LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Review

By Jake Gaskill - Posted Jun 28, 2010

Building on the success of its previous LEGO-based games, Traveler's Tales returns with LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4, delivering one of the most joyously whimsical and top-to-bottom enchanting experiences of the year.

The Pros
  • Expertly captures enchantment of Harry Potter universe
  • LEGO assembling fits perfectly with wizarding abilities
  • Staggering amounts of content to unlock after lengthy story mode
The Cons
  • Managing spells awkward in later stages
  • Auto-lock can be fickle
  • Almost too many things to interact with

Building on the success of its previous LEGO-based games, Traveller's Tales returns with LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4, delivering one of the most joyously whimsical and top-to-bottom enchanting experiences of the year. Yeah. I said enchanting. What of it?

LEGO HP tells streamlined versions of the first four Potter books, and as in all the LEGO games, it features zero dialogue and instead relies entirely on sight gags and exaggerated physical performances. As such, you lose all of the nuanced character relationships and elaborate narrative structuring, but I doubt anyone who plays this game hasn’t at least seen all of the movies, so the minimalistic presentation shouldn’t cause much of an issue.

As in previous LEGO titles, most of your time is spent smashing endless amounts of LEGOs in order to collect rivets (aka currency to buy items cheats, characters, etc.) and then, when appropriate, reassembling the blocks into something useful or using a hidden object in the LEGO pile to solve puzzles. Similar to the Force in the LEGO Star Wars games, the ability to use Wingardium Leviosa at will to toss other students through the air, move platforms into place, and assemble apparatuses in mid-air fits perfectly with the Potter narrative, and really makes you feel like you have unholy wizard abilities.

The Dangers of Misspelling

The levitation mechanic also shows off the game’s solid physics engine, which are used to great effect. Admittedly, targeting which object you want to manipulate can sometimes be annoying since there are so many things you can interact with, and it’s easy to auto-lock onto the wrong item. It doesn’t happen that often, but if you’re particularly impatient, it could get to you after a while.

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The same could be said for the spell casting. Since there are so many spells, it's frustrating when the game forces you to cycle through them to find the one you want, especially during the boss fights when you have to cycle between up to three spells while dodging, attacking and figuring out how to take down the boss. But most of the time it works well enough, and the wide variety adds great depth to the overall game structure as each new spell you learn lets you access new areas that were previously closed off to you.

Break Out the Marauder’s Map

One of the most appealing aspects of the game is simply being able to roam the grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as well as other iconic locales such as the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley, and exploring the vast numbers of nooks and crannies therein, in between the story missions. listening to John Williams’ incredible film score, and interacting with the world is one of the game’s great successes.

However, the story missions are the real meat of the game, and they feature some grand sequences and set pieces that are impressively thrilling. And thanks to the inclusion of Nearly Headless Nick as a ghostly guide, you’ll always know exactly where your next story mission is. The story itself is quite lengthy, clocking in at around 10 hours with some moderate exploration and time spent playing a few of the secret stages.

At the end of my play through, I had only unlocked 38.1 percent of the game, and I had only scratched the surface of customizing characters, unlocking spells and cheats, or the secret challenge stages that let you build your own LEGO creations. In short, expect a lot of Potter-based bang for your buck…beak. I apologize.

Dual Wanding
While it’s unfortunate that the game doesn’t include three-player co-op (seems rather natural given the story features three main characters), the jump in/jump out multiplayer works just as well as it did in previous LEGO titles. The rotating, character-tracking split screen camera system -- first seen in LEGO Indiana Jones 2 -- returns, and once again keeps the presentation fluid and controlled. One of the major benefits to playing with a friend is that it alleviates a lot of the frustration that comes from having to manage all of your spells yourself.

Expecto Somefunum!...Again, I Apologize

Few properties fit as well with the LEGO games formula as Harry Potter does. And while you lose a fair bit of the narrative nuance of the novels, what you get in its place is a wonderfully fanciful adventure game that is overflowing with Potter love. Fans will definitely get the most out of it, but if you’re in the mood for a charming, sweeping romp, LEGO Harry Potter won’t disappoint.

Want to play it? Why not rent it at Gamefly?