Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 – Preview
After the release of Lego Batman back in October 2008, it didn’t take long for speculation to begin on gaming forums across the net about what franchise would be the next and most logical choice to be adapted to Lego form. Ideas from ‘The Matrix’ to the Bond franchise were thrown up, but the one which leapt instantly to my mind and that of others, was Harry Potter. With a hefty following behind it and a rich, colourful world, boasting a plethora of fascinating locations, it immediately presented a seemingly perfect choice. The more cynical part of me however, said that this would merely be a smart move on Warner Bros part in order to capitalise on the publicity generated by the films before the series is over and interest naturally wanes.
Fast forward to the present and with a June 25th release date sidling closer, Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is almost upon us, brought to almost every medium of choice once more by Traveller’s Tales. With a respectable pedigree involving arguably one of the world’s largest franchises – Star Wars, Traveller’s Tales should be well practised by now and more than ready to tackle the behemoth that is Harry Potter.
Traveller’s Tales worked with Potter author, J. K. Rowling to ensure that they accurately portrayed her world, similar to their work with Lucas Films on Lego Star Wars. This means that the in-game locations reflect the character of the books and films, from the charming, crooked streets of Diagon Alley to the dank passageways of the Chamber of Secrets and from the screenshots and trailers, they look pretty on the money.
The game has the player following the stories through the first four years of Harry’s studies at Hogwarts, attending classes, mixing potions, and battling Voldemort. While this is a Lego game through and through with the usual puzzle solving gameplay, exploration and immersive 3d environment, Traveller’s Tales have gone a step further and mixed up their usual formula somewhat.
As opposed to previous hubs, such as the library in Lego Indiana Jones or the Batcave in Lego Batman where the player could jump into whichever part of the story took their fancy, with Potter, you have to progress through the game in the specific order of the books, giving it a more linear feel. While this approach may disappoint some, it is understandable and practical, making perfect sense when you learn what else Traveller’s Tales have up their sleeves.
As the narrative unfolds, the player learns new spells as their time at Hogwarts progresses, allowing access to new areas and, presumably, in traditional Lego style, meaning much backtracking for collectable goodies.
This new approach allows for an intriguing gameplay aspect which neatly compliments the setting of Hogwarts school in that rather than each character finishing the game with the same skills that they start with, they actually develop, gaining additional abilities and spells as the game progresses. Early on, Harry can do little in the way of magic, but a short time into his first year, the Wingardium Leviosa spell will be firmly under his belt. Other examples include Hermione’s Time Turner and Harry’s Patronus spell, with each new magical addition opening up new areas and allowing previously insurmountable obstacles to be overcome. In fact, the game boasts a ‘spell chooser’ system which holds up to eight spells from a choice of 20.
Magic aside, each character, as usual, has certain core abilities which will help progress: Hagrid can zap things with his umbrella, Hermione has Crookshanks who can dig, and Ron has Scabbers who can access small places (settle down at the back). There are reportedly a whopping 140 in-game characters to collect, though many of these will likely follow the familiar pattern of just being copies in different costumes. Many players will probably stick to a handful of favourites as soon as they get the freedom to do so; I know I’ll be snapping up Lupin, Sirius, and Luna.
Every Lego game has at least one vehicle section and obviously, the mode of transport here is broomsticks, so it would be a safe bet to expect a fast paced level or two, undoubtedly with many missable pick ups, leading to tense, controller mashing replays if other Lego games are anything to go by. If it works well, I suspect the broomstick sections will be a joy to play but that will largely depend on the handling and the camera – something which has proved to be somewhat obtuse in previous games.
While familiar devices will be present such as stud collecting and hunting every nook and cranny for the collectables needed for that 100% completion score, Traveller’s Tales seem to have genuinely tried to spruce things up a little. With the promise of the largest and most detailed Lego game location built to date, a new physics engine, and sharper graphics, it is easy to believe that this could be something special; the game certainly seems far more polished.
With Lego games, much of the humour has been in the cut scenes and from what I have seen, these promise not to disappoint. As always, the humour may be missed by younger players but is a welcome addition, especially with the more serious games filling the schedules. I can pretty much guarantee that after travelling down the long hills and across the big country in Red Dead Redemption, the colourful fluff of Lego Harry Potter promises to be a sight for sore eyes.
For many, especially those who play these games with younger children, co-op is half the fun and is very much present and correct here, allowing players to work together to overcome obstacles and solve problems. The game features the usual drop in/drop out co-op mode and thankfully, online co-op is also available – a more than welcome feature which was sadly missing from other Lego games. In a nifty move, there is now a dynamic split screen mode which allows players to separate and explore individually, snapping back to full screen when they reunite.
A first for these type of games, Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is also available as a collector’s edition which includes the game (surprised?), behind the scenes featurette about the game and the last film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and a set of four house crest Lego magnets; Xbox users will also get an exclusive avatar item. An odd offering perhaps as a collectable set, but not unappealing as long as the price isn’t overblown.
With the colourful and imaginative imagery of the Harry Potter series to work with, Traveller’s Tales have the chance to conjure something special and from what I’ve seen so far, it’s a safe bet to say that they appear to have succeeded. Still, time will tell whether it is merely a colourful re-skin of past Lego games or whether they have done enough to make this one truly stand out.
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