LEGO: Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Review for PlayStation Portable (PSP)

LEGO: Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Review for PlayStation Portable (PSP)


It’s hard not to be amazed by what Traveller’s Tales has done with their LEGO video game franchise. Before LEGO Star Wars hit retail store shelves a few years ago, few would have believed that a compelling experience could be crafted out of the very loose framework provided by a series of LEGO toys. However, LEGO Star Wars proved right off the bat that this was a compelling formula that could also be fun for every member of the family.

LEGO: Harry Potter: Years 1-4 screenshot

What is most surprising is that the LEGO brand actually puts more restrictions on a game than it creates. Not only are the developer’s beholden to the series’ canonical material, but they also have to make everything family-friendly, made out of LEGOs, and non-verbal. It’s odd then that these restrictions actually make the game far more effective than other non-LEGO games based on the series.

Unfortunately, despite all possible advantages, LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 seems to be a port of the Nintendo DS version, and as such feels at times inadequate as a PSP game. It’s not without its strengths, but buyers should be aware that this is not even close to the console version that has been getting rave reviews.

Quite possibly the greatest strength of LEGO Harry Potter stems directly from one of those restrictions: the characters in the game aren’t allowed to speak at all. Normally this would be something that terrifies a developer, even more so when the game in question is intended for younger audiences like LEGO Harry Potter.

However, Traveller’s Tales takes it in stride, and as a result it has become perhaps the single most endearing part of LEGO Harry Potter. They don’t concern themselves with re-telling the Harry Potter story that they can safely assume every child playing their game will know by heart. Rather, they give a brief rundown via cutscenes that are adorable and, at times, hilarious to watch. Seeing the story all over again would normally be boring in a “why don’t I just go watch the movie” kind of way, but instead they give you brief memory bumps and retell the story in small, simple ways. It’s like seeing a classic movie reenacted with mimes.

LEGO: Harry Potter: Years 1-4 screenshot

Younger audiences will really get a kick out of the chance to play as a huge number of different characters in the Harry Potter universe, many of which even have abilities unique to their character. Hagrid, for instance, is enormous compared to other characters and can move large objects out of the way. The list of characters contains all the well-known and expected characters like Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and of course, Mr. Potter himself.

Unlike to many of the other games in the LEGO series of video games, LEGO Harry Potter, like the movies, is not all that much about fighting. Whereas the main allure of the LEGO Stars Wars games is blasting things apart with lightsabers and blasters, LEGO Harry Potter keeps the focus squarely on questing and exploring the wonderous Hogwarts Castle. It’s more about using your wand to cast spells and solve puzzles than blasting bad guys, though that certainly happens on occasion.

LEGO: Harry Potter: Years 1-4 screenshot

As with just about every other aspect of this game, there’s a problem with this. Unlike the console versions, casting spells in the PSP version is done contextually. Basically, someone will tell you to cast a spell on an object, then that object will glow obviously. You then go over, press X, and stuff happens. That’s about it. It’s at times insultingly simple. One could say that the gameplay should be simple for children, but the PSP’s player base somewhat contradicts that thought.

LEGO: Harry Potter: Years 1-4 screenshot

And of course, this wouldn’t be a LEGO game if it didn’t involve the series trademark cornerstone of collecting LEGO bits. However, in this version even that small bit is changed. Unlike previous games in the series you don’t smash environmental objects and then collect the pieces. Rather the pieces are strewn about like Pac-Man pellets, and you run around gobbling them up. Even in this small regard, the game seems dumbed down. One would imagine that after several installments, this little component would have gotten awfully repetitive and droll by now, but somehow that’s actually not the case. It’s still as addictive as ever to endlessly snatch up those tiny bolts ala Ratchet and Clank. You could spend a considerable amount of time just doing that and not even playing the actual game, and you’d still have a relatively good time.

The graphics do not live up to the promises of the console versions. Previous games have had wonderful worlds built entirely out of LEGOs that were a joy to explore. By contrast, many of the PSP version’s levels don’t look like they’re made out of LEGOs at all, but rather contain a few blocks in a normal room. Also, the camera is unlike any of the console versions. It’s an isometric view that can’t be changed. If something you need to see is behind a wall, sometimes you’ll simply be unable to see it.

The game’s audio is one of the game’s – and the LEGO series’ – great strengths. The lack of voices for all of the characters is a brilliant storytelling choice, and the soundtrack is amazing, as we’ve come to expect from all licensed Harry Potter products.

The controls are optimized to the game and the game’s audience. The LEGO titles aren’t intended to be exclusively for children, so they have to be complex enough to engage an adult and simple enough to appeal to a child. The controls accomplish this goal. This isn’t a “press ‘x’ to win” type of game, but there are only a few essential buttons. Most of the complex motions are accomplished via on screen gestures.

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is a bit of a baffling game. I think few people expected the beloved LEGO franchise to falter on a major platform. The assumption is usually that the PSP will receive a dumbed-down version of the console game. However, rumor has it that with no PS2 version to port to the PSP, Traveller’s Tales used the Nintendo DS version as the basis for the PSP game, resulting in a game that is far too small for the PSP. Owners of this system have come to expect far more from their systems than this.

Not very good at all. It retains the LEGO vibe, but textures often look nothing like LEGOs and can be too dark to see on the PSP screen. 3.5 Control
The controls are quite functional and serve the game well. There are only a few buttons, but that comes at the expense of complexity of gameplay. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Users have reported glitches in the audio in cutscenes, but we did not experience any. Soundtrack is still great. 2.3 Play Value
This game is surprisingly based off the Nintendo DS version of the game code, and as such feels underdeveloped on the PSP. Overall this feels like a slapdash port rather than one of the tremendous LEGO games we’ve come to love. 2.4 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Dozens of unique playable characters.
  • A beautifully realized rendition of the magnificent Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
  • Attend lessons, cast spells, mix potions, fly on broomsticks, and complete tasks to earn house points.

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