Reviews

Review: Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4

July 7, 2010, Author: Ray Willmott

Harry Potter is a phenomenon. There is no getting around that fact, there is no avoiding it. Whether you’re a fan of J.K Rowling’s written word or not, it’s a series that dwarfs Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Twilight in terms of revenue and global recognition. That’s why the very thought of crossing Harry Potter with a Lego video game must have been the most appealing idea to Traveller’s Tales and Warner Brothers since turning water into wine or creating Lego Rock Band last year!

As a fan of both Lego and HPVerse, I decided to take the plunge and quickly pre-ordered my copy, keen to see what TT could do with the franchise in the world of bricks. Having spent hours upon hours hunting for crests and collecting studs, I now have a good enough idea of how this plays to give an informed review and to tell you if this has been worth the wait. So, should Lego Harry Potter Years 1–4 be permanently expelled or should this class remain in session?

Please note, the majority of my time playing this game was local co-op with my girlfriend, who has also offered some of her input into this review. Appropriate credit given at the conclusion of this review.

This isn’t my first brick building barbeque…
The Lego games have been a guilty pleasure of mine since I first played Lego Indiana Jones a few years back. From there, I spent over sixty hours of gameplay time completing Lego Star Wars the Complete Saga to 100% and then decided to BOFF, WHAP and KA-BLAM my way through a series of goons in Lego Batman. The very thought of Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 has excited me for some time, considering it brings magic, wizards and trolls to a Lego game for the first time and has had my attention since its initial announcement.

Upon my first touch of the pad, I can say that I was not disappointed.

You’ll start the game with a cut-scene familiar to anyone who knows anything about the Philosopher’s Stone source material. Harry is staying at his Aunt and Uncle’s house with the greedy Dudley, essentially being treated like a piece of dirt, when all of a sudden the house is flooded with letters, sending Harry into fits of joy and his Aunt and Uncle into a bout of rage! After failing to remove the letters from the house, Uncle Vernon decides to take the family away from Privet Drive to somewhere more remote. However, they are soon cast in the shadow of the mighty Hagrid, who has other ideas for Mr Potter. Hagrid leads Harry to Diagon Alley, where he obtains his first wand and gets himself prepared for life at Hogwarts. Once through this initial section, you make the trip to Hogwarts via the Hogwarts Express.

As Harry, Ron and Hermione, you will find yourselves running through Hogwarts and have the option of following ghosts who walk the school corridors leading you to the next level or taking you exploring into the deeper recesses of the old, mystical building. Of course, being at such a early level of wizardry, some areas of the school will be blocked off to you unless you’ve learned how to wield a particular spell. So, for example, there are some Devil Snares blocking your path to one area of the castle and in order to pass you will need to learn Lumos in order to defeat the plant and move on. This is sort of a sandbox area, but it also contains many hidden treasures, secrets, levels and lessons where you can learn more powerful spells in order to progress through the game.

Playing with Lego
In order to access the game menu, which enables you to select the level you want to play, purchase characters for studs or to continue your story from your previous saved file, you will be taken to the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley where you first started the game. TT have been criticised in the past for creating a game which is level after level. However, they have certainly gone to great lengths to try and make Lego Harry Potter feel more of one large interactive environment, something that is certainly very plausible within the HPVerse. Sometimes, it’s even difficult to tell when you’re about to start a level within Hogwarts, the whole experience is that fluid!

From the cradle to the... broomstick?

As your characters learn new spells, they’re added to a wheel which can be easily accessed by holding in the Y button and can be selected using the left analog stick. You’ll have to use different spells in certain situations and it will be up to you to figure out what you need to do in order to progress. You’ll also be able to buy new spells from Diagon Alley, which have a multitude of uses and a wide range of costs.

As always, different characters will also be capable of different things. So for example, only Ron can use his rat Scabbers to access smaller areas, Harry is the best at flying on a broomstick and Hermione sticks to the books and can solve several puzzles featuring symbols. Same as previous lego games, you’ll need to alternate between the cast of the series, in order to further your progression in each stage of the game. This is certainly a common trait in each Lego game, although I found myself quite surprised by the amount of diversity spread among the HP cast, from the main three, to Hagrid, Fang and a Gringots Goblin; there really seems to be a wide range of things that the player will need to take into consideration when trying to tackle some of the obstacles in game, perhaps more than there’s ever been.

I also love how the most simplistic aspects of Lego games have been tuned into something much more suitable for a Harry Potter game. Building blocks are handled differently by using Wingardium Leviosa. You’ll also be shooting projectiles from your wand, rather than beating someone up with your fists. TT have done everything possible to make this authentic, just as they’ve always done with the Lego games and it really does show. It’s a real geekfest for a Harry Potter fan.

It's sport but not as we know it!

Swish and Flick!
The graphics are  improved over other Lego games, more detail has been added to the faces of the cast as one can see in modern day lego figures, and facial expressions are much easier to read than before. This is especially important for the cut-scenes, which, as always, are completely devoid of dialogue and are usually a tongue in cheek representation of an actual scene from the books and/or films. There are many memorable, laugh out loud moments in the game with a humour that will probably appeal more to the adults than the children in some cases (such as Voldemort going to drink Unicorn blood with a knife and fork and the very same Unicorn being nursed back to health in Hagrid’s hut with a thermometer stuck in its mouth). It’s the same quirky, in-joke humour that we’ve come to know and love from the series and is as appropriate and excellent as ever.

The backdrops also look impressive in Lego HP. Seeing the Hogwarts Express take its first voyage and seeing Hogwarts for the first time from the rowing boats are really set-apart moments that will elicit a tear of joy in a die-hard fan or trigger a bolt of recognition in anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the last decade. The graphics supporting the levels are also very well designed and unlike in Lego Indy 2, when split-screening, the game doesn’t slow down as much and seems much more comfortable supporting the framerate than before.

Most things will be familiar from past Lego games, such as the hearts at the top of the screen next to a character portrait and a series of studs combined together at the middle of the screen to show your ‘True Wizard’ progress in a particular level. There is a real wizarding vibe here that fits a Lego game like a glove, seeing robes and wands, potions and trolls. It’s a refreshing environment for a Lego game and all of it just looks superb and will instantly make you want to pick up a pad and Stupefy something!

The triumphant trio

Wizard rock!
As is always the case with Lego games, the characters don’t talk during cut-scenes and generally only grunt and groan. Freakishly, however, the grunts actually sound like the characters voices and somehow TT have managed to make the characters sound like their film counterparts, which is quite uncanny and actually rather spooky. The sound effects are also spot on, with the sound of spells flying around the screen, zapping creatures and abominations.

The background music is straight out of the films and that’s a great thing. While it’s not the entire score from the soundtrack of the first four films, there’s a real selection of great tracks that suit the tempo and the mood of each scene; everything from the boss battle with Quirrel to the murky Forbidden Forest filled with evil and wonder, to Harry’s first foray into Quidditch. Everything that’s in there is suited to the scene you’re participating in. The theme within the menu will be especially memorable to anyone whose seen a promo spot for a Harry Potter movie, and will totally get you in the mood for the wizarding world at large.

Two wizards are better than one.
Multiplayer follows on from the introduction of the progressive split-screen in Lego Indiana Jones 2, whereby if one player disappears from the screen, it then splits in two and tracks the progress of both players around the map, until they join up together making the screen whole again. While the idea seemed like it could use some fine-tuning and refinement in Lego Indy 2, it seems spot on in Harry Potter, save for one blemish. Sometimes the scheme seems overly sensitive and begins to split the screen when it doesn’t really have to. Unfortunately, this can be quite annoying, as there will sometimes be a line right through the middle of the screen, that can block both yours and your characters line of sight, whether you’re trying to collect a stud or just bypass an obstacle.

Separating and meshing the screens together really is quite trippy on the eyes the first few times you see it, but once you get used to it, you begin to see how much of a technical marvel it actually is. The splitscreen is quite unique for any local co-op game, as essentially both characters being played remain on the same screen, but then if they decide to go in opposing directions, the screen splits  and will follow each character’s movements.

That said, it’s a vast improvement over Lego Indy 2′s variation and it’s clear the development team have had some time to get it right. What was once an annoying aspect of the Lego games has now become a refreshing and enjoyable change. This also allows players to explore different sections at the same time, really adding a deeper emphasis to teamwork within the game. I always feel that Lego games are better played with a friend (even though much of my time with Lego Star Wars was spent alone) and Travellers Tales are clearly supportive of that as well.

My only other issue is a longstanding one with the series in the achievement/trophy system which only seems to recognise the first player and treats the second as a guest. I really don’t understand why in 2010 this is still an issue and why achievements cannot unlock for both players if both have gamer profiles, tracking their statistics individually. Instead, only player one will unlock certain achievements, so if you are playing this co-operatively with a friend, you’ll need at least two full playthroughs to get everything done. What is new in Lego Harry Potter, in the description of the achievements, it states Single Player Only. This seems incredibly backwards to me when games are in the trend of being more progressive. Unfortunately, it is not just Lego Harry Potter that is guilty of such a crime, as I found myself even more infuriated with Capcom’s Lost Planet 2 for similar issues.

It's all about the lego!

What’s the final wizarding word?
Real perfectionism has gone into this game and it shows. Travellers Tales didn’t want to release a half-baked product lathered with glitches and hiccups. That TT and WB have collaborated to ensure that the same issues that plagued previous games didn’t crop up in Lego HP is clear and reassuring. The appropriate amount of care and attention to detail has been observed and what we have is a really polished end product that totally appeals to just about anybody with a pulse.

There are lots of things to do here and the levels are very replayable, once through on story and then several times afterwards on Free Play. If you want to unlock everything, you’re really going to have to commit the time to obtain True Wizard on every level, get every crest from the four houses, post every post box by way of a snowy owl, unlock every character and every special ability. While still not as vast as Lego Star Wars the Complete Saga, this is the biggest single Lego product to come out since and has a lot of tools at its disposal. Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 is a triumph, and is easily the best Harry Potter video game to date, the best Lego game to date and the most fun co-operative experience I have played so far this year!

Credit to LaurieTLC for her input into the structure and development of this review.

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