Thursday, July 1, 2010

LEGO Harry Potter Years 1~4 Review

Like so many series that Lego has approached before (Batman, Star Wars), the Harry Potter series is renowned for producing widely beloved movies and widely flamed video game adaptations. But just like those same mentions, Lego has managed to deliver the first truly enjoyable Hogwart’s experience for fans and non-fans alike. Their greatest success comes from approaching the game in the same order as the title itself; that is to say this is first and foremost the latest and most advanced Lego game, and Harry Potter’s universe comes a fractionally distant second.

Now I’ll state first-off that I haven’t actually managed to play through the game in it’s entirety. This is a massive undertaking, with a great deal of hidden bits and baubles to find, (160+ unlockable characters not least among them) that will have you digging deep into the world for hours to uncover its generous secrets. With the ability to replay earlier levels at any time between advancing the story to amass studs, the traditional Lego game currency, and find any missed secrets with newly unlocked spells, anyone seeking the ultimate 100% completion will find themselves moving backwards as often as forwards, and it is to the games credit that this never becomes boring or monotonous. Each Lego game has possessed it’s unique gameplay mechanic related to the topic series, be it Lego Batman’s various types of utility armors or Indiana Jones whip, but these mechanics were often limited or required you to switch characters often to tackle different challenges. Lego Harry Potter on the other hand shines by having the much deeper spell mechanic, which allows you to hotkey two spells from your constantly growing library, and swap them out on the fly. While you’ll most often utilize Harry’s most basic (and perhaps most famous) spell, Wingardium Leviosa, to move, build, and destroy blocks in a manner similar to Lego Star Wars Force powers, in time the addition of spells like Lumos, Riddikulus, and the Patronus Charm, to name a few, will add variety to the gameplay experience and grant access to new areas throughout all four years. This is, however, not to say that you won’t be switching characters, or that all 160+ are identical; as a for-instance, certain areas of Hogwart’s are only accessible to members of a certain house.

And speaking of Hogwart’s, here is another area where the game truly shines: the environments. Everything from the famous School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to the varying offset hub areas such as Diagon Alley and The Leaky Cauldron look fantastic and faithful to the movie adaptations. Every level is filled with items for the characters to interact with, sometimes in surprising ways, and even though everything is made of Lego bricks, it still somehow manages to rank up there as one of the better looking games around. The typical brand of Lego humor is also present, guaranteeing at least a few giggles from even the most serious Harry Potter fan, and a constant stream of chuckles even from people who know nothing of the source material.

The only true flaw to the game, if it can be called that, is that it is, inherently, more of the same. While the AI has been improved (to a degree) and the platforming segments made far less frustrating, you will occasionally suffer a cheap death at the hands of slippery surfaces or strange camera angles. Thankfully the incredibly simple action segments have been dialed back, bringing puzzles and environmental manipulation to the fore, to the point where combat feels more like additional diversity than an uphill trudge. On a lesser note, while traditional drop-in cooperative play makes its return, the game still offers no online support for multiplayer. In perhaps a greater travesty the lack of online support for the brilliant level creator introduced in Lego Indiana Jones 2 also returns, meaning that while you have access to a wonderful tool for creating your own adventures, the only way to share them is to bring friends to your home. While this likely won’t bother the majority of family oriented players, it is a bit of a glaring oversight for those of us who have been waiting for online play since the first Lego Star Wars was released, despite it seeming like a relatively small feature to implement.

In the end Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 stands out at the top of two categories, as both the best Lego game to date and perhaps the only Harry Potter video game worth playing. It’s whimsical approach to story, stylish approach to gameplay, and careful eye for detail make it an entertaining and engaging ride that will occupy a single player or an entire family for weeks.