Should I Buy? – LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7


A brief look back over my posts will show that I’m quite the fan of Traveller’s Tales  series of LEGO games based around famous franchises. I was quite taken with LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 in particular for its emphasis on puzzles and exploration instead of the more linear, simple formula the earlier games had relied on. It wasn’t their best game, sure, but it was a fun experiment. So surely Years 5-7  must be a refinement on the original and a true classic of the series, right? Eh, not really.

It’s not a bad game by any means. It will occupy your time. It’s not that there’s a whole raft of problems holding it back, it’s more that Years 5-7 is just…going through the motions.

It recreates the films pretty faithfully, with the slapstick humour the LEGO games are so well known for. This does lead to some odd choices in order to fill out the necessary twenty four levels, but seeing a they’re pretty much all based around solving puzzles it’s not as noticeable or annoying as with other games.

A weakness of Years 1-4 was that the minimal fighting and lacklustre bosses meant levels often felt free of tension or danger and that’s certainly still present to an extent. There are more enemies added in when it makes sense, but the bosses aren’t really improved much. Most of them are just the same ‘puzzle’ recycled.

There is a true improvement on the combat, though, as Duelling has been added. You and your opponent stand in a circle and have to cast the appropriate spells to hurt each other. Again, it’s recycled without variation and is basically just another puzzle, but it does help to add variety and keep things fresh.

By far my favourite part of Years 1-4 was how Hogwarts was full of secrets to uncover, and as you learned new spells and abilities you could explore more and more. It helped pace the game and  give a real sense of growth to your main trio, seeing as you were almost always stuck with playing as them.  And yes, your characters do have to relearn a lot of their spells and there are special abilities you’ll need to get from buying other characters, but there isn’t the same sense of exploratory wonder any more.

Partly this is because your characters, despite the depowering, still have a large selection of powers off the bat. By the time you’ve played a good chunk of the story levels, you’ll have almost all of them. And finally, either finding all the collectibles is that much easier in this game or I’ve become some sort of LEGO game Zen master. Regardless, I got 50% in under two days without even trying.

My biggest problem with Years 1-4 was that if you needed another character’s skills while roaming Hogwarts, you had to backtrack all the way to a Polyjuice Potion in order to do it. Thankfully, Years 5-7  lets you use any cauldron in the Hub areas as any of the four available potions, and using a Polyjuice Potion gives you a wheel of characters who cover all the skills (provided you’ve bought a character with the necessary skills) to flick between with the press of a button. Problem though, why do I need to use a Polyjuice Potion before I can use this feature? It’s unnecessary busywork.

Should you buy Years 5-7? If it’s going cheap and you want a light distraction or are/have a rabid Potterhead in your life, sure. But it’s not one of the classics of the series. It’s an also-ran. It fixes a few problems of the original but fails to offer anything substantive or new enough to make it stand out.

Fall over your Harry Potter feet – A tribute


Here’s a special piece, written by my good friend Willow. She’s my editor, and the one who kept interjecting in the Beneath A Steel Sky review I posted earlier. This is the second part of our commemoration of the final Harry Potter films release. It’s a look back over what the series means to one fan who’s had the Harry Potter universe be such a huge part of her life.

She’s also written a piece on the subject for her personal blog, so read away Harry Potter fans. And why not leave a comment on what the series has meant to you, too?

#

The Harry Potter series by J.K.Rowling, a woman who reformed a dying genre known as ‘epic fantasy’. In light of the recent drama revolving around the final film’s release, it seems appropriate to look back over the past fourteen years. Yes, the first book came out fourteen years ago.

My father loved to read to me but the first novel I experienced was Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone when I was five years old. I distinctly remember being hooked at the bottom of the first page. I can remember how I first imagined witches and wizard robes (not too dissimilar to Micky Mouse in Fantasia), and laughing like silly at the jokes about the Dursley family.

For those of us who had to wait for book two to be written, let alone book seven, it has been something woven into our childhoods – or at least it has for me. The Harry Potter world is a place overflowing with imagination and has a fan base larger than The Lord of the Rings.

Its main fan website, http://www.mugglenet.com/, is delirious fun with over 3 million users (and growing every day), Quiddich is now a sport in America, the market is saturated with more merchandise than any super-fan could hope to collect (although I tried), literary critiques (and arses) have fought to unravel and undermine Rowling’s ideas, free internet pixel games when the internet still didn’t know what it was doing, etc. For a child, there is nothing better than feeling as if they can utterly immerse themselves in a world they adore. I don’t think there is another fandom that does it better than Harry Potter. Whenever the series is mentioned, there is a tight constriction in my chest because a huge part of my developing life has been invested into it.

There are hundreds of children and adults who found something gripping and revolutionary between the Harry Potter pages. When I was younger and its fame was still developing, friends used to ask “Who are you?” at fancy dress parties. “Why, I’m Hermione Granger!” Now, it’s brilliant to feel part of a huge community who we can share our HP love with. It’s near impossible not to know Harry Potter’s name, it’s like the wizarding world in reverse! And isn’t that what people want? Stories that are exciting, unique and carry us through a range of emotions – stories that mean something to us.

Did you know, if Harry Potter were alive, he would be 31 years old today: 31st July 2011.

At eight years old I wrote J.K.Rowling a letter expressing how much I was infatuated with her work – I even asked if she remembered my father from their years in school. Her handwritten reply came on my birthday in an envelope lined with purple tissue, and a golden owl embossed at the top of the paper. I can’t describe how much it meant to me, how much it meant to my father that she remembered throwing a dart in his hand. She even wanted to tell us what had become of my father’s friend – her high school boyfriend – and tried to say sorry that Oliver Wood was so bossy. I don’t think my father (Carl Wood) minds, somehow.

I once asked my dad if he could tell me secrets about who the characters are based off of and this is what he told me:

Severus Snape: “We had a science teacher just like him. It’s fitting that Snape is a potions master, don’t you think? He had long, greasy black hair, a hooked nose, a nasal voice and was a real nasty piece of work. He used to hit us on the back of the head with books.”

Hermione: “I think Hermione is a little bit like Jo herself. Determined to study hard and pass at the top of her class. It was kind of annoying, actually.”

Mr. Weasley’s blue Ford Anglia car: “Her boyfriend, my friend Seamus, used to have a blue car exactly like that. I remember how it broke. We had stopped at the traffic lights when we noticed a funny smell. A few seconds later and the radiator caught fire! We dived out in seconds.”

Godric’s Hollow: “I can’t say this for certain, but it reminds me of her house. Seamus and I used to sit on the pavement outside the gate and wait for her. It’s a nice little place – a church cottage in Tutshill. I’ll take you there when we next go to visit my mum.”

There are many who have said, “I’m going to cry at the end of the last film”. I haven’t seen it yet but I don’t think I’ll cry because ‘it’s over’, I’ll cry because I’m happy. Happy for everything the stories have given me, happy for Rowling’s intense achievement and for a feeling completeness. The Deathly Hallows part 2 couldn’t be any further from ‘the end’, it’s just completing that missing part of us – filling in the end of the story to our visual satisfaction.

I can’t wait to read to my children.

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)

Should I Buy? – The LEGO Games


OK the last review was a long on. I had to explain what I was doing, then give context to the game and then talk about the writing and both sides of gameplay. I imagine it was so long some of you didn’t bother to read all of it. So today, I’m picking something both more ‘casual friendly’ and easier to get a shorter review on.

Everybody hear loves LEGO right? That wonderful Danish invention, it was certainly the best toy I had growing up. Well it seems Telltale Games loves LEGO too. They’ve spent years making LEGO games based on various famous film licenses Warner Bros. owns.

Because I’m writing about four different game, you can zoom to one using Ctrl + F then typing in the key LSW, LIJ, LB or LHP to find the one you want.

Now the reason I can review LEGO Star Wars I & II, Indiana Jones, Batman and Harry Potter Years 1 -4 is because they’re all very similar in play style and, conveniently, I own them all. Also, these are all available on 360, PS3, PC, Wii and most are available on the handhelds. These are great for more casual gamers as you can’t actually lose, just die and respawn a few seconds later a little poorer.

As a note, the handheld version may lack some features or characters and have new ones to compensate. I’ve also heard about some of them having dire performance bugs, and they lack local co-op play. I’d advise getting these on consoles.

OK, so here’s how a LEGO game work. They’re based around three or four films and let you replay scenes from those films as fully interactive levels that are full of puzzles, combat and things to blow up. The cutscenes lack any dialogue, meaning that what little story they give is done through mime, and all the scenes work in a few good jokes too. Once you beat the levels in Story Mode (which you can easily do with a friend, the game has full co-op compatibility) you unlock them in Free Play where you can go back through them as any character you want to unlock all their hidden goodies.

See, each character has special abilities. For example, in LEGO Star Wars only Stormtroopers can use special Stormtrooper doors, only characters with blasters can grapple, only Force users can interact with certain objects and in some cases you need Dark Force powers. This, combined with the ability to unlock a whole range of characters from the games’ source material and even a character creator system gives the games great re-playability.

They do have their cons as well as pros, and before I talk about each game in turn briefly I want to talk about the flaws the series as a whole has. The camera moves along a set path throughout the game, which can be dodgy but is generally OK. In co-op though, some games won’t let the two of you move too far apart because you share the same screen. In other, you can because if you get too far apart the game becomes splitscreen which can be really confusing when it happens.

If you’re playing solo, then you’re stuck with a crappy AI partner. They’re incapable of killing enemies (not for lack of trying) and about the only thing they can do is help you with puzzles. You do one part, they do their part. The stupid AI can also get stuck on a jumping section because it keeps respawning to and jumping from a point that it can’t reach the other side from. You’ll occasionally have to take a break from doing your LEGO  thang to unstick the AI, and that’s never fun.

LSW
OK, let’s get started with LEGO Star Wars. Now if you’re going to buy these avoid the latest release and instead plonk for The Complete Saga. This is both LSW I & II combined, and covers the six films. The first game has you play mostly as Jedi, and here the puzzles are quite simplistic, use Character A on Object B type stuff. And if there’s no solution around, just hit stuff til so it explodes, you’ll find something to use. The second has a few levels as Jedi Luke, but most of the characters use blasters so shooty combat got upgraded. Now shooter heroes (excpet Chewie, for some reason) automatically dodge attacks if you press the attack button. The levels here are longer and focus more on puzzles. Overall, these two are a great buy buy still a bit on the pricey side. Steam will give it to you for £15 if you want it on PC, but I maintain these are best on console where you’ll be charged roughly £20 to get it preowned. Steep. Then again, it’ll be a bit cheaper if you get the PS2 version, but not much.

LIJ

Now, Indiana Jones, I haven’t played the second one, only the first. The first covers the original trilogy of Raiders, Temple and Crusade while the second has these ones with redesigned levels and the fourth film. The levels are as well designed and cutscenes as enjoyable as ever, but this game does have its problems. The heroes don’t really have that much in the way of unique abilities, so you’ll spend a lot of the game picking up weapons and tools to help you through the levels. This works fine most of the time, but some tools really limit your character’s combat ability and if you’ve had to put on a ‘hat’ as a disguise, one hit will knock it right off.

That’s another thing, the combat in this game doesn’t feel properly balanced. The game will throw hordes of bad guys at you, often armed with guns. This means you’ll die a lot and lose a lot of in game currency (studs) in some locations. In one level, there’s an area that almost makes me turn the game off rather than play it every time. Then, on other levels there’ll be nothing but a few barely noticeable spiders, and you’ll have to puzzle your way through the entire thing. This does make thematic sense, there’s no reason for Nazis to be in the tomb they just trapper you in after all. And I actually had more fun with these levels, because the puzzles are more complex and feel rewarding to solve. Ultimately, this game’s more of a mixed bag of tricks than a straight up recommendation. I’d say buy another one first. The Steam price is £13 and CEX asks about £10. This is also available on PS2.

LB

Ah, Batman. It was inevitable I’d buy this someday. So inevitable, I’ve bought it three times. Not because this is the best LEGO game necessarily, but because I’m such a sucker for Batman. The game has two halves, the Hero Missions and their villainous counterparts. This is the only LEGO game to use original plots, such as they are, rather than follow a film chronology. In this, a whole bunch of Batman’s villains break out of Arkham Asylum and split into three groups to do evil stuff. You’re Batman and Robin. You stop them.

Each level has the Dynamic Duo go after one of these baddies in a themed level and then fight them at the end as a boss. To compensate for the limited characters you get to play as in these missions, both the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder get four additional costumes that give them special powers that are scattered throughout the level. They do mean the game gets to be more complex than ‘punch things’, but some of them near useless while others are just annoying. Sure, they’re serviceable, but you’ll probably get fatigued of them before the game’s over. Also, a couple are near useless in the story missions, and almost as much so during free play.

The villain missions let you see the events that led to the levels you played in the other missions. You don’t get to play as every villain, but they’re all unlockable. Also, none of your boss fights here wear a cape. Most just don’t end with one. Most villains have at least two powers that the heroes don’t have access to, so the puzzles in these missions require different things of you, meaning the villain levels are a breath of fresh air.

Despite this being the darkest LEGO game, both thematically and visually (what with it all taking place in Gotham ‘the sun never shines’ City), the cutscenes retain their humour. Special mention goes out to Batman STILL being serious and competent in a LEGO game, while Robin goofs in the background. That said, Batman’ll still get a few laughs out of you. Another thing I love is that while Batman uses big beefy strikes and throws to fight, Robin uses more agile kicks and tumbles. This is a really nice characterful touch.

Damage wise, this is the best deal. roughly £10 both preowned and on Steam.

LHP

Finally, we reach the most different game of them all. Remember all that visceral combat in the Harry Potter films? How many times did that Herbology class seem so kick ass you couldn’t wait to play a game about it? Yeah, no and never right? This has been a problem with making Harry Potter games, but Telltale have cracked it with their mix of puzzling and platforming.

As you move through the films your characters learn more spells and gain a few abilities, and you have to use these in the most puzzle based LEGO game yet. The levels aren’t based on the easiest material to use and while there’s nothing really wrong with them, they do suffer from some quite extreme brevity when put alongside the other games. Still, the levels aren’t the real focus of the game. Instead, you get to use these magical powers to explore Hogwarts. As you go to more classes and gets more spells, you can interact with different parts of the castle to find collectibles and secret areas.

This can get frustrating at times because some parts require you having a character you haven’t found the token that lets you buy them, and you’ll have to scour some likely levels to find it, but for the most part the exploration is really fun in a ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’ kinda way. In terms of price, Steam’ll give it to you for £20, and preowned it’s between about £15-£20 depending on the platform.

OK so this was another long post, but I reviewed four whole games! C’mon people, work with me here! Anyways, I’d recommend any one of them as a fun distraction or to play with a younger sibling or a friend or partner who’s not particularly interested in games. They’re fun, simple and funny. If you don’t enjoy the LEGO games, you have no soul. Not judging, just saying.

%d bloggers like this: