Review: Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (360)

Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4
Developer: Traveler’s Tales
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: 06/29/10

I’m not gonna lie. I love the Lego games. They manage to tie in with most of the properties that appeal to my inner kid: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Batman…. So, now that Harry Potter has been licensed by Lego, we get the much anticipated (by me, anyway) video game. Thus far, the Lego games have been great nods to their sources, retelling the stories through dialog-free clips that tend to poke light fun of the source while maintaining a bit of the cool factor that made them fun in the first place. As well, the gameplay has always been fun, if perhaps repetitive, Lego destruction. Of course, the counter to this is the first Lego Indy game. I recall numerous game glitches and what seemed like an unfinished product (Most of them found AFTER I wrote the review, alas. Which is why this time I waited until I finished and collected everything) so how does Harry Potter stack up?

Read on to find out.

Ahh, and we jump right into the problem. Prior entries in the Lego game series have conveyed the story plot points fairly well, with enough visual cues and jokes to let you know what the story line is while not being to expositional for those familiar with the source material. (Think of the “Luke, I’m your father” scene in Lego Star Wars) The problem here is that some of the plotlines get so convoluted, that trying to visually tell the story becomes nigh-impossible. This was something that became extremely apparent when I played the game with a buddy not familiar with the Harry Potter books. He had absolutely no clue what was going on based on the visual storytelling. Another big issue I had was that, about a month before the release, I watched a little interview video where they mentioned that the game would reference both the films and the books. It does not. All the bigger subplots cut in the films are cut in the game. No headless hunt, no S.P.E.W., etc. These omissions may not have bothered me too much, but I think the lack of what could have been fairly easy to design levels that would have pleased the readers is a real detriment, especially after watching that interview.

The general way the game is setup, however, has some merit. As you go through story mode, your characters will learn new spells and potions which makes the home base of Hogwarts castle open up to new areas to explore and new things to collect. This is perhaps balanced by the somewhat tedious nature of story mode, where you follow a ghost from place to place to learn your new spells, then follow him to a level, etc. For a fan of the source material, its cool to see more of the castle, but for a fan of platformer games, it can get redundant.

Story/Modes Rating: Poor

Personally, I’ve always loved the art direction in Lego games. The mix of cutesy characters and foreground with detailed background just works for me. Lego Harry Potter is no exception; the backgrounds look fantastic and the cutesy graphics remain cutesy. The one issue I had was with such full areas, items and doorways can sometimes be obscured. In the herbology area at Hogwarts, for example, there are quite a few easy to miss doorways because of how busy the foreground is. Besides a bit of clutter here and there, the game looks great. Unfortunately, character design is a bit limitied. Honestly, its difficult to tell the visual difference between Hermione and Ravenclaw Girl. There seems to be a limited number of Lego wigs and, with nearly 200 characters, they can start to blur together a bit.

Graphics Rating: Good

I should just cut ‘n paste what I had for Lego Indy. Another John Williams score well-realized in the Legoverse. The sound effects are similarly well done and the familiar sound of destroying Lego bricks is fully present. Not much original in the sound effects, but, hey, there’s another scoring section for that. The usual gripes are here, too. There isn’t a very large palette of sounds, so you will hear them a LOT. If you’re not playing the game and, say, painting a room within earshot, they can start to sound like the world’s most obnoxious kid toy.

Sound Rating: Good

Control and Gameplay

The control in Lego Harry Potter has actually expanded a bit on previous Lego games. Rather than having a character limited to a single ability, like a gun or whip or high jump, most characters can eventually learn most things either through spell training or potion making. The pollyjuice potion makes a convenient way to play as any character without needing to even be in free play mode. As you progress through the story, your characters will learn new spells and potions, which unlocks a lot of new areas in Hogwarts. The basic control will be familiar to anyone who has played other Lego games: jump, shoot, switch characters. The main addition is that the “shoot” button can be held down to select from about eight different spells such as Wingardium Leviosa for floating objects, Lumos for light, etc. Many enemies and obstacles have specific spells that will defeat them, so it results in bit more puzzle solving than, say, Lego Batman. Of course, it’s a kid’s game, so the puzzles aren’t too tricky.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

One of the main features of the Lego games is the replaying for collecting gold bricks, unlocking extras and characters. Lego Harry Potter boasts a total of 167 different playable characters, all but three of which you will need to find and purchase. There are also 200 Gold bricks, 24 levels of “true wizard” and house crests to collect, and 50 Students in Peril, which are characters you need to help out in some way, be it scaring away bullies or pulling them out of a spider web. The collection of many of these items is aided by unlocking detectors, which help immensely, but there is no detector for Students in Peril. This can result in a few hours of frustration wandering around Hogwarts trying to figure out which one you missed based on online FAQs. Of course, now that I have collected everything, I plan on putting the game on the shelf and ignoring it for a long time.

Replayability Rating: Mediocre

Lego games are specifically kids’ games, so the balance rating is going to be pretty middle of the road. I think it’s a very well made game for kids, especially kids already into Harry Potter. As usual, it is impossible to die, so it is always a manner of just trying everything until you find what works. There are no difficulty settings, but unlocking some of the extras will give you extra hearts, invincibility, or make falls safe. So, essentially, the game starts easy and only gets easier.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

As usual, its hard to give real points on originality after the first Lego game. This is just like Lego Star Wars, only it’s Harry Potter. This is not to say it’s a bad game, but originality is sorely lacking. The one real new thing here is the “home base” of Hogwarts Castle, which slowly opens up to more exploration as the game goes on.

Originality Rating: Bad

I know I’ve railed the game a bit in other categories, but I really did sit and play the thing through start to finish without too much interruption from other games. The 100% rating that is so much of a pain to get in Lego Star Wars is actually pretty reasonable here, which adds some incentive to playing it through to the end.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

Appeal Factor
Unfortunately, the plot of the game is nearly impossible to follow for anyone who has not at least seen the movies, which knocks out the Appeal Factor quite a bit. Among my friends, it probably knocks out about 60% of the people that like the Lego games but have no familiarity with Harry Potter. In general, only people that are already fans of the source material are going to enjoy the game.

Appeal Factor Rating: Bad

Ahh, here I can discuss the vehicle levels. For some reason, the vehicle levels on previous Lego games have been an annoyance to me. Something about the controls did not work for me. This is not so with Lego Harry Potter. Vehicle levels have been just about eliminated0, actually. There is one driving segment during the Follow the Spiders level that is actually pretty easy to control. The lack of annoying driving makes me happy.

Miscellaneous Rating: Great

The Scores
Story: Poor
Graphics: Good
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Great

Short Attention Span Summary
Lego Harry Potter is a pretty entertaining game, but only for fans of the books. The inherent difficulty in telling the plot without dialog makes it impossible to follow the plot for anyone not already familiar with the source material and, while the gameplay is easy and fun, it can get repetitive in a hurry. These two combinations make the overall score for the game a bit lower than, say, Lego Batman. Because the game will be enjoyed by a fairly small number of people (and this certainly includes myself – I think it’s a pretty good game for me personally), the overall score is a middling C.



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One response to “Review: Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (360)”

  1. Matt Avatar

    I actually thought the vehicle controls in this game were horribly designed, which is what lead me to this blip, dunno how you can steer a car with no reverse, and the car driving towards you….oh thats why they are reversed. i got the hang of going strait now, but trying to reposition a strait line is useless (let the spider slap me around) nice review

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