LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 Review

Genre: LEGO ( I mean, it’s practically a genre at this point)

Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Developer: Traveler’s Tales

Price: $49.99 (USD)

I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter books and films. I find the books well written with charming characters and a vividly portrayed world wrapped in a relatively traditional coming of age hero’s journey. The films are solid adaptations of the novels, and it’s been a kick seeing the three leads grow and evolve as actors and young adults. It’s impressive to see a series keep it’s core stars through 8 films.

Now, Harry Potter in video game form has been a rather mixed bag. The individual games based on the events of the films/books, have fallen flat more than immersed the player in the world of Harry Potter. Whether it’s creepy likenesses of the actors, and boring game play, video game Potter just isn’t as endearing and charming as the books and film. Thank God for LEGO.

At this point, Traveler’s Tales has established a genre in itself with it’s LEGO franchise of games. LEGO Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Batman have managed to capture the fun and essence of those franchises, and meld them with the unique properties the LEGO license affords. Some will say that this template has gotten old, but I personally think that the improvements each entry in the LEGO series offers players makes them worth, at the least, a spin, especially with a friend (in this reviewer’s case, his wife). LEGO Harry Potter is no different.

Like previous LEGO entries, this title takes a series of popular stories and condenses them to their most purest story elements, and allows players to hop, bop, build, and explore to their heart’s content. LEGO Harry Potter covers The Boy Who Lived’s first four years of Hogwarts; more specifically, The Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban, and The Goblet of Fire. The four stories themselves are more inspired by the film’s adaptation of the books than the books themselves, but they convey the core narrative rather well.

Unlike previous LEGO games, however, LEGO Potter eschews the hub worlds that connect levels, and instead lets 1 or 2 players roam around the school of Hogwarts, and the mysterious roads of Diagon Alley, triggering the events of the films as player’s progress. Each Film is broken up into 6 individual levels, and the four stories award players with new abilities that will allow them to unlock previously inaccessible areas of Hogwarts and earlier levels.

It was really enjoyable unlocking new spells with my wife, then exploring newly accessible areas of the school. Be warned, however: Hogwarts is surprisingly large, and it’s rather easy to get lost. With no map feature, this is problematic early on, but eventually, you start to develop a familiarity with the school, and wandering it’s halls becomes easier. Although this is a very truncated version of the series events, rest assured that many of your favorite set-pieces from the four books/films are represented in comedic fashion here.

Beyond the story awarded abilities, players can purchase new spells, characters, and cheats at the stores located in Diagon Alley. At the push of a button, players can bring up a radial wheel that lets them select spells, or cycle through them with the shoulder buttons. Spells are grouped into categories, so the many new tricks player’s learn are often mapped to a particular category (for example, Flipendo, and Stupefy are classified in one category, and when executing that spell category, only one of the spells will affect your enemy, often with humorous results).

Another nice addition to the game play is the ability to use the levitation spell, Wingardium Leviosa, to maniuplate world objects to solve puzzles and just all around mess with other characters. Me and the missus had a great time constantly levitating and zapping Draco Malfoy with various spells as he wandered through the halls of Hogwarts. By holding down the Square button (PS3), or “X” button (360), a convenient targeting reticle will appear, allowing you to precisely pinpoint whom, or what, you would like to interact with. Of course, players are also able to turn the spells on one another, which also incredibly fun.

When playing with another person, the game will split into two separate screens when you wander to far away from your partner, which is a welcome improvement from previous LEGO titles. No longer are there unwelcome deaths caused by being pulled (or pushed) out of the screen by an eager partner.

The graphics in the game are surprisingly good. The characters themselves are unmistakenly LEGO, in that they don’t sport any fancy graphical effects besides looking extra plasticky. The environments, however, are rather impressively rendered with rich colors, sharp textures, and wonderful lighting. The style is definitely taken directly from the movies, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say that Traveler’s Tales simply took the enviroments from the EA Harry Potter games, and converted them to the LEGO world, although, I have to say that Hogwarts in LEGO Harry Potter looks more impressive than the Hogwarts in the EA Potter titles.

Audio is unsurprisingly great, as, like LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Indiana Jones, the game is using the musical score from the great John Williams, as well as the excellent composers who did the scores to the third and fourth films.

Overall, I am simply a sucker for the LEGO franchise of games. I’ve enjoyed each title released so far, though I found the Indiana Jones one (the first, not the sequel) sub par in comparison to the others. With that said, the only real problem I have with the LEGO Harry Potter game isn’t so much the game, but the Harry Potter stories themselves. While Star Wars and Batman and Indiana Jones are inherently action oriented, given their genre, the Harry Potter story is more on characterization and plot. As a result, the game has to really stretch itself, even bending events of the film/books, to make the game more “actiony” for lack of a better term. An example is a level in The Chamber of Secrets where Ron and Hermione are tasked to stop Dobby from causing trouble during a Quidditch match.

Players will battle Dobby throughout the level, attacking with spells, and solving puzzles. The level isn’t my favorite, to be sure, but the game paints Dobby in a more villainous light than he is portrayed in the books/film. It’s a small complaint, and really the only negative I have pertaining to the game’s design.

VERDICT: BUY – If you are a fan of Harry Potter, buy this game. It’s a fun, cute adaptation of the books and film that is sure to be enjoyed by Potter fans of any age. If you are a fan of the LEGO series of games, buy this game. It’s the same game play you’ve grown accustomed to, with some notable improvements, and it keeps that light-hearted humor, regardless of any familiarity with the Harry Potter franchise. If you don’t like either Potter or LEGO, then I’d give this game a pass. It really hinges on your love of the source material, and the LEGO franchise game play. It’s a great title for the holidays to play with someone special.

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