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Ah, Harry Potter. The character that began as a roughly formed idea that a certain Joanne Rowling came up with on a train journey from Manchester to London in 1990 has come a long way. In twenty short years the spectacled young wizard has become the star of seven books (not counting the extra spin off), seven going on eight films, and a theme park. In addition, the obligatory lines of toys and memorabilia continue to dominate markets, and it is in this group that we can include computer games. Somewhat predictably, every Harry Potter film to date has been released with a computer game not long behind. It is unfortunate, though not entirely unexpected, that these movie tie ins have been mediocre at best in terms of quality.
However, in recent years a new type of movie-based video game has emerged, namely that carrying the Lego name. The concept is very simple; popular movies are re made with the characters and surroundings constructed of Lego. Players take the role of the characters that they ordinarily would, and the game then tells the story of the popular movies with an injection of Lego style humour given for good measure. To date the likes of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Batman have all been given this building block makeover, and largely to great success. And so it is that the Lego series turns its attention to J K Rowling’s famous creation, which has apparated its way into our high street stores as Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4. But does it continue the strength of the Lego series, or does it fall short?
YOU’RE A WIZARD, HARRY
If you have played any of the previous Lego games (as I expect many have), you will know what to expect from Lego Harry Potter before you even load up the disc. For those who haven’t experienced the charm of this series before, you can expect to see your favourite Harry Potter characters re created in Lego format, with everything made of the traditional coloured building blocks.
Presentation has always been a strong point of the series, and Harry Potter is no exception. If anything, the magical lands of Hogwarts and beyond provide the sort of variety that certain past games in the series, such as Indiana Jones, have lacked, and as a result the Lego style really does compliment the overall feel of the game. The idea behind Harry Potter is a concept that everyone wants to be a part of deep down, and the feeling of interaction is one that should invoke curiosity and enjoyment in equal measure. Suffice to say that with everything made out of Lego blocks, these aspects come right to the fore.
Simply put, every cutscene in the
Pictures of Lego Harry Potter: Episodes 1-4 (PS3)
Welcome to Lego Harry Potter!
game is something of a delight, with the bright and colourful characters and backgrounds combining with over the top animations and sound effects to create scenes that are not only charming, but genuinely funny and entertaining. It is difficult to construct decent humour in computer games, but as with the other Lego games, this one manages it almost effortlessly. Of course not everything is absolutely as it is in the movies, but these bits are easily forgiven as they only ever work to increase the entertainment value.
WELCOME TO HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY
The eagled eyed amongst you will notice that Harry Potter doesn’t really have the same focus as previous Lego target movies. The likes of Star Wars and Batman have ample imagination, but are also based on heavily on the action side of things. After all, who would want to be a part of those movies without being able to engage in a lightsaber duel or punch The Joker square between the eyes? Whichever way you spin it, action is a stable part of those series.
The same cannot be said of Harry Potter, and this is something that did initially concern me before playing the game. Yes, there are notable action scenes in Harry Potter, but by and large magic is not used as a weapon in the series, and it is the wide use of magic in Harry Potter that makes it same more feasible within the confines of the mind, and which really sucks people into the world as a whole. Whichever way you spin it, a Lego game based on Harry Potter just wouldn’t feel right if it were as laden with action as the previous games in the series.
I was therefore very much relieved when it became clear that Lego Harry Potter has a different focus to other games in the series. Yes, you do still fight with characters on occasion, but the combat takes a back seat to exploration, which is what this game is all about. As with previous Lego games there are countless Lego bits than populate every nook and cranny of the game world, which can be collected by finding them, solving puzzles and defeating enemies. But this time rather than being something that you can focus on as an aside to the main game, collecting these bits and blocks is what the game is all about.
Unsurprisingly, spells are a mainstay of the gameplay in Lego Harry Potter. For the first time in Lego games, holding down a spell button brings up a target reticule, which you can then move around to decide where you want to cast your spell. This offers a level of freedom in terms of targeting which hasn’t been seen in the series before, so whether you are moving blocks around to create a stairway or seeing off a nasty Dementor, you always feel like you have a choice as to what you’re doing. This free targeting system also benefits the feel of the game because, when you can cast spells on more or less anything, you never really lose that feeling that there is something else to discover.
And, indeed, there usually is. One of the joys of the Lego games is laying waste to the environments around you, resulting in a wide scattering of collectible Lego bits in the process, and Lego Harry Potter continues this trend with renewed vigour. Altering the environment with spells never gets old, and enables the game to maintain a level of unrestrained fun throughout. The environments themselves really do feel alive, with objects dancing around constantly, and the residents of Hogwarts always being on hand to help you open new areas or throw you items to help with your quest.
In fact whether you are old or young, the appeal of the general gameplay really is universal, which also means that it is a game that you can get just as much fun out of with a friend or family member than by playing alone, if not more so. There is lots to do all of the time, and whilst the game is not at all challenging and the puzzles are hardly the most taxing, the diversity in relation to the environments, spells and other gameplay aspects (such as using Scabbers or Crookshanks to explore tight and confined spaces) always keeps things fresh and fun.
This diversity also means that you will almost inevitably be playing through this game more than once. In between missions you are free to explore the main environments from the films or head down Diagon Alley to spend your Lego trinkets. This allows you to unlock new characters and such, which in turn will potentially make areas of the game newly accessible. For anyone who is even the slightest but curious, this inevitably results in you going back through the levels again to see what new areas you can reach, which keeps the whole concept of exploration ticking over nicely. A single, quick playthrough of the game would probably take between five and eight hours, but unless you have no sense of fun about you you’ll probably want to spend at least the same time again going back over things and completing more of the game. Such is the way that the game is constructed, you will be lucky to get anywhere near 50% completion on your first playthrough.
Unfortunately, despite all of the excellent aspects of the game as listed above, things are far from perfect. You always have one or two characters by your side as you progress through the game, and whilst it is easy enough for a friend or relative to take control of one of these at any time (the simple drop in/drop out feature seen in other Lego games returns to this one), when you’re playing by yourself you will often find that the AI is somewhat frustrating. This is mainly in relation to puzzles that require two characters to synchronise their actions, such as standing in specific spots on the floor. Obviously with another human player this is straightforward, but unfortunately AI allies have a habit of not reading the script in relation to these, which can make progress frustrating. It’s not enough to ruin the game, but it is a niggle that is worth mentioning.
In a similar fashion, the game does have a surprising amount of other glitches and bugs. These vary in severity, from simple graphical glitches that practically affect nothing, to more significant problems such as the game not letting you interact with vital objects, which can necessitate restarting the level from scratch. It is perhaps testament to the strength of the core game that these glitches are not reasons to let this game pass you by, but at the same time it is extremely frustrating when developers can’t eliminate these simple bugs from their games. Quite simply, bugs like this shouldn’t exist, but unfortunately in Lego Harry Potter they do, and you might have to be prepared to spend some time tolerating them.
THE BOY WHO LIVED
On the whole though, Lego Harry Potter is a fun, charming, and thoroughly enjoyable trip through the first four movies in the blockbuster franchise. It is perhaps an obvious point to make, but if you have never read the books or seen the films, or if you don’t like Harry Potter generally, then this game is not for you. On the flip side, if you are a fan of the books or films then there is more than enough here for you to sink your teeth in to. In fact, being a fan of the franchise will more than likely allow you to forget about the games shortcomings and let the fun reign supreme.
It is perhaps fair to say that Lego Harry Potter is not the best Lego game to date, indeed most would agree that it isn’t, but when the games are aimed at fans of the movies rather than fans of Lego, this doesn’t quite seem as important as it might be. Simply put, Lego Star Wars is not an adequate replacement for a Harry Potter fan, even if it is a better game. What does matter is that Lego Harry Potter is by far and away the best Harry Potter game to date, and will likely prove to the best Harry Potter game ever released, at least until Lego Harry Potter 5-7 inevitably comes along. Until then, if you’re a Harry Potter fan yourself or want to buy something for someone who is, this comes highly recommended.