I just can’t help it – I’m totally potty for Potter! Throw in a handful of Lego bricks and tell me one of my favourite Amiga developers is making it into a game and BAM! You’ve got my undivided attention, my friends.
Travellers Tales have done a bang-up job of bringing several very high-profile franchises to the gaming arena. LEGO Star Wars started it all, and each title has slowly improved since then (with the possible exclusion of Lego Batman). Well, dear reader, this happens to be THE best LEGO game made so far.
Now I know you’ve skipped to the score for a peek, so you probably want to know why something I was looking forward to this much and is the best LEGO title to date ended up getting a score any less than a nine or ten, right? Read on, as all will be revealed.
The game takes the all too familiar structure used in all the other LEGO titles produced by Travellers Tales. Rather than Star Wars or Indiana Jones movies, this time you take on each of the first four books/movies from the Harry Potter franchise in turn. You use the fictional pub The Leaky Cauldron as your main level hub and the shops of Diagon Alley as your place to spend those hard earned LEGO studs.
Unlike previous LEGO titles developed by Travellers Tales, this game features little or no combat. Gone are the waves of goons to punch, whip or shoot. Instead, LEGO Harry Potter focuses more heavily on puzzle solving, object manipulation and exploration. To be completely honest, the loss of any real “combat” has improved the game greatly.
Gone are the awkward scuffles that normally lead to you getting mashed by the enemies due to poor collision detection or just plain inadequate combat mechanics. Also gone is the annoyance of your co-op partner “accidentally” smashing you into millions of LEGO chunks.
The game now feels structured more like an older action adventure title from the 90s. Sure, it means you sometimes end up retracing familiar paths as more areas are opened up to you, but overall this is negated by the sheer enjoyment of the surroundings.
As you progress through the first four years at Hogwarts schools for Magic you slowly gain the ability to conjure spells of varying types. Starting with basics such as Wingardium Leviosa (a levitation spell) and moving up through the many spells featured in the books is a great implementation of the levelling up system. Each spell has a purpose in the game and allows you to reach new areas and overcome certain obstacles that you could not before. For example, you use Wingardium Laviosa to levitate and create the various LEGO structures that are in pieces around the game world. The flying LEGO parts finally feel right here. In other titles like Indy or Batman, it felt odd that these parts just floated around the place; at least now there is a legitimate reason.
Other spells like Lumos (a light spell) allow you to force Devil’s Spawn (basically possessed roots) from objects or out of doorways. You can see the general “Learn A to Achieve Z” mechanic at work. Granted it is glaringly contrived, but it works so well it doesn’t matter.
The look of the game is absolutely spot on. The characters have been created with love for the subject matter and attention to detail, and they look as you would expect – just a little more plastic than the wooden characters from the movies (oh come on that was an obvious jibe right there!). Both blessed and hampered by their LEGO construction, characters manage to convey their feelings, thoughts and comedic missives with delightful invention. The game is the funniest LEGO title to date even for non-Potter fans.
The potions element of the title has also been well thought out. You pick up various ingredients to make a potion to help you through a certain area or puzzle. For example, you use the Polyjuice potion to take other people’s identity for a limited time. You can also mix a strength potion to allow you to pull levers or chains that open new areas or bonus items. Each ingredient is to be found in the surrounding area, but they normally require locating or solving a simple puzzle.
It’s hard to make plastic LEGO bricks look any more than average, but the developers have pulled out all the stops on this title to make sure each environment is dripping with atmosphere. As such, LEGO Harry Potter really does take the medal for best looking LEGO title to date as well as the most playable. Sure there is some screen tearing at times (you can opt to have this smoothed from the menu screen, but it slows down the action and only sort of fixes it) but it never detracts from the gameplay. Even in split screen the frame rate stays to a more-than-acceptable level with very few moments of slowdown present. On that note, the split-screen has been implemented better this time but it still has its fair share of frustrating moments.
Sound is always tricky in a Lego title – how excited can you get over the sound of plastic hitting plastic, right? Well, as with the upgraded graphics, Travellers Tales have stepped up once more to provide a cacophony of audible delights in the title. The main themes and gorgeous music from the Harry Potter movies are in place (apparently the music from the books was not so good!) and well recreated. Spot effects are plentiful and well produced, lending nicely to your overall absorption in the LEGO Harry Potter universe. The voice work is a weird one to comment on. There are no spoken words – everyone knows LEGOs can’t talk – but the grunts, guffaws, grimaces and vocal inflections all add up to immensely well thought out voice work. Without these, the characters and comedy would probably miss their mark more often than not.
Longevity in games these days has become a bone of contention. Are the four hours of Modern Warfare 2 enough to satisfy? Are games that provide fifty hours plus, like Final Fantasy XIII, just too long? Well, in a world that seems to think five to eight hours is a more than acceptable,LEGO Harry Potter can hold its head very high. The main campaign, which I played part as single player and part as co-op, took me around ten hours to complete without rushing.
“Not bad at all!” you might be saying to yourself. Well, what if I told you that when I finished the game I had managed to complete only 60% of the whole game? Rack that up and you are looking at a game that will most likely drain sixteen hours plus from you, if not more. The reason for this longevity? Well, it’s three fold actually.
Firstly there is the staple of the Lego titles, which is to collect a certain number of LEGO studs in each level. This is easy enough on earlier levels but gets seriously challenging in later levels. You end up zapping most objects with your wand to see if it sheds studs or looking for hidden challenges to gain you more studs. Things like manipulating a certain number of torches on the walls of a certain area or lighting a certain number of lights on the desks in Gringott’s Bank are prime examples of these micro-challenges.
Secondly, there are a large number of collectables stashed around the environment. The most widely known from the rest of the series would be the fabled Golden LEGO bricks. There are a certain number of these stored in each “level” and collection of these will give you relevant unlocks for constructor mode. There are also collectables in the form of character plates that will unlock more and more characters from the books and movies. You can also discover locked red LEGO blocks that contain special items that can be purchased from the stores in Diagon Alley. These take the guise of new spells that would not normally be given during the course of the main game.
Finally, there is the construction mode which, as in LEGO Indiana Jones 2, allows you to put together some creations of your own using items you have unlocked throughout the main game. This mode is mostly underwhelming, but adds a few hours of extra fun – especially for younger players. A real shame is that you cannot share your constructions with others online. This is a real missed opportunity but I get the feeling Travellers Tales will flesh this mode out more over future titles, making it a sort of Lego Big Planet.
Ultimately the game has been seen before, several times over. That’s not to say it’s a bad game or a waste of your time. If you’re a Harry Potter fan or appreciate the universe, then this is an essential purchase. If you’re not a fan but are looking for a light hearted platformer or a game to get you through the summer drought ,then this won’t steer you wrong either. It’s just a shame that this is yet another refinement of a formula the LEGO games have been using for years now. I have to say that I hope that any future Lego releases change things up a bit more, as I think this style has been played out now.
Making plastic bricks look good is not a job I would envy. Yet the game does just that and throws them in to very well realised environments ripped straight from the books and movies. The character work is also exceptionally well done.
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Gameplay wise Travellers Tales have had a good look at what Potter fans would want and made a crackingly playable title. It’s just a real shame there was not more innovation.
Incorporating the familiar sounds from all previous Lego games this title took the easy route in some respects. Luckily it is saved by fantastic voice work (if you call it that) and the marvellous movie score.
When a title this accessible and enjoyable can boast a playtime in excess of 15 or 16 hours you know you’re on to a winner. Your time with this game will just fly by as it sucks you in and holds on like a crazy Dementor.
Lego Harry Potter is THE best Lego title to date regardless of your love or hate of the subject matter. The reliance on puzzles and exploration is a welcome break and has restored my love of the Lego series. The game appeals to gamers young or old and offers an accessibility that many developers could learn from. Be warned though the game still uses a formula that is in desperate need of a real shake-up to survive future iterations.