Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is the newest addition to Traveller’s Tales’ Lego games. As the title of the game indicates, this game covers the first four years or the first four books/movies. It’s clear that the game actually follows the movie though because it essentially copies the scenes and how they are set up almost exactly like we saw in the movies — even character likeness. Using the traditional Lego-paraphrasing style (as we call it), the characters never speak but rather pantomime the scenes and throw in additional quirky or funny things that add to Lego’s interpretation of what went on in the films.
The gameplay is excellent. Players assume the role of many different characters such as Harry, Hermione, Ron, Hagrid, and Fang. Depending on the situation, players get access to only certain characters. This plays into how the films were done. For example, in the Dark Forest when Draco and Harry were off on their own and came across Voldemort the others who were out there (Hermione, Hagrid, Fang, and Ron) had to make their way through the forest to rescue them. This is an example of both the availability of characters as well as an interpretation of events rather than something we actually saw or read about.
Characters have their own special abilities as well which makes playing each of them feel different. Hagrid sucks as magic and using him Umbrella as a wand he’s really not going to cast much. Instead, he uses a crossbow at times as well as possessing the strength to pull levers. Hermione has book smarts and can solve puzzles, Harry can fly (where the others just flop about), and Ron can call out his rat to go into small spaces. It’s nice having these abilities used during the story and not just needing them in the Free Play mode where you go back through the levels with whichever characters that you want in order to find all the secrets that are blocked off unless you have certain abilities.
What I like most is how the game holds true to the feel of Harry Potter. Exploring the castle is done almost right away in the game after you visit Diagon Alley. Once inside the castle it’s very open to the player to explore places like the Great Hall, the Common Room, and the various hallways and rooms in the castle. It’s not all levels, whereas past Lego games seemed to move you very quickly on through them with only a brief respite in a lobby area. In Lego Harry Potter the entire castle and even the classes are open to you and there are other things to do besides moving the story on.
Whatever the player does in the game, it feels like you’re at Hogwarts or playing through an interpretation of the story whilst still staying true to canon and the Lego gameplay. I strongly disagree with those who say that the Harry Potter setting is just a backdrop for the standard Lego game. That’s definitely over-analyzing and even picking it apart for no reason. One thing to note, however, is that unless you’ve read the books or seen the movies… you’re going to be unbelievably lost. Like most of the titles there is an absolute demand on the player to have some background with the property or else it’s not going to make sense for one and not going to be funny when TT throws in funny quips.
Plenty of secrets, collectibles, and fun additions to the story are all over. Couldrons are scattered throughout the castle and levels that require certain ingredients. Some will give you strength or blow things up. There are hidden Gold Blocks, Mail for Owls, secret characters to unlock for free play, and plenty of purchasable upgrades. Going back to Diagon Alley is easy and when you visit the shops one of the great things to buy are new spells. In addition to Wingardium Leviosa and the other common story-related spells there are fun ‘fluff’ spells like changing someone’s clothes or shrinking their head with the flick of a wand. There is a lot of depth to this game right down to how characters react to other certain characters.
There is plenty to do in Lego Harry Potter for someone just looking to play through the story as well as a completionist who wants to collect everything. The Lego element fits very well into the world of Harry Potter and it translates very well into a game for all ages and fans of the story. I think it’s the best Lego game yet which is saying a lot given the Star Wars Lego titles offer some serious competition.
Update: I want to comment on the local multiplayer / cooperative play. It’s fantastic like all of the Lego games, but even more so with a new feature. The screen will now split and allow characters to go where they want apart from each other instead of the screen acting as a barrier and forcing the players to stay on the same screen. When I want to go up and Graev goes down, the screen splits to accommodate. When we get back in range the screen seamlessly comes back together. It will split on whichever angle it needs, even diagonal, to accommodate players not being a ball and chain for the other. This is the first time we can remember this feature in on of these games and even hope to see it used in other games with similar gameplay.
Version: Xbox 360