Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4
When discussing the myriad Lego titles released over the past few years, it’s tempting to dive straight into a harsh critique of their formulaic nature and cynical lack of ambition. To an extent such criticisms are justified; Traveller’s Tales’ take on the world of colourful bricks is nothing if not modest. But say what you will about the Lego games, they are in and of themselves worthy of their own kind of praise. Much like the toys themselves there’s much to be said for a template so malleable in its adaptability that it manages to successfully spread itself across completely different franchises. Yet the world of Harry Potter provides an opportunity to evolve the established Lego formula. Far removed from the set-piece driven films of George Lucas, Harry Potter is a much more sedate, mystery-driven franchise; it inherently required a different approach.
That’s not to say that Harry Potter provides a revolution in Lego-based gaming. Indeed, much of that trademark modesty remains, and the majority of the core gameplay mechanics are very familiar. Taking place during the first four Harry Potter films (inspiration is primarily taken from the movies) each year of school at Hogwarts is divided into six stages. As usual you control one or more Lego characters through each stage, collecting a multitude of pickups, solving puzzles and, to a much lesser extent this time, engaging in combat. This lessened focus on combat (perhaps the weakest aspect of previous Lego games) is the primary area in which Lego Harry Potter deviates from previous titles in the series. Many stages have few to no conventional enemies, with the focus instead being on exploration and puzzles.
This is largely due to Hogwarts Castle itself. Acting as a kind of buffer between the more familiar hub world location of the Leaky Cauldron and the stages proper, the castle serves as perhaps Lego Harry Potter’s greatest achievement. It functions much like a Metroid-style overworld; filled with secrets, puzzles, and lessons that teach you the various spells integral to progressing in the game. The castle feels very authentic, and serves as a great way to deliver the experience by giving you somewhere to explore beyond the main stages. It also lengthens the game without feeling like a way of padding it out; don’t be surprised if you clock over twelve hours just completing the main quest and exploring the castle.
The puzzles themselves have also been made more interesting, largely due to the magical spells on offer. Wingardium Leviosa, a levitating spell, serves as the primary form of interaction between you and the Lego constructions that make up most puzzles. Whereas previous Lego games were more concerned with destruction rather than construction, Lego Harry Potter grants you a degree of interactivity in lifting and placing bricks. This often amounts to little more than building simple constructions to access high platforms, but, along with the basic level creation tool that’s included, it adds a welcome degree of creativity to the proceedings. The puzzles aren’t taxing, but they are certainly fun, (particularly when accompanied by another player) and they clearly demonstrate where the game’s strengths lie.
Traveller’s Tales have done a good job of selecting the best scenes from the Harry Potter movies and adapting them in interesting ways. The visuals, which combine the bright primary colours of Lego with the dark realism of the Harry Potter universe, work well at capturing the feel of the movies while keeping the aesthetic playful. It’s worth noting though that much of Lego Harry Potter will be unintelligible to the uninitiated. It’s a very plot-driven franchise, and while the cutscenes that break up the stages are filled with character and humour, the antics will be completely lost on those who don’t know their Boggarts from their Hippogriffs.
I suspect the Nargles are behind it
Giving harsh criticism to a game solely for its bugs is a tough call these days. With the ability to patch out any glaring blemishes now commonplace, any complaints can easily be rendered mute within days of a game’s release. But Lego Harry Potter‘s bugs are of an unusual frequency and severity. They can be as mild as a few visual hitches or so bad as to force you to restart the entire game (we had to do this twice). One particularly nasty bug we experienced skipped a whole stage – with no way to access it short of starting a new save. Another rendered the bonus stages and level creation tool inaccessible. Whether you experience any of these is largely down to luck, but completionists be warned; dodging these bugs in order to finish the game in its entirety is a significant challenge in itself.
Yet with Lego Harry Potter’s newfound ambition comes a few issues, primarily in the form of bugs. These are numerous, and sometimes gamebreaking in nature, often forcing you to jump through hoops just to finish the game. Besides this, many of the classic issues that plague Lego games have returned; what little platforming and combat remains is still dire, while much of the bonus content feels like filler. It’s a simple fact that the Lego games have never offered much beyond the appeal that comes from collecting studs and smashing plastic bushes. They provide a very simple pleasure, and one that obviously appeals to the child (and indeed the perfectionist) in all of us, but novelty-based gameplay can only get you so far. To say that the Lego games are inherently flawed would be overstating the matter, but they certainly tend to feel limp and lifeless at their worst. Lego Harry Potter is no different, and is clearly concerned with refinement rather than reinvention. The current Lego template has arguably hit its peak, and there’s little room for improvement beyond ironing out those nasty bugs.
But Lego Harry Potter does succeed in being perhaps the best videogame outing for either franchise thus far. While that might not be a particularly meaningful accolade, the game’s playful, fun-focused nature make it hard to criticise to any great degree. If you’re not a fan of either franchise, then Lego Harry Potter probably won’t convert you; but the game’s target audience is, as always, children. Provided the bugs don’t ruin the fun, kids will no doubt love the accessible and faithful treatment given to these two franchises. But Traveller’s Tales still has four films of untapped content to cover, and with years 1-4 providing more than enough of Harry Potter in his Lego form, we are left wondering what else there is to possibly do with the franchise.