LEGO: Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Review for Nintendo Wii

LEGO: Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Review for Nintendo Wii

By now, if you don’t know exactly what to expect from a LEGO game, you haven’t been paying very much attention. Since the smashing success of LEGO Star Wars a half-decade ago, Traveller’s Tales has been churning out one LEGO title after another, based on franchises ranging from Batman to Indiana Jones.

LEGO: Harry Potter: Years 1-4 screenshot

Therefore, the basic details of LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1נ will surprise no one. It’s a cute, child-friendly game that parodies its source material in humorously overacted cutscenes. From a third-person perspective, you control various characters, explore a large 3-D world, solve easy puzzles, navigate basic platforming challenges, break every item you come across, pick up LEGO studs, and put together the occasional LEGO puzzle (by holding down a button). Aside from losing some studs, there’s no consequence for dying.

What is surprising, or at least good news, is that after some mediocre efforts (such as LEGO Indiana Jones 2), Traveller’s Tales put forth a truly solid title here. Sure, the basic gameplay is unchanged, and adults who don’t care about Harry Potter will be bored to tears. But the developers did a good enough job of recreating the Harry Potter setting, and made just enough tweaks to their patented formula, that LEGO Harry Potter is a winner.

Fans of the Harry Potter franchise will be in heaven here. The goofy cutscenes, which sometimes change the plot for comedic effect, are a source of much amusement. (Years 1נ sprints through the plots of the first four books, starting with the scene of Hagrid dropping off Harry on the Dursleys’ doorstep, and works in imagery from the respective movies as well.) Once you settle into the game world, starting at the Leaky Cauldron (which serves as a hub) and spreading out over the vast Harry Potter universe, you notice that all the characters retain their personalities, from goblins at the bank to Professor Dumbledore at Hogwarts, even though they only talk in the trademark LEGO gibberish of murmurs and grunts.

LEGO: Harry Potter: Years 1-4 screenshot

Aside from the aliasing and iffy textures that hurt every game on the Wii, the visuals are top-notch, with colorful scenes that evoke the movies and no technical hiccups that we noticed. Exploring the game world, especially the giant Hogwarts campus, is a delight for the aesthetics alone. As is the LEGO series’ trademark, the soundtrack is made up of well-known songs from the source movies (John Williams orchestral compositions, in this case), and every time you break an item to get the studs out of it, you hear the oddly pleasing sound of LEGO blocks clinking against each other.

The fan service doesn’t end with a LEGO-ified recreation of the visuals and sounds, however. There are more than 100 playable characters (no, that is not a typo), four pieces of a crest to find in each level, hidden red and gold bricks, plenty of spells, and even unlockable bonus levels. In addition to making this title irresistible to the Potter faithful, all these collectibles add drastically to the replay value. Completionists will play this game for days on end. (If you play through without exploring too much, the game is about eight to ten hours long.)

LEGO: Harry Potter: Years 1-4 screenshot

Also, the developers did a terrific job of tweaking the gameplay ever-so-slightly to match the source material. Whereas the past three LEGO franchises (Star Wars, Batman, Indiana Jones) were based on movies with lots of fighting, Harry Potter tends not to use lightsabers, fists, or whips very often. That being the case, LEGO Harry Potter plays up the puzzle-solving and tones down the beat-’em-up violence. While this comes at the cost of variety (previous LEGO games had weak fighting and weak puzzles, but all we get are weak puzzles here), it’s a nod to the source material that true fans will appreciate. Of course, there are still boss monsters to fight, starting with the nasty monster that breaks into Hogwarts.

Another tweak is the use of spells. Whenever you put together LEGO blocks, your character compels them into place magically, and as you progress, you unlock a whole collection of spells that you can use to access new areas and complete the game’s various objectives. The one you’ll use most often is called Wingardium Leviosa, which lifts objects up so you can put them elsewhere. (A lesson we learned: Never, in the presence of a devoted Harry Potter fan, refer to this power as “The Force.”) More innovative spells include a light that wards off snakes and ones that affect NPCs in various ways (such as changing the colors of their shirts and shrinking their heads). Unlike past installments, LEGO Harry Potter seems to revel in showing you places you can’t reach yet, teasing the player in much the same way Zelda and Metroid games do.

LEGO: Harry Potter: Years 1-4 screenshot

Besides adding these new features, Traveller’s Tales did a good job of keeping the best aspects it introduced in the past. The split-screen drop-in/drop-out co-op is back — once again, the two-player action takes place on a single screen until you drift too far apart, at which point the screen divides into two. This feature allows you to roam without making you play on two screens all the time. Also, the developers wisely decided to kill off online co-op; they’ve mentioned in interviews that no one really used it anyway. This is the kind of game that’s most fun to play with someone else in the room.

And in countless small ways, the developers honed the basics. The A.I. here is still far from perfect, but when you’re playing by yourself, you’ll find that your computer-controlled companions are a bit less irritating than they used to be. When a puzzle requires different characters to do different things, you can normally just do one and rely on a partner to handle the other. The controls are still solid, especially with the added challenge of spells (you can scroll through them, or select them from a wheel Bioshock-style). Piloting a broomstick feels awkward at first, and targeting your spells doesn’t work as well as it should, however.

Of course, if LEGO games irked you before, this installment won’t do much to change your mind. The experience still lacks any challenge whatsoever, except for the occasional times when you can’t figure out what the game wants you to do next. (Thankfully, these aren’t as common as they have been in the past: If you’re not sure where to go, a ghost named Nearly Headless Nick will lead you to the next objective with a trail of studs.) The puzzles still require nothing more than the absolute basics: stand here, do that, find this item, flip that switch. Once again, the developers included a level creator with no online sharing feature. If the Harry Potter universe, presented through the undeniable cuteness of LEGO figures, doesn’t captivate you in and of itself, you will tire of this game quickly.

But LEGO games aren’t made with those people in mind. This is a game for Harry Potter fans, and for fans of the previous LEGO games. If you fall into one or both of those camps, LEGO Harry Potter hits the nail on the head, providing gameplay tweaked to fit the material, hilarious cutscenes, and all the fan service even the most dedicated Muggle could want. With LEGO Harry Potter, Traveller’s Tales gives the faithful exactly what they want. Nothing more, nothing less.

They’re about all you can expect from the Wii, with a colorful world populated by adorable characters. 3.9 Control
The controls are handled very well, especially the new spells, which you can scroll through or select on a Bioshock-style wheel. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The John Williams soundtrack from the movies, plus the sound effect of LEGOs clinking around. 4.5

Play Value
It won’t change anyone’s mind about LEGO games, but it’s a great entry in the series with lots of unlockables.

4.3 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 transports players to iconic environments from the Harry Potter books and films and introduces a fun, new way of experiencing the magic of Harry Potter through hilarious cutscenes and new to LEGO gameplay elements such as magical building and spell-casting.
  • Experience the wonder of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry: attend lessons, interact with the professors, mix potions, fly on broomsticks, and complete tasks to collect LEGO studs.
  • Players have the freedom to select from over 100 playable characters including Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger, as well as many other fan favorites.
  • Explore iconic settings from the wizarding world including Diagon Alley, the Forbidden Forest, the village of Hogsmeade, and, of course, Hogwarts castle. LEGO Hogwarts is a grand, immersive 3-D environment and the largest, most detailed LEGO game location ever built for everyone to explore and enjoy.
  • LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 is family friendly gaming at its best. Conjure up fun with a friend and play through Harry’s first four years at Hogwarts as a team with easy drop-in/drop-out co-op play.

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