When it comes to books and movies, Harry Potter is king. It's hard to find someone who hasn't read one of the seven books, or watched one of the films in the beloved series. The much more prestigious form of entertainment that is video games, however, hasn't been quite as kind to The Boy Who Lived. Most Harry Potter games to date have been nothing more than generic movie-game tie-ins, and none have truly captivated the feeling of magic and fantasy that the source material provides so well. Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 successfully combines the mass appeal of Lego with the fantastical world of witches and wizards in what can easily be called the best Harry Potter game yet.
If you've played any of the previous Lego games, you'll be in familiar territory with Lego Harry Potter. The game features the same stud-collecting, puzzle-solving, environment-destroying action that gamers have come to know and love. The Leaky Cauldron serves as the game's main hub when not on a story level, and players can explore Diagon Alley for all their shopping needs whether that be new outfits, spells, or cheats. Hogwarts, which is the school for witchcraft and wizardry for those not in the know, serves as a kind of secondary hub in between levels. There you can explore the castle grounds, help out students in peril, and discover plenty of secrets. Whenever you decide to start a level, you simply follow the ghost Nearly Headless Nick to the required location.
And although the game's core gameplay remains largely unchanged from previous Lego games, Traveller's Tales has streamlined the experience in numerous ways. Combat, for example, plays a much smaller role in Lego Harry Potter than it did in, say, Lego Star Wars. Instead of having to fumble around with awkward aiming controls, a much larger emphasis is placed on finding collectibles and solving puzzles. This is a welcome addition, as combat has never been the main focus of the Lego games, and it isn't really missed.
Another way in which the gameplay is made more accessible is in the platforming. In previous Lego games, awkward camera angles made jumping from platform to platform a pain. It's clear that Traveller's Tales learned from this, as the platforming sections in Lego Harry Potter are greatly improved even without a double jump, I didn't find myself falling into bottomless pits and dying like I did in previous Lego games.
Perhaps the biggest difference between Lego Harry Potter and its predecessors is the spell system. Holding down the Y button opens up your spell wheel, where you can select from a variety of useful spells. Wingardium Leviosa, for example, is the levitation spell that you learn early in Year 1, and is used throughout the entire game. Like the force in Lego Star Wars, this spell is used to build various items with scattered Lego blocks. Other spells include Lumos, Expelliarmus, and Expecto Patronum. Some spells are taught via lessons in Hogwarts, whereas others are purchased with Lego studs (the game's currency) in Diagon Alley.
Like in every other Lego game, the story is told through pantomime, comedic cut scenes. These cinematics contain the same charm and humor that players have come to expect from Lego games, and put a fresh twist on the Harry Potter story. Since these cut scenes don't contain any actual talking or text, however, someone who has never read the books or watched the movies will probably have no idea what is going on in the story. Chances are if you don't know the difference between a muggle and a mudblood, you might find yourself a little confused.
For those who do know the Harry Potter story, however, rest assured that there's a ton of it to be experienced on this single disk. From fighting the mountain troll in the girl's bathroom in The Philosopher's Stone, to participating in the Triwizard Tournament in The Goblet of Fire, it's all in there. And with over 150 characters from the Harry Potter universe to unlock, fans of the series will be kept busy for a long, long time.
The tried and true drop-in/drop-out co-op makes a return, which is still a lot of fun. The screen splits in half when players decide to go and explore on their own, which is a neat effect, and keeps players from fighting over camera control. The lack of online co-op is disappointing, but isn't a gamebreaker by any means.
Graphically, Lego Harry Potter is easily the best looking game in the series. Hogwarts looks stunning, and is surprisingly detailed. The environments are cleverly put together, with Lego blocks of all shapes and sizes able to be interacted with. The licensed movie soundtrack is used throughout the game, which helps encapsulate that Harry Potter feeling, and is a nice addition considering there is no talking whatsoever.
If you've played the last few Lego games to death, then you might not be all that impressed with Lego Harry Potter. A lot of the core gameplay elements are unchanged, and although a score of minor improvements have been made, it's still a Lego game. Nonetheless, it is probably the best Lego game to date. If you're a Harry Potter fan, a Lego fan, or just looking for a fun pick up and play game, do yourself a favor and check it out.