing that hat, I'll look like a brick."

Other spells you learn during the 24 story levels (six levels for each year) aren’t used nearly as frequently, but still prove essential to progress; usually because some enemies are only vulnerable to one particular spell. The other gameplay element used as a minor obstacle to progress is mixing potions. Each potion requires three ingredients, which translates to a mini fetch – quest. All three ingredients are always very close to one another however – often on the same screen – so this is never frustrating. Once prepared the potion bestows some ability necessary to move on, such as extra strength to pull a chain which opens a door. Revisit a level in Free Play mode however, and you can usually bypass potions altogether.

When a story level has been completed it is unlocked for Free Play, which allows you to play through again armed with spells learned in later levels, and the ability to switch between any and all characters you’ve unlocked and purchased. So for example you can use a strong character such as Alan Moore lookalike Hagrid to pull a previously useless chain, or an evil character such as Bobby Kotick to build something impervious to ‘good’ magic (no, Kotick isn’t really in the game as an evil wizard, but we wish he was). In this way you can find and collect the characters, crests, and gold bricks (which unlock bonus levels) you were missing the first time around. There are even red bricks which unlock cheats to be found between levels. It is literally impossible to achieve 100% completion of the game in one playthrough and in fact, we’re not convinced it’s possible to come close to 50%.

The slightly surreal bonus levels offer a break from the story mode. Created with the level builder included on the disc, they’re basically there to show the player what’s possible, and are completely different from the story levels. There are in addition four brief tutorial levels for the ‘builder’, which are slightly misleading. They actually tell you very little, and barely hint at the complexity of the editor. The complexity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it’s very impressive what you can do with the level editor. Younger gamers will quickly become frustrated however, and wander off to find something they can pull the legs off. Such as a cat (possibly). What will frustrate older gamers is that they must start off with one of the bonus levels rather than build their own from scratch, and there’s no LBP or even Joe Danger style level sharing.

Write your own caption - just keep it to yourself.

So most of your time will almost certainly be spent with the story levels, and thankfully they’re great fun. The game throws something new at you every few levels and yes, this is certainly partly down to the source material – but it’s also attributable to the developers’ determination to provide good old fashioned fun. No decent review can ignore the game’s sense of humour either. It’s gentle family friendly stuff of course, but excellently done – present not only in the cutscenes, but also during gameplay. Very few jokes rely on the Harry Potter story, so can appeal to everyone. That said if you haven’t read the books and/or seen the movies, then the lack of dialogue renders trying to understand what’s going on in the cutscenes as difficult as trying to understand the London tube system while drunk.

As always two people can play together (in the same room) and in this game, that’s an excellent opportunity for a parent or older sibling to help a younger gamer with the puzzles – particularly those with fiddly brick manipulation. A less welcome trademark of the Lego games is screen tearing, which unfortunately comes back here too. In our case at least however, switching on the ‘v sync’ option eradicated the problem. There still seem to be a few minor bugs; in one instance, we had to exit and then re-enter an area in order for a magic painting to acknowledge our existence.

If you have a disturbingly obsessive hatred for Harry Potter, this is not for you. If you are a fan of the boy wizard and/or Lego games – or in fact, if you’re just a fan of good games – you should find dozens of hours (presuming you’re something of a completist) of entertainment here. If you’re the kind of nut who thinks nothing of sitting outside a bookshop at 4am wearing a pointy hat, you can add at least one mark to the score; this is easily the best Harry Potter game so far.


8/10

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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