LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (Wii) Review
Many people are finding the LEGO series to be progressively rather repetitive and samey, only with a different ‘skin’ depending on which intellectual property the games are based on. Thankfully, with the arrival of LEGO Harry Potter, the rather highly anticipated LEGO title, it seems that the series has not only had new life breathed into it, but also provided what could quite possibly be one of the best Harry Potter video games to date. Then again, I’ve come to the conclusion that a LEGO game is only as good as the property it’s based on, but let’s go on to find out what makes LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 so good.
The storyline of LEGO Harry Potter follows the exploits of Harry Potter, a young wizard who is allegedly the ‘chosen one’, a wizard destined to vanquish the ‘dark lord’ Voldemort, an evil wizard who has killed everyone who opposed him, except, of course, Harry Potter. The game itself looks at the first four years of Harry and his friends at the wizarding school Hogwarts, and as such also encompasses the plot of the first four books. The games provide a rather nice blend of events with the movies, with a larger part of the game’s events taking place almost directly from the movie, for obvious reasons. Still, Traveller’s Tales have stuck true to the plot lines of their source material and also added in their now-trademark humour to the fray too.
For those who’ve never played a LEGO game, they follow quite briefly the story of whatever they’re based on, and cutscenes are never fully voiced, instead comically acted with grunts and groans. Typically these scenes all provide a fun little twist to their original counterparts, creating not only a suitable presentation for children (some darker tones are scaled down in LEGO Harry Potter) but also providing a slightly comical experience for the fans who might have already watched the movies to death or read the books more than once, which of course, is good.
The game’s graphical style is understandably not that much more developed since the last LEGO video game to be released, but they are still quite competent. While not quite running at the silky smooth 60 frames of its high definition cousins, LEGO Harry Potter provides a rather great presentation. All the little details of your favourite locations of Hogwarts and Diagon Alley are there, with almost every store and landmark location featuring in the game. The character models themselves are quite smooth, and although simplistic, animations work as much as you would expect a LEGO figure to move if it were to suddenly come to life. The charm and atmosphere of both the LEGO world and the Harry Potter world have both been captured here in what seems like the perfect amalgam.
The gameplay of LEGO Harry Potter is pretty simple, players play through the story of each book, in a somewhat linear adventure puzzle/platformer where players can switch between certain characters to utilise their own special skills. Traveller’s Tales have put a lot of effort into this component, because each character obviously has their own strengths and weaknesses in the films and novels, and these translate perfectly across to the game. Harry is the only character in the original trio who can fly higher than others, Hermione is the only character who can read and decode ancient runes, and Ron is the only character with access to Scabbers, his rat who can reach areas the others can’t. It’s pretty damn amazing how much Traveller’s Tales have put into the creation of their characters, with some characters such as Tom Riddle being parseltongue, while Harry is too. It’s hard to explain without actually experiencing it.
In order to get through levels in the story, Harry must attend classes and learn to use certain spells and potions, so he can open up new areas in Hogwarts to proceed further, in an almost Metroid-like fashion. These spells and such are all pretty well thought out, and some characters can only perform certain spells according to their character too. There are some light puzzles and a few bonuses thrown throughout levels to hinder progress, but as with all of the LEGO games, players won’t have much trouble getting past them. For those times where players require to more finely aim their spells, players can use the Wii Remote’s pointer to highlight things they want to interact with – a nice touch that isn’t overly forced like some other third party Wii games.
The game thankfully uses the same soundtrack as the films and this provides a greater level of authenticity to the overall product, which is a great touch for a game that brings together the best bits of the series’ first half and celebrates them in this way. The music is mystical and whimsical, hammering the wizarding world ‘feel’ perfectly. Obviously, there’s no voice acting, but the stuff that replaces it does the job quite well too.
In terms of replayability, LEGO Harry Potter has heaps, though some people may not be able to see that, or see any value in replaying the game simply to unlock more characters. In true Metroid-like fashion, there are heaps of things that players will miss on their first playthrough that they can return to later on to complete in “Free Play” mode, in which players can select whatever characters they want to take with them into levels to unearth more secrets. Completion of the game itself will take between six to ten hours roughly, depending on skill, and even then you’ll only finish about 40% of the game. With over 160 characters to collect, most diehard fans that play this to completion (like me) will spend way more than ten hours at least. Still, some people who like the games but aren’t as much a fan of Harry Potter may not see much value in playing through the game this much, but then again one must question why they would want to play it at all. As a quick side note, the game also supports drop-in, drop-out co-op play so anyone who wants to play now and then can do so without interrupting the flow of the game.
LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is not only the best LEGO game I’ve ever played, it’s also the best Harry Potter game I’ve ever played. It’s hard to properly explain why the game does so well in creating a perfect merging of two worlds without just saying, bluntly, that it just works. I eagerly await the inevitable sequel to the franchise, where my more favourite books get the LEGO treatment. If you only pick up one of the LEGO games in your travels, this is without a doubt the one that deserves your money.
Though you cant do much better with the actual style of the LEGO games, the game has some nice designs, with a large emphasis placed on the fine details.
Simple platforming and puzzles will put off a lot of older and experienced players, though MOST of the time LEGO Harry Potter strikes a healthy balance between the two.
Use of the films soundtracks adds authenticity to the game, and seems appropriate considering the celebratory nature of the game.
While theres heaps to do and heaps to unlock, some more lax fans of the series might not see much reason to play the game to full completion.
Being a diehard Harry Potter fan, LEGO Harry Potter was a joy to play, and the added co-op made it even more fun.