Developer: Traveller's Tales
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
My wife recently discovered a website where you can search a journalist’s name and find out what they’ve written about the most. So, she typed in my name. The result? No, not “games”, not “food”, not “drink”, not “films”, nor any of the other subjects I’ve covered in this chequered career of mine.
No, apparently, according to the power of the interwebs, my name is synonymous with... Lego. As proud achievements go, it’s not one I’ve rushed to put on my CV.
Mind you, when you think about it, there could be worse things to be associated with. In video gaming terms, the Danish company’s name is usually an indicator of something very special. That probably counts double in the case of Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 as I’m going out on a limb to declare this the best thing Travellers’ Tales and Lego have ever done.
It is, it almost goes without saying, addictive enough to be sold by the ounce on street corners. It is also hilariously funny, easy to pick up, beautifully put together and, if anything, more faithful to the spirit of the original books than the films.
As with the Star Wars, Batman and Indiana Jones titles, there’s a charm and sense of nostalgia here that’s very hard to achieve. It’s clearly daft to play with Lego via the medium of a console, but somehow it doesn’t matter and the little details – particularly the lovely noise the “bricks” make when a character is reduced to kit form – are a delight.
However, as cute as all this is – and it’s VERY cute – it doesn’t detract from a game that, at heart, is actually a surprisingly tough puzzler. It may say 7+ on the box but don’t be shocked if you find yourself scratching your head and jumping on Google looking for walkthroughs as you attempt to find your way into the girls’ toilet (no, not like that, it’s to defeat that troll in the Philosopher’s Stone) and – my own personal, embarrassing “nemesis” – trying to get past a troll guarding a door in The Prisoner of Azkaban. When you do work out how to get through – and all the clues are somewhere to hand – there will be a certain amount of headslapping and “doh!” noises, but mostly a sense of smug satisfaction.
As the name suggests, Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 covers the period from The Philosopher’s Stone to Goblet of Fire and Rowling’s tales actually lend themselves well to the game format. During the course of each book, Harry and pals Ron and Hermione are confronted with a mystery that needs solving. Hogwarts, with its magical corridors and staircases, has an enormous number of rooms that need exploring. Meanwhile, He Who Must Not Be Named is gathering strength, in some way shape or form, in advance of a story-closing showdown / boss fight.
Like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, the game allows for multiplayer and features some collaborative challenges. One of the great pleasures of this series has been watching nephews / friends’ children having to work together to solve problems, and those sorts of things feature here at regular intervals. If you’re playing solo though, the game’s AI kicks in to give you a hand.
Another pleasing aspect of the series is the vast array of bonus material and side challenges. While the roll call of playable characters in each level will give you all the skills you need to progress – such as Hagrid’s strength or Madam Pomfrey’s more powerful witchcraft - there will be lots of things you can’t get past first time around. If you’re a completist, you’ll need to return to each level in Free Play mode and explore.
In the past, this involved unlocking characters with different skills and weaponry. This time round there are some pleasing twists. Temporary powers – such as transfiguration and superhuman strength – can be gained from potions that you have to make by collecting certain items. Even better, over the course of the four years, Harry, Ron and Hermione learn new spells which give them more abilities, that then enable deeper exploration of earlier levels. It’s a lovely notion and one that gives you a feeling of being back at school: you’re that bit older, so you’re now allowed in this room...
- It’s business as usual from this excellent studio and series
- It’s genuinely funny
- Completing the game will take MANY hours of entertaining gameplay
- I’m struggling to find one, frankly.
- Still struggling
- Given up trying to find one
The Short Version: Lego’s film tie-ins have long been one of the pleasures of modern gaming. With Harry Potter, they’ve found a perfect vehicle for their talents and off-kilter humour. It’s as fine and funny a game as I’ve ever played and, after really quite a few hours, I’m still an alarmingly small percentage of the way through. It may be lacking in the cool stakes, it might not feature huge guns and spraying blood and no, it doesn’t have officially licensed Premiership teams but who cares? Embrace your inner child and give yourselves a treat.