doctor_kaz's LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (PlayStation 3) review

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The most best marriage of Lego and an IP since Lego Star Wars I

The original Lego Star Wars was one of the most pleasantly surprising games ever made. It was a perfect marriage of Lego and a widely loved intellectual property. Since that original game, the Lego game franchise has struggled somewhat, looking for that same combination. With the Harry Potter series, it has found that wonderful groove again. Harry Potter is a perfect fit for this series of video games, and it is also the best Lego game yet.

There have been so many of these games, that you probably have already played at least one of them. However, if you haven’t, a brief description might be useful. The Lego video games are meant for casual co-op play. They involve simple platforming, puzzle solving, combat, and item collection. If you die, you break apart into a few Lego pieces, lose a little bit of money, and then start right over again where you just were. As a hardcore gamer, I have no idea why I find this formula to be so enjoyable. It could be because I love the humorous way in which the game retells the stories from the movies that it follows. It could be because the underlying content of Star Wars and Harry Potter are so great that a merely competent game based off of them is good. Or, it could be because the games have mastered the art of making collectibles an addictive mechanic. Whatever the reason, the Star Wars games were really good, and the Harry Potter games are even better.

Like Star Wars, Harry Potter features an epic story that includes a huge cast of interesting characters. These characters perform a lot of different functions, which translate well into a game. Completing the levels in the game involves selecting different characters and using their various abilities to overcome obstacles. There’s Harry, who can fly well on a broom and has a powerful Patronus Charm. There’s Hermione, the bookworm. There’s Hagrid, the strong brute, and guys like Voldemort, who use Dark Magic. The goblins can use keys to unlock doors and even pets like Ron’s rat can squeeze into small areas and solve puzzles. They are characters who are worth playing, as well as being able to provide you with a lot of different ways to solve puzzles. The original stories also have plenty of action, which means that the game can provide interesting levels without having to retcon these stories too badly.

Lego Harry Potter finds clever ways to integrate magic into the gameplay too. You use Wingardium Leviosa to move bricks and build stuff. You use polyjuice potion to change into other characters so that you can use their abilities. You use reducto to destroy stuff and unlock collectibles. You use screaming mandrakes to break glass. This handful of simple mechanics makes for a huge assortment of puzzles – albeit simple ones that usually have obvious solutions.

What Lego Harry Potter has that the previous games did not have is a fully realized hub world – Hogwarts. The previous games had a small hub where you would enter missions – the Star Wars cantina, for example. Hogwarts, on the other hand, is huge and contains a bunch of areas. In addition to the 24 story missions that make up the first four stories, there are classroom lessons where you learn each critical spell. You can freely walk from classrooms to missions across the school, soaking in the atmosphere and interacting with the environments. There are the dormitories for each house, the Quidditch pitch, the library – you name it, it’s all there. There is a ton to explore and a lot of collectibles to find. This is also true of the smaller hub area composed of The Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley. In addition, there are ten bonus levels in Gringott’s that you can unlock when you collect enough gold bricks. Suffice it to say, Harry Potter years 1-4 has the most content of any of the Lego games.

The flaws in “Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4” generally boil down to the problems that the other Lego games have had as well. The graphics weren’t impressive six years ago, and they haven’t really improved much (if at all) since this series began. The formula, which works very well, hasn’t changed a lot either since then, and it gets repetitive at times. The Lego games generally can’t be played for much longer than about 45 minutes to an hour without getting a bit boring, and this one is no exception. Its puzzle solving is pretty simple, but the sheer number of abilities and collectibles that you have to keep track of can be kind of overwhelming. This issue probably won’t present a problem to gaming veterans, but participants in “girlfriend mode” will probably find this one to be harder to pick up and play than the previous Lego games.

At the end of the day, Lego Harry Potter is pretty much a no-brainer recommendation if you enjoyed the previous Lego games and you are a big fan of Harry Potter. The game is generally pretty fun and accessible, and it was clearly made with the intention of paying homage to this intellectual property. While the formula is still in danger of becoming somewhat stale, it works well enough in this game to make it worth playing.

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