A new Lego game is out, which means hours of family friendly game play, jumping around, building things out of the famous Lego blocks, and tossing spells at each other. That’s right, Lego has moved from the realms of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Batman, and stepped into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter with Lego Harry Potter – Years 1-4.
Much like the previous games, Lego Harry Potter follows a cast of characters as they go through the famous stories we already know and love, in this case the stories of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Chamber of Secrets, The Prisoner of Azkaban, and The Goblet of Fire. That’s a lot of story to cram into one game, but, as usual, Traveler’s Tales manages to highlight the best parts of the story with game play and intercut scenes that help fill in the blanks with a silly, yet respectful irreverence. Part platform game, part puzzler, Harry and his buddies have to work their way through multiple levels at Hogwarts in Story Mode, thus unlocking the levels for Free Play so the player can return to the levels and access content that wasn’t available before.
The unlocking of content works a little differently than in the other Lego games. Previously, you had to have a specific character type in order to get past certain obstacles. In Star Wars you might need an Imperial character to pass a checkpoint, or in Indiana Jones a Thuggee cultist. Here, most of the game can be played using the same characters. Instead, Harry and his friends learn new spells and potions as the game unfolds that allow them to bypass some of the obstacles that held them back before. Now it isn’t a matter of waiting until you find certain character types as it is waiting until you’ve learned a specific spell. It’s a new system designed to keep Harry, Hermione, and Ron in the forefront of the story.
Spellcasting is a very different mechanic than we’ve seen in previous games. Each character has a spell wheel that is activated by holding down the Y button. From that wheel, you choose which spell you want the character to have active (or you can run through them by using the right and left bumper buttons). Different environments call for different spells, and there are two different ways to use your spells. By holding down the X button, you get an aiming reticule that allows you to target specific areas. If you target things that the current spell doesn’t relate to, you get a different kind of target, and releasing the button to cast the spell results in a little blast being sent out from your wand. You can also use the B button to autocast your active spell when your environment indicates the spell is useful. This is an important thing to learn, and a button the in-game tutorial doesn’t emphasize enough, making the first boss fight significantly more difficult. Once you learn that part of the controls, things get a a lot easier.
The different spells relate closely to the Harry Potter books and movies, although some added spells have been put in for variety and flavor. Most of those are extraneous and are purchasable outside of the normal game play – extra spells to help pad out your spell book, if you will, but not usually required for actual game play.
The process of working through the story is also quite different in Lego Harry Potter. Previous games that were based on movies usually broke the movie down into a couple of playable levels, with a central hub used to access the different movies/stories. So you’d enter the game through the central hub, and then if you wanted to play The Empire Strikes Back instead of finishing off A New Hope, you could. Things work a little differently here. Because the story is based on your characters growing over time, the story has to be accessed through more linear methods, so there’s no jumping ahead into a different story without finishing the current one.
In fact, Lego Harry Potter is a bit confusing because of the central hub. The hub location is The Leaky Cauldron, a pub in Diagon Alley. In order to access many of the other features you usually find in the central hub – places to purchase extras like spells, characters, etc, you have to venture down Diagon Alley into other stores. But because there is only one storyline, the hub only takes you to one place to actually play – Hogwarts. There is a message board in the Leaky Cauldron that allows you to go back to areas you’ve finished for Free Play, but while you’re still working through the story for the first time, you’ll just keep going back to Hogwarts.
This wouldn’t be so bad if Hogwarts itself didn’t feel sort of like a hub. Instead of playable levels that you work through, Hogwarts is sort of a free-roaming area. You can wander around, destroy stuff, and unlock other secret content, but it isn’t part of the story. The story unfolds as you step into certain rooms, which you are led to by one of the house ghosts, Nearly-Headless Nick. Since there’s no requirement to follow Nick, however, there is room for plenty of wandering around aimlessly without progressing the story at all.
I wouldn’t mind the free-roam around Hogwarts if it served more as the central hub. In fact, Lego Harry Potter is a good excuse for a free-roam Harry Potter game like the Grand Theft Auto series (only with wands instead of sniper rifles). Having two hub-like areas feels a little strange, especially as a casual player who may need to stop playing after only a little while. Leaving Hogwarts to go back to the Leaky Cauldron, you are given the message that you will lose all progress in the level so far. Fortunately, the game appears to save after you finish lessons or a chapter in the level, so that message isn’t as threatening as it sounds. I just wish there was a more friendly way to leave in between events like the previous Lego games had.
Lego Harry Potter continues the family friendly aspects of the previous games and does an excellent job of creating Harry Potter’s world. I’ve never been a huge fan of the movies based on the games, so this is the first Harry Potter title I really found enjoyable. I like the free-roam Hogwarts, which feels like Traveler’s Tales was using as an excuse to practice the execution of for their upcoming MMORPG. I just wish it was a little friendlier to leave and the two free-roam areas (Hogwarts and The Leaky Cauldron/Diagon Alley) were consolidated.
That said, there’s a lot of change here from previous versions of the Lego games. As a fan of those games, I’m not crazy about all of the changes. Because progression through the game comes with new spells and potions, and not new characters, different characters aren’t unlocked for the player at the end of each level like they were in previous games. I’m okay with having to find secret ways to unlock the characters, but they should at least make sense within the progression of the game. For instance, I unlocked Hermione in a ball gown (from The Goblet of Fire) while I was still working on the first story. That makes no sense.
The other thing that bothers me about Lego Harry Potter is the music. With as many Harry Potter movies as there are Star Wars films, I would think there would be just as wide a selection of music to choose from, but the music here feels really repetitive and I found myself getting tired of it quickly.
Bottom Line: I like Lego Harry Potter, but it may be my least favorite of the other games. Especially for casual players, the game just doesn’t feel as friendly as the previous offerings from Traveler’s Tales. I like some of the innovation and change (the spell casting in particular), but I yearn for some of the things that made Lego Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Batman so popular in my household. While Lego Harry Potter – Years 1-4 is far from a Ron Weasley level of dullery, perhaps the developers could have used a bit more Hermione Granger in their approach to the game.
|Graphics:||Typical Lego style graphics, with nice reproductions of familiar characters and locations using the blocks.||8|
|Storyline:||Despite the free-roam feel, does a pretty good job of staying true to the novels.||8|
|Controls:||The spellcasting adds some challenges to controlling how your character interacts, especially without a solid tutorial to guide you.||6|
|Replayability:||While fun, it’s probably the least played Lego game in my house.||6|
|Value:||I paid full price for it and it’s the least played, so it wasn’t worth the value at release. Now that the price has dropped, it’s a little better.||7|
|Total:||35 out of 50
- Rafe Telsch