LEGO Star Wars This Ain’t
When I first glanced at the title of LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1 – 4, I assumed the title meant the game was for children between the ages of 1 and 4. Truth be told, I wasn’t that far off base with that assumption. LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1 – 4 takes place in the LEGO universe using the first four years of Harry Potter movies as fodder for the premise. Due to the simplistic nature of the game, it’s aimed at a younger audience, although it may pose a choking hazard for one and two-year olds.
This Harry Potter LEGO version is available on all next-gen systems. It’s even available for the PC and PSP. But beware, all games are not created equally. There are differences between the handheld and the console games, and some of these differences are huge. If you want a more challenging, and ultimately better looking, game that follows the storyline of the movies more closely, then you’ll want to consider a console or PC version. If you’re buying this game for a youngster, you can’t go wrong as long as he or she isn’t a rabid gaming prodigy. A good rule of thumb would be: If they loved LEGO Star Wars, they will at least like Harry Potter.
LEGO Harry Potter makes great use of the stylus. It is forced, and definitely feels forced, but after an hour or so it feels like there’s no better way to play the game. This comes at the expense of command issues. It can be very frustrating to have your character constantly spin around like a top when all you want to do is move him through a doorway. The stylus is used for virtually everything including moving, interacting, and casting spells. All spells have to be drawn with the stylus, a method we’ve seen before, but one that works well within this context. There are different drawings for each spell, in addition to some mini-games that must be played to activate the spell. It does get tedious, but kids see this as fun. When they learn something they like to put it into practice, over and over and over again. The developers obviously have incorporated a lot of child psychology research into this game. Players can opt to use the buttons for some tasks, but it’s not very convenient.
The gameplay is almost point-and-click. A lot of the challenge is taken away from you. What at first seems like an open, explorable environment, is little more than a map with all directions carefully highlighted. It’s impossible to get lost in this game, but apparently kids don’t like getting lost. They also don’t react well to seemingly arbitrary gameplay elements, so arrows point the way. The person with a yellow halo will give you information or provide you with your next mission. Most missions are little more than fetch-quests. Items with which you can interact will also be highlighted. Grab that item, bring it back, and earn a reward. Then follow the arrow to your next adventure. Fortunately, interesting things happen along the way to break up the monotony. There are puzzles to solve, spells to cast, brooms to ride, and dangerous places to poke around in. Despite these welcome anomalies, the game keeps you on a short leash, reeling you in to ensure you’ll always return to finish your mundane chores like moving boxes, collecting studs, and locating lost train tickets.
Progress in the game is incremental. You unlock items you will need to solve puzzles to gain access to places where you can find more items and continue the process. New characters will also be added to your party. There are plenty of them, but they are basically one-trick ponies. Think of them as power-ups to be used in specific situations. Spells including fire, levitation, and transfiguration will be acquired one at a time as they are handed down to you by more powerful sorcerers. In real life, another friend can join you in co-op mode. It’s an ad hoc mode where another gamer can enter into the game at any time, and leave without making too much of a mess. This mode is more of a novelty as most of the fun will be extracted alone.
Unlike the console versions, the locations aren’t rendered to “wow” status. We will visit Hogwarts School, Diagon Alley, and the Forbidden Forest. All locations employ the key landmark features that make them distinguishable, and even though they are in the LEGO universe, the graphics are too boxy and pixilated even by LEGO standards. We’re cheated out of a lot of good visuals due to the top-down perspective we’re forced to play at. This is standard for classic RPGs, but for a game like this, it’s a cop out. An over-the-shoulder view would likely improve the control system as well as the overall feel of the game as you are immersed in the world at eye level.
There’s seldom a dull moment in the audio realm. Even though the music is repetitive, it’s classic movie music that’s designed to enhance the scene. The soundtrack elicits emotions of fright, anger and humor. Even the characters get in on the act with some grunts, groans, and winces.
LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1 – 4 could certainly use an infusion of magic. It’s functional and even fun, but it’s not reached its full potential. The storyline is little more than a walk through the various movie scenes and locations. For a game that casts a lot of spells, it certainly lacks magic.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.8 Graphics
Too pixilated and blocky even for LEGO. 3.1 Control
Good use of the stylus, but there are some command issues. 3.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Good music and sound effects, though repetitive. 3.1
The younger and more inexperienced you are, the more you’ll like this game.
3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.