Review: LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4

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Of the many LEGO games, LEGO Harry Potter has left me feeling the most conflicted. Thematically, it is without question the best LEGO game yet. The Harry Potter universe meshes with the LEGO brand more naturally than any of the previous licenses it has been paired with, a fact that can be seen in the game’s charming, dialogue-less retelling of iconic plot points from the first four Harry Potter books/films and its incredibly creative level designs and puzzles. Using magic wands and spells to manipulate the building-block-crafted game world is such a wonderful fit too – even more so than “the force” in the LEGO Star Wars games.

However, in terms of actual gameplay mechanics, LEGO Harry Potter is stale and unpolished. The graphics engine produces sharper visuals than ever before, but the core platforming mechanics and LEGO-based environmental interactions are pretty old hat at this point, and the deeper you get into the game the more it seems to bog down from incessant backtracking through Hogwarts.

LEGO Harry Potter is actually a fairly sizable game, with its four years each playing out like small standalone games at six stages and two to three hours apiece. And I was really riding high on the game through its first year. But shortly into the second year the game began to drag for me, and by the end of the second year and through the third and fourth years my enthusiasm had completely faded. I love how TT Games implemented spell progression – between chapters you attend classes in Hogwarts and learn new spells which enable you to interact with the LEGO environments in clever new ways – but aside from that the game is extremely one note from start to finish, with very little increase in challenge or variety to keep the gameplay fresh and interesting.

To be perfectly honest, I actually found the game to be a lot more fun after I’d completed it. Replaying levels just to hunt for hidden collectibles (of which there are many) and monkey around with Harry, Ron, Hermione and 167 other playable characters entertained me more so than following the narrative structure, and there are some really neat bonuses waiting to be discovered as well, including 10 secret puzzle levels that are tied into a world builder mode which allows you to edit the bonus levels to create new puzzles. The constant sense of discovery in this game is definitely its most admirable attribute. Fans of platformer collect-a-thons will surely be pleased by the obsessive item hunting LEGO Harry Potter has to offer.

Being able to play in co-op is also of paramount importance, as your enjoyment of the game will most likely hinge on whether or not you have a friend, child or parent to play with. Playing solo is fine too, but the brain dead AI, which has your companions regularly getting stuck on the environment, falling behind, and/or impeding your movement, forces you into “babysitter mode” far too often. So, having another player tag along is clearly the best way to experience this game. Unfortunately, though, online co-op still has yet to be incorporated into the LEGO series. A post-launch patch was supposed to add online play to the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, but I’ve been waiting for it to no avail.

The poor AI and lack of online support aren’t the only lingering drawbacks from previous LEGO outings either. Overall polish and quality control are still major causes for concern. Whether you are attempting to manipulate LEGO blocks, hop between platforms, or fly on broomsticks or pilot other vehicles, the game’s controls feel clumsy and unrefined. Just moving around is clunky, as it’s way too easy to get caught up on objects in the blocky environments and the awkward camera makes it difficult to judge jumping distances and angles. And I’m not sure if it’s a platform-specific defect or if I was bitten by the unlucky bug, but in my time with the Xbox 360 version the game froze my system three or four times. One freeze is fairly common for games these days, but once it crosses into three or more there is clearly a trend there that suggests to me that there’s a serious bug in the code.

LEGO Harry Potter is indeed a sloppily made game, which is only made more disappointing by the fact that these same technical faults have existed since the LEGO gaming invasion began many years and games ago. But what it lacks in polish and refined gameplay it does make up for with heart, imagination and endless collectibles, and quite frankly, the audience this game is targeting will probably look past the technical shortcomings more than I am able to. Good family fun is what LEGO Harry Potter is, and that’s really all it needs to be.

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Pros:
+ LEGO and Harry Potter universes are a match made in heaven thematically
+ Tons of collectibles and bonus items to unlock
+ Co-op is fun for the whole family
+ Clever puzzles and spell progression

Cons:
– Too much Hogwarts backtracking between levels
– Still no online support for co-op play
– Lots of lingering polish issues
– LEGO novelty continues to wear thin

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360, also available for DS, PC, PS3, PSP and Wii
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Release Date: 6/29/2010
Genre: Action/Platform
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-2 (co-op is offline only)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!