Video Game Review: Great ‘LEGO Harry Potter’ Plays Well For All Ages

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CHICAGO – Leave it to the boy who lived to breathe remarkable new life into a gaming franchise that seemed to have run out of ideas. “LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4” is the most entertaining family-driven title that you could possibly pick up this summer. It’s a great game. Video Game Rating: 4.5/5.0
Video Game Rating: 4.5/5.0

When “LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game” was released in 2005, it totally took the gaming world by storm. Millions of gamers lined up for the brilliant fusion of two of the most popular pop culture movements of their youth — LEGO toys and “Star Wars.” The synergy of LEGO and Lucas went a step further with the superior “LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy” just the next year and the titles were merged into the must-own “LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga.”

LEGO Harry Potter 1-4
LEGO Harry Potter 1-4
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Interactive

As with any popular gaming movement, the “LEGO” series started to burn itself out with some fans the minute it became a hit. When “LEGO Batman: The Video Game” and “LEGO Indiana Jones” disappointed both critics and fans, it felt like perhaps developer Traveller’s Tales would never find quite as tasty a gaming cocktail as they did when LEGO met Lucas. “LEGO Rock Band” was viewed by many as a sure sign that the developers had run out of ideas and two dying trends (LEGO and music games) were not better than one.

LEGO Harry Potter 1-4
LEGO Harry Potter 1-4
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Interactive

Which brings us to “LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4.” It’s mere minutes into the game when you realize that this is easily the most accomplished and entertaining LEGO title since “Star Wars.” The developers of “Harry Potter” seem to be having as much fun as the player as each level, puzzle, and new element introduced feels like it was created with a smile and a laugh. “Batman” and “Indiana Jones” sometimes felt like a chore with relatively uninspired level design but every element of “Harry Potter” feels reinvigorated. It’s a game with a new surprise around every corner and the very rare title that can provide entertainment for every age demographic in the house. The list of games that an eighteen-year-old can play co-operatively with an eight-year-old and where both will walk away satisified is remarkably short. Add “LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4” to that list.

The set-up will be familiar to anyone who has ever played a LEGO game. The player moves through the action of the first four books/movies and collects tiny LEGO pieces known as studs while solving puzzles to progress the action. Naturally, a game based on wizardry is going to make use of Harry’s magic wand and the player learns new powers and spells as the game moves along, making for a character who feels pretty powerful by the final year. A single player can swap back and forth between multiple characters on some levels or a second player can drop in and out.

The spell system makes for a world that’s constantly refreshing itself. In year one, there will be sections of Hogwarts that you can see but can’t get to and just the knowledge that you’ll someday learn the spell for that specific situation keeps driving the game forward. Just as The Force fit well with a game where LEGO pieces would fly through the air, casting Wingardium Leviosa makes a certain amount of sense in the LEGO world.

LEGO Harry Potter 1-4
LEGO Harry Potter 1-4
Photo credit: Warner Bros. Interactive

It’s not just the puzzle designs, which are arguably even more cleverly conceived than even “Star Wars.” What one first notices about “Harry Potter” is that it looks amazing. The environments are familiar to Potter fans but have been completely reimagined through the LEGO lens. You’ll spend hours wandering Hogwarts and to collect studs and find new secrets, but the game never falls into the repetitive trap that burned Batman and Indy.

The game also has deep replay value, encouraging players to go back to past levels with new, unlocked characters and powers. Each game session starts up at The Leaky Cauldron, where the player can choose to go back to old levels or continue the story or just explore the Cauldron and Diagon Alley, where you can buy new characters. It’s an amazingly deep title that will take hours for even hardcore gamers to complete. Those stunned by the beautiful scenery or those who like to replay levels with different characters will spend days with just this one game.

If there’s a flaw, it’s that Traveller’s Tales still hasn’t embraced the online community to the extent that they should. Why can’t the co-op experience be through Xbox Live instead of merely with someone in the same room? That’s just silly. With more and more developers recognizing the importance of online communities, Traveller’s Tales should do the same.

There are a few classic platforming glitches in “LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4” like instances where the camera work makes jumping or finding the right path difficult, but they’re infrequent and far overshadowed by what works about the title.

With the fan base for “Harry Potter” and the love for the LEGO franchise, “LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4” would have sold well with very little work by the developers. Kids will buy anything. But Traveller’s Tales have pulled off a remarkable feat — I can’t wait for the next LEGO game.

Check out this great trailer before you start practicing your spells:

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4’ was released by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and developed by Traveller’s Tales. It is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older). The version reviewed was for the Xbox 360 but the title is also available for the PS3, Wii, PS2, PC, and PSP. It was released on June 25th, 2010. content director Brian Tallerico

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