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Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4

19:5316/07/2010Posted by Sean EvansOne Comment

Traveller’s Tales’ Lego games have been riding on something of a downward slope as of late. With a distinctly unique visual style and level design, they proved to be a novel way of re-formatting popular film franchises like Star Wars and glossing it all over with a kid-friendly focus. Since then, they’ve grown to be kind of stale. It’s good news then that the most recent instalment – a trip to Hogwarts with Lego Harry Potter – casts some much-needed life back into the ailing series.

An important aspect to what makes the Harry Potter franchise a fitting series for a Lego-based game is, quite simply, that its general universe makes for an ideal and accessible experience for fans of all ages. The typical Harry Potter characters, locations and narrative set-pieces from the first four years of the films all feature with loving playfulness, upholding the voiceless cut-scenes and semi-obscure nods aimed at the most dedicated of Potter fans.

In terms of how it plays, it’s strikingly familiar if you’ve ever tried one of the previous Lego games. It doesn’t necessarily wield any amount of depth or versatility in the execution, but its strengths in level design more than make up for the increasingly tired requirements for story succession. But let’s be honest: there was never intention to change that formula, and there’s really no reason for there to be any change. That said, if you haven’t enjoyed these games in the past, this one probably isn’t going to change your mind either.

As ever, you can switch between different characters as you accrue enough points to unlock and purchase them from in-game shops and vendors. There’s also a heavy emphasis on co-operative play, making the game a surprisingly viable conduit for getting a relative or partner to join in on the fun. It develops an enjoyable atmosphere that becomes bolstered when both parties are fans of the designated material. In a sense, it’s almost like re-experiencing your favourite scenes but in a totally different and fresh form.

When you look at the game as a whole, it’s hard not to appreciate the value on offer. The puzzle elements are simplistic in nature and fun to watch unfurl, even though some of them are primitive to the point of basically being ‘connect-the-dot’ riddles. Not only that, but some of the results are strange and unusual as well, as characters’ spells concoct absurd mechanical creations and other weird and wonderful contraptions to help progress the story.

Hogwarts itself and the surrounding environments from the books and films also enjoy a noticeable Lego face-lift, with resident students and ghostly inhabitants making their way around the halls. It’s not quite as involving as the open free-roaming between missions in Bully, but it does a good job of conveying the right sense of wonderment whilst retaining the essential ‘cutesy’ vibe. As ever in a Lego-based game, you are also free to run around the locations with your mass of unlocked characters and cause some penalty-free havoc and mess around with all the cool little Easter eggs in the world.

This is all well and good then, but at the same time there are still certain fundamental aspects to Lego Harry Potter that continue an unfortunate chain of omissions that you’d expect to be included by now. The most glaring of which has to be the lack of online co-op play – how is this feature not implemented yet? Whilst I can definitely see more kids wanting to play with friends or family on local split-screen as opposed to finding a random player online, the fact that there’s not even an option for it seems incredibly short-sighted at this point.

Plus, as a whole, there’s really nothing new here. It doesn’t break new ground, but then again nor is it really trying to. Everything from the length of each chapter to the objectives required to finish them are overtly parallel to the pacing of other Lego games. Although, I can see this being a deliberate measure taken on the behalf of Traveller’s Tales, purely based on the fact that these games are supposed to appeal to kids first and foremost and messing with the current formula may throw them off a bit.

But for good or ill, that’s not to say the game isn’t any fun for the rest of us. By the simple virtue of being a more cleverly designed game than those from recent history combined with the clear love and appreciation for the source material, Lego Harry Potter firmly stands out as the most accomplished title in the Lego series yet.

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One Comment »

  • George Banker said:

    Harry Potter Yr. 1-4 is a pretty decent game on the DS that follows the same Lego branding of all the previous Lego games. It is not a very difficult game in itself and it follows Harry Potter to a basic extent. Although after you complete a level you can play “Free Mode”, I would advise people to play all the chapters first before returning to the Free modes. Mainly due to the fact that spells are learned slowly through each chapter of the game and people would be forced to replay many levels until they unlocked all the spells to actually complete the board. It was a pretty simple and straight-forward game play but it also kept me entertained.

    One quirk that annoyed me: The spell that unlocks objects (you trace a keyhole on the DS screen) needed to be used several times before it would work. It’s not due to the fact that I can not trace a keyhole…just that the software did not recognize the shape very well.

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