paradox121's LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (Xbox 360) review

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Annoying Completionists Since 2005

I want to hate this game. Everything about it dictates that I should. And yet, I can’t. Be it nostalgia from my LEGO infused youth, or the fact you can’t help but love those stupid plastic people (I mean they have a society where they use their currency in construction. They’re not so bright). Or maybe it’s the fact this game forces me back to feeling like a child again. That pure reverence at the sheer amount of stuff you could do with these little blocks. And, yeah, there have been eighty-three previous games in the series that have slightly suffered from repetition, but I truly believe this one gets it right. While still making me want to tear my hair out.

I remember back in 2005 when LEGO Star Wars was released people always seemed to start their reviews or impressions with “You won’t believe this, but it’s actually a good game.” I guess people assumed that LEGO instantly makes it a ‘kid’s game’, and in many respects it is just that. It’s never overtly challenging, and sticking a kid down with a controller and telling them they can blow up everything around them is an easy sell. I think the trouble started to arise when adults took control. Adults ruin most things. They expect everything to be to the utmost standard, and don’t really experience mindless fun in quite the same way as children. And the big hook that’s kept adults coming back to the LEGO games is the collection aspect. Not only can you collect the studs (LEGO ‘money’), but also a bucket load of characters from the franchise, extra levels, cheats, gold bricks, and, in the case of LEGO Harry Potter, ‘Students in Peril’ and Hogwarts Crests. This is where my personal grievances begin.

I think I should put my hands up and admit to being a completionist. I love achievements, exploring every nook of the environment for bonuses, and I’m most definitely the type of person to find where the game wants you to go before backtracking and going in a different direction. It’s like LEGO games know this and want to taunt me. From the get go you’ll find you can’t interact with half the environment because you have to have the relevant character/spell that becomes available after completing the level. So you tend to swing between needlessly exploding everything in the environment and collecting the resulting studs, and not bothering because you’re aware you can’t do much until a second play through. Which is weird. Sure, Metroidvania games have a similar ‘Look at what you can’t interact with yet’ style, but at least you’re aware that you can backtrack at any point. Here, you need to actively replay a level. Anyway, enough talk about the LEGO series, let me talk about the actual game.

In a similar style to the Star Wars games, LEGO Harry Potter covers the first half of the Harry Potter series, splitting up each of the four films into six levels each. I was actually pleasantly surprised at the length of each of these, with levels often having you run around Hogwarts, learning a new spell in class, and playing through some of the story. Hogwarts itself is surprising well realised, acting not as a hub world but more as a playground, allowing you to try out your spells and find bonuses. It actually feels ‘alive’, with AI LEGO wandering around, waving as you pass by, and clapping if you manage to complete a mini-task. I keep mentioning spells, and this was ironically one of my biggest surprises about the game.

From past LEGO games you generally had characters with specific abilities, and ways they could interact with objects. That still sticks, but you now have the main cast with added spells. All of these make sense both in the context of the narrative, and in what it allows you to do in the game. For instance, Lumos burns away green vines and lights dark areas, while Wingardium Leviosa lifts up objects, and in most cases, acts as your ‘build’ button. You can change your spells with the triggers or bumpers, and you’re never put in a situation that forces you to flick between them too rapidly. Along with spells you also make potions, which are made up of three items you need to search out in the environment, helping to structure levels in a progressive way. All of these things really make it feel like the developers put a good amount of time making the game feel authentic and relevant, aided by the as-ever cute yet amusing humour, retelling the stories in a way only small LEGO characters could.

But here’s why I feel I should hate the game. As with every LEGO game before it, the platforming is pretty bad; your helper AI is pretty hit and miss; the boss fights are either too simplistic or just don’t feel ‘big’; and you can easily wander around a room for a good ten minutes with no inclination of what to do since the game seems to hate giving you hints. And yet, as I said, for whatever reason, I can’t hate it. Having a mate drop in for some split-screen action is just plain fun, even if you haven’t a clue what you’re doing, and can help appease the AI. You can get over stupid platforming, and boss fights are pretty far and few. Equally the sheer immense amount of collectibles is commendable, if not slightly infuriating for types like myself. There’s also a builder mode, and though you can’t easily share your creations online for instance, you do properly regress to being that 8 year old with a pile of bricks, with one loose brick that a family member would always end up standing on whilst bare-footed.

Simply put, if you love Harry Potter, get this game. If you’re a fan of the LEGO series and its’ irreverent take on movies, get this game. If you’re new to the franchise and wondering what the fuss is about, and are the type of person looking for ‘a bit of fun’, get this game. But if you’re easily aggravated, or have a fear of any game where you can’t cause serious head traumas via projectiles dispensed from a firearm, this may not be the game for you. This is easily the best of the LEGO games, that retains the charm of its’ predecessors, while adding new flavours that help to improve the adventure, and make this a greatly enjoyable experience.

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