Should I Buy? – LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4

This is a rather special edition of Should I Buy, as it’s being written to commemorate the release of the final Harry Potter film. Still, you all know of J.K. Rowling’s seven book phenomenon, so I don’t need to reiterate the premise or other such details here.

I did review this game before, along with several other LEGO games from Traveller’s Tales. However, they really do warrant being talked about individually so that’s what I’m going to do here.

LHP is the result of the LEGO game formula being refined through its four previous incarnations. And that’s really tangible here. Instead of trying to shoe-horn in unnecessary combat or stray from the events of the books or films to create dramatic sequences to the extent that the LEGO Star Wars games did.

The game derives most of its gameplay through using your various magical abilities to manipulate your environment so you can proceed. While this is hardly new to the LEGO formula, they’ve clearly learnt from past mistakes. While it can still be unclear what you’re meant to do at times, the game cleverly changes the aesthetics of the puzzle enough so that you never really realise you’re only ever using the same dozen or so techniques.

Instead of the traditional hub from which you jump into any of the available levels, the game takes a more narratively structured approach. Once you’ve gone past the first level, you’re free to wander around Hogwarts Castle to your next lesson or level by following Nearly Headless Nick. Or you can simply explore the castle, looking for secrets and unlockables.

A lot of these can’t be found until you learn new spells though, which in turn require you to play through the game to acquire from the various lessons. This means that the castle opens up gradually to you as you play, and at certain times of the plot it’ll be covered in snow or soaked in rain as it was when the events you’re playing through took place.

Diagon Alley is a location that you can return to at any time, and serves as a more traditional hub alongside Hogwarts. Here you can buy characters from Madam Malkin’s, play secret levels at Gringotts, replay levels from the Leaky Cauldron and many more. All of these feel very characterful and shows how much attention was paid to LHP in the design phase. My favourite touch though is that if you want to switch your character while exploring Hogwarts to somebody with a special ability you need, you have to brew some Polyjuice Potion.

There are a few frustrations with the game however. I can understand that they needed a lot of characters for us to find in the huge castle and all the levels, but why would I want to play as a Milkman? Or Harry’s Dragon Task outfit as opposed to one of the six other outfits I have for him? This kind of ‘reward’ is anticlimactic and unsatisfying.

Speaking of which, the levels do suffer somewhat from the lack of external conflict. What combat there is is very simplistic, with all enemies but Dementors requiring only a spell or two to defeat. And even then Dementors only require one hit from an Expecto Patronum, which only certain characters have and takes ages to cast. They don’t show up often either which is something I praised earlier and indeed it’s not something they should have changed but the levels don’t ever feel tense.

They’re also rather short. If the puzzle or solution is not obvious, blow up everything in site until it does. They’re fairly fun and never really dull, but outside of the context of the story, they don’t have the same excitement factor or length that previous titles did.

Still, the game has bosses! Surely they must heighten the atmosphere right? To an extent. They tend to just be puzzles you have to solve while under attack. They’re not terribly complicated, and don’t feel like bosses in the way ones from a Final Fantasy or a Zelda game do. They’re not bad, they’re just not bosses like you’d expect the Basilisk or Professor Quirrell to be.

All that aside, I do still recommend this game. It’s fun, charming and slightly more cerebral than the other LEGO games, though not too much so that a child playing the game couldn’t figure it out with some patience. The only reason I’d say not to buy it is if you’re looking for a way into the Harry Potter universe. It’s taken for granted that you know what’s going on and that knowledge will come in handy. Sure I know to touch Quirrell to harm him, but the game doesn’t tell an uninitiated to.

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, then this is a great game regardless of your age. It has a real tangible affection for the source material and the trademark LEGO humour is as strong here as ever.

Price: XBOX 360: £18 (CEX)
PS3: £15 (CEX)
Wii: £12 (CEX)
DS: £15 (CEX)
PSP: £10 (CEX)
PC: £5 (CEX) £19.99 (Steam)


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Willow Wood
    Jul 31, 2011 @ 20:37:35

    I really like the appeal of the Harry Potter LEGO games. They look a lot more fan based than the commercial EA Games, which is why I love the first three and sixth one. They include tiny details that fans crave for because the HP world is fantastically expansive. There’s so much the films never/can never explore and it saddens me (and is partly why I refused to watch the films as a stubborn child). Little corners in Diagon Alley, particular paintings, the door that has no relevance but is still THERE, turning heads into pumpkins during duels, running around the castle to your next class… As for things like cutting out/changing chunks of plot, well, my broken heart has be forced to deal with it (don’t ever buy the 4th HP PS2 game).
    Would you say all the LHPs are good? Are any of them available for PS2?


    • jackcalico
      Jul 31, 2011 @ 20:44:51

      Unfortunately it’s only for the consoles I listed. Not to worry, I own it so you’ll get to play it next year. The first one is years 1-4, and the one that covers years 5-7 is to be released on…November 1st this year I think, so I’ll probably get that at some point.


  2. Willow Wood
    Jul 31, 2011 @ 20:47:04

    Woooonderful. I may indeed steal it then. MWAHAHA.


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