[Note: The author reviewed Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 for the Nintendo Wii. It is possible that some elements of this review may not apply to versions of the game for other platforms.]
I’ll freely admit it: I was just as anxious to get the Lego Harry Potter video game as my kids were. I might even have been more anxious, since I’ve been a fan of the books since before either of them was born. I was hoping it would be able to capture the magic of the Potter-verse, with enough of the trademark Lego video game silliness to cut through the stories’ seriousness.
Now, I haven’t been able to play the game all the way through yet, because I’ve only had the game since Tuesday (no review copy for me this time), but I’ve seen enough to know my hopes have been fulfilled. From the opening cut scene, which takes care of the beginning of the first book all the way to Hagrid and Harry entering the Leaky Cauldron, it’s clear the game’s makers have a great eye for detail and a great sense of humor. I never cease to be amazed at how funny they can make the cut scenes without any actual dialogue.
I was concerned that there would be too much find-and-kill-the-bad-guy action, and not enough immersion in the world. I needn’t have worried, though: the game shows you the path you’re supposed to take, in the form of Nearly-Headless Nick’s trail of ghostly Lego studs and big glowing arrows, but doesn’t stop you from wandering around Hogwarts. Of course, if you wander, you’ll run into some places you can’t go until you solve certain puzzles, and you may not yet have everything you need to solve them, but it still works very well to give the game the right ambiance. You even have to attend classes to learn new spells or the recipes for new potions. And of course you can zap pretty much anything with your wand, at any time, with all sorts of amusing effects.
As you’d expect, you’re able to switch between Harry, Ron and Hermione (unless you’re in a scene with just two of them). Each of them has (very character-appropriate) talents the others don’t: Harry is the best at broom-flying (which is very well-implemented, by the way); Hermione carries a book with her, allowing her to open certain panels; and Ron has his pet rat Scabbers, who must be used to solve certain puzzles. I haven’t made it to year four, yet, where I can only assume Scabbers will no longer be available, but perhaps Hermione’s pet cat Crookshanks will make an appearance.
In keeping with the stories, you need to rescue “students in peril” at various points along the way, and solve mini-puzzles to earn a gold brick or unlock a character or a red brick for an extra ability (you have to send the bricks away by owl after finding them). And of course you can use the studs you collect to buy things in — where else? — Diagon Alley, where you return after every level. You need to use Polyjuice Potion for some puzzles, temporarily transforming into a different character, a practice made that much easier by inhabiting a Lego world in which a minifig’s hair can simply pop off. Another very nice touch is the ability to interact with certain (moving) paintings, just as in the stories. As with the second Lego Indiana Jones game, this game automatically activates split-screening if two people play at once, so that you’re not restricted to always being close to each other.
The only thing I’m not thrilled with in the game is the frequent puzzles where you must arrange several strange-shaped Lego pieces into something — usually a staircase. The game provides you with a painting for each one, displaying what the final result should look like, but, at least on the Wii, manipulating the pieces in three dimensions is cumbersome and can quickly become frustrating — and that’s for me; my kids got frustrated even more quickly.
Wired: Does an excellent job of immersing the player in the world of Harry Potter without sacrificing any of the trademark Lego silliness.
Tired: The Lego piece-arrangement puzzles get frustrating rapidly. I’d be happier if there were a shortcut built in that would allow you to manually arrange them if you wanted to, but that would do it for you if it took too long.
Summary: An excellent addition to the Lego video game lineup. If you like Harry Potter and Lego, you’ll like the game, I promise. I can’t wait for the new Lego Harry Potter sets to come out later this year!