A Subtle Re-Vamping of a Now Old Formula
I have played every single LEGO game that has come out on consoles since the first Star Wars came out in 2005. That first game was awesome. To play something that used the canon and also poked fun at it was a blast. The second game (which was based on the original trilogy) was as much fun, even though the formula was the exact same. Obviously the fact that it was based on the better trilogy made it that much better. When LEGO: Indiana Jones came out, I was similarly excited, because those movies (Raiders and Crusade anyways) are so much a part of my childhood that I didn't think it was possible to not love the game. Alas, I did not enjoy it as much as I could have. This is because after three games using the exact same formula of getting studs, buying characters, going through the missions again and finding hidden stuff and repeating was now getting very old. Admittedly, the game was still "fun" but it lacked the "oomph" of the original Star Wars version. LEGO Batman was downright boring. While I did chug through and get 100%, I felt dirty afterwards. So, when I heard about Traveller's Tales making a Harry Potter iteration of the series, I was not as excited as I might have been had it been the first game to come out.
Luckily, Traveller's Tales has managed to make this game seem fresh once again. Obviously, there are issues, but the real question that needs to be asked is whether or not it is fun, and whether or not it is true to the source material. The answer to both of these questions is yes. Now, I have read all of the Harry Potter books (since the first few came out when I was in a foreign land and freely available English novels were a godsend) and consider myself reasonably well versed on the limited canon available. The only deviations from the book are minor and are in the interest of introducing interactivity. That being said, there are a few moments where it would have been nice to have been in control but instead you are given a goofy cut-scene. Also, as these are the least interesting of the novels (except perhaps for Goblet and Prisoner) there were a few chapters I really did not want to go through again. But aside from that, if you haven't seen the movies or read the books, I would think that you would find these chapters fun and interesting. If you have read the books or seen the movies or both, I know that (if you liked them, of course) you would want to watch the movies or even read the books again. I did. I watched both Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire again after playing because this game made me want to. I consider that pretty high praise for a game. If it changes what you do outside the game, it is doing its job.
On to the game-play: while the formula is similar to the last games, in this game it actually makes way more sense. I was content to have the goofy building mechanics and the silly collection scheme in the previous games, but it really did make the games sillier than one would expect. And, while I realize it wouldn't be LEGO without building things, it is still weird to see Darth Vader bent over throwing LEGO bricks at a pile and having it turn into a door. In Harry Potter, the addition of magic makes this all much more a part of the world. People transform and move things all over the place with their wands and this allows for a bit more artistic license with the mechanic. Luckily, LEGO Harry Potter takes advantage of this. As you learn spells, you are able to manipulate the environment more and more which gives you access to different areas. No longer forced to rely on swapping characters all the time (although this still exists for a minor number of secret areas) you can do most of the work with Harry or Hermione once you have completed the game and learned all of the spells in classes.
Using this mechanic, Traveller's Tales has managed to make a game that would take anyone a pretty long time to beat. I got all the way up to 98.7% at the time of this review and while I could no longer find the last bricks to complete the game, I had fun the whole time. The greatest thing about these games is that they were never frustrating. I get fairly vocal when I feel a game is treating me unfairly and I didn't once get to that point in this game. I had a few puzzled moments where I could not figure out where to go, but other than that this game is simply a pleasure to play. A caveat to this is that there is no real challenge and telling your friends that you got 100% in LEGO Harry Potter isn't going to win you any clout with them. Also I am not sure you will like this if you do not like the Harry Potter franchise in the first place. I understand that there are people out there who hate large money-making enterprises like these without any rational reasoning behind it, and if you are one of those people with Harry Potter, simply don't play this game, but I doubt I need to tell you that.
In conclusion, LEGO Harry Potter offers a new take on its now old formula. This new direction is a good one, but it may only work for the Harry Potter series and I am curious as to what series or universe they will do next and if it will work. While the game is fun, it isn't excellent and has a few issues like old graphics, lots of clipping and very collecty game-play. If you like Harry Potter or LEGO games, play this. If you don't like one or either of those two, don't play this. If you are new to either, try it out, because I bet you will enjoy it.