LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Review

Lee Abrahams

The question by now seems to be: is there anything that can't be made into a LEGO game? The answer is probably no, as we've already had Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Batman and even Rock Band (the shameless cash in as it was). So the next logical step I suppose had to be good old Harry Potter - a franchise that's only been mildly promoted and its source material is some of the greatest literature known to man. Oh sarcasm, how I loves thee. That nonsense aside, the LEGO series has become a touch stale as of late, so can a touch of magic reinvigorate the series. SHAZAM!

Magic versus LEGO: who will win?

LEGO games have become something of a yearly tradition now, and what started with the cool novelty of Star Wars, has since become a touch repetitive as every single game (regardless of characters and setting) plays out the same way. Build some bricks, solve some puzzles, drive dubious vehicles and fight a few bosses – same old, same old. Hopefully HP (the character, not the sauce) can provide a new formula to the basic template as the possibilities of using magic are practically endless.

This time around the hub, as such, is provided by Diagon Alley, the fabled shopping street of wizards and witches the world over. The various stores provide you with access to new characters, spells, extra features and bonus levels – as well as being the route back to the alma mater, Hogwarts. Once in Hogwarts you can roam the school as you like, solving puzzles and finding bonus items, not to mention helping out a few of your fellow classmates. Should you get tired of idle wandering or not have the required skills to proceed, then you can follow Nearly Headless Nick to your next true mission. A clever idea, but one that would have been just as well replaced by a handy map, as getting around the school can be a nightmare in memory terms.

The levels themselves generally come in two flavours: lessons and story progression. Lessons are usually single screen adventures that help you learn a new spell, potion or skill – all of which can come in handy when you need to unlock the deeper secrets of the school or retread ground on earlier levels to snag anything you may have missed. The story missions on the other hand, closely mirror the events of the books and see you bidding to overcome Voldemort and his lackeys at every turn. Unlike in LEGO Indy 2, the levels are once again a hot bed of collectables and replayability, and that is a welcome return to form and means there is always something to see and do.

The return of the world's most hazardous staircase.

The character progression is also fairly neat, as you power up over the course of your time at school. So as a first year wizard you only know basic potions and spells, but once you have made it through to your fourth year, you will have a plethora of powers at your disposal to wreak havoc with... I mean, to do good deeds with. Ahem. It means that new areas of the school and previously inaccessible parts of the story levels will open up the further you progress. Also, once you have learnt how to make the Polyjuice Potion, you can even morph into other characters which will grant you otherwise unattainable skills too. It means that every step along the path opens new doors and offers new things to see, so things never get stale.

That being said, things do still follow the traditional LEGO formula of basically battering every object you can see until a route forward presents itself. Although at least now you have to use a bit of brainpower, and use the right combination of spells, cloaks and scabby rats, in order to move forward. The graphics are as cute as ever, with that sly bit of fun present in the cutscenes that the series is famed for - having said that, some kind of skip button would be much welcomed - although the camera angles can be amazingly unhelpful at times, especially when playing co-op. The soundtrack is merely background fodder as per usual too and that theme music soon begins to get old. So it's pretty much everything you would expect from a LEGO game.

Who needs a wand when the walls are so badly built?

You may as well describe the achievements as generic LEGO 101 by now, as they are getting alarmingly similar with each passing game. Points for completing each year, rescuing pupils, finding crests/bricks and the dreaded 100% completion are all present and correct. As are a bunch of achievements for using certain characters to beat up other characters. Considering the quirky nature of the game, there should be a few more novelty achievements like ‘Solid Snape’ or ‘Quiet Please', that make you do something a little more abstract and fun. Ah well, maybe next time.

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is a major improvement in almost every aspect over the last LEGO offering, while at the same time being more of the same. The major gripe with the last title was the fact that most of the exploration was confined to the hub areas, but thankfully that is no longer the case. Hogwarts is full of secret nooks and crannies, and just solving all of the little side quests can provide hours of entertainment. Still, while the spells offer much more variety when it comes to puzzles, the gameplay elements in general are very much the same – so if you never got on with earlier LEGO titles, do not expect a sudden change of heart here. As a game for kids and adults with a sense of humour though, LEGO Harry Potter is top notch fare.

Do you like the Harry Potter theme tune? I hope so, because you will be hearing it a lot, although at least it is recognisable in comparison to pretty much everything else.

Never the strongest point in the LEGO games, but at least they have plenty of charm and character, plus a blessed lack of glitches or frame rate issues. Sometimes simple is best.

Simple to pick up and play, but you can still lose hours of your time exploring the game and just having fun. However, things still stick to the same old formula which is both a blessing and a curse.

Probably the best Harry Potter game available and one that keeps true to the story, while at the same time, poking fun at it too. All of the characters are present and correct, down to the last LEGO style detail, although how many variations of Harry do we need?

The odd flash of inspiration aside, this is pretty much the template for every single LEGO game. A few more interesting ideas wouldn't go amiss.

The best LEGO game in quite some time, and one of the best family titles this year. The obvious sequel will hopefully build on the successful foundations here, although the major issues of similarity and simplicity that make it into all of the games is hardly likely to go away – which is probably for the best as that would rob the games of their inherent charm.

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