LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 – Review

Title   Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4
Developer  Traveller's Tales
Publisher  Warner Bros
Platform  DS, PC, PS3, PSP, Wii, X360
Genre  Platform/Adventure
Release Date  25th June, 2010

Unfortunately, there's no way in hell that a LEGO character could possibly capture the pompous arrogance of Gilderoy Lockhart

With a number of franchises successfully fed into their Lego machine, when it came time for Traveller’s Tales to turn their eye to the next, Harry Potter must have seemed the logical choice.  With the films and books capturing the hearts and minds of millions and a rich, colourful world, ripe to explore, filled with magic and endless possibilities, it was practically a given.

Harry Potter: Years 1-4 bites off the first chunk of the series with gusto, thrusting the player into Harry’s story at book one and this is where the game immediately shuns the ‘choose your own path’ style of its predecessors, with a strictly linear approach to proceedings.  If you’re at all familiar with the Lego games, the choice of which story you get stuck into is usually your own… not so here, but rather than box the player in, it actually makes perfect sense from both a story and gameplay perspective.

Following Harry’s story throughout his school years, the paced unlocking of skills and abilities with which to access new and previously hidden areas makes more sense within this framework than it has elsewhere.  Early in year one, Harry can do little, however, as the story progresses and classes are attended, new skills and spells are picked up, making for a very natural curve of skill progression which keeps pace with the unfolding story.  When you pause to consider how jumping straight into the mid point of ‘Goblet of Fire’ or ‘Chamber of Secrets’ would not only disrupt the story, being tied into one arc as they all are (as opposed to the contained ‘films’ of the Indy series), but it would throw a stumbling block in the way of gameplay, with certain abilities not being available yet, such as the Time Turner, which isn’t introduced until book three.

Whether it is merely an illusion or not, the world seemed far deeper than any of the previous Lego games.  Hogwarts and its grounds are large, full of hidden nooks, crannies, and classrooms; from Snape’s dungeon, to the top of the Owlery, to the courtyards and corridors of the castle itself, there is a lot to explore, collect, and unlock.  There are secrets within secrets, with hidden chambers tucked away behind objects, each with the usual gold Lego brick and parcel collectables to be located.  Portraits can be interacted with to help solve puzzles, staircases move, skeletons jig and sofas eat students and all this before you even start on the actual story levels.

Your spell chooser can hold up to eight spells, all easily accessible through the bumper buttons

As far as the levels themselves go, they are pretty typical: using the combined skills of two or three characters, the player has to make their way through each level, solving puzzles in order to progress and defeat enemies.  Very occasionally, there will be a point which leads to the action grinding to a halt as you scratch your head, but nothing that smashing absolutely everything on screen can’t solve.  Anything that can be interacted with is usually obvious, thanks to the telltale glow relating to the requisite spell or skill – more often than not, the common ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ spell which is the main gameplay staple, replacing the standard, backbreaking ‘build basic’ from the other Lego games.  With this in mind, progress is swift and this is where it became noticeable that the levels, at least in the first few chunks of the game, seemed quite fragmented.  In chapter one especially, it seemed that I was watching more cut scenes than actually playing.  It is hard to say whether the levels improved over time, or whether I simply became accustomed to the stop start nature early on, but soon enough, with more classes completed, things seemed to pick up for a smoother ride.

As ever, the game is careful in how it doles out the magic; the most powerful spells are left to the end, with the usual skill required to break through all things shiny and silver being the last to be meted out.  Much of the gameplay and, indeed, longevity of the Lego games, is in backtracking and revisiting areas already covered in order to unlock and gather elusive collectables and save students in peril.  For this sin, it has to bear the usual accusations of repetitiveness, however, by now, most gamers will know what they are letting themselves in for, while for newcomers, it may come as somewhat of a shock.  However, if any backtracking is reserved until the end, there will be less of a need for too much ‘rinse and repeat’ play as all the necessary spells will be in place.

When it comes to the all important magic, the spell chooser is another new innovation.  Whereas in past Lego games, the player had to rely on specific characters to perform certain tasks, here, most of the characters share the same abilities and spells, with exceptions being pets (Crookshanks and Scabbers), the Time Turner, Patronus, and a few more.  Again, this makes sense in terms of the story and allows for smoother progress, with less jumping back and forth between characters.  The player eventually has access to around twenty spells, the most important handful being assigned to the spell chooser which can be scrolled through using the bumper buttons.  Spells can also be targeted, making life easier when confronted by multiple smashes or enemies.

The spells actually handle well, the only real complaint being the slow speed of the Patronus casting and the constantly scrolling eighth spell, which I couldn’t get to settle on one specific choice.  This made it tricky to pull off specific spells in this designated slot; thankfully though, all of these were the inconsequential ones which are available for purchase in Diagon Alley, so no real harm done.

The Leaky Cauldron pub and Diagon Alley act as the hub in which you can check progress, access the freeplay mode of the unlocked story levels and, of course, buy goodies which makes perfect sense.  Diagon Alley is filled with familiar places – Madam Malkin’s in the place to go to buy your unlocked characters and make custom creations, while Eeylops Owl Emporium is where you’ll find your red parcels ready for purchase.  This whole hub offers a logical and very natural presentation, with the familiar Lego staples seamless integrated into the world as if it had always been intended.

The snowy streets of Hogsmeade are, to put it bluntly, damned stunning.

Not only has the gameplay been given a wash and brush up, but the graphical revamp and work of the new engine are obvious, with high quality backdrops and scenery surpassing previous Lego games, delivering detailed and often beautiful representations of Rowling’s world.  The depth of the environment backdrops is greatly improved and the textures are impressive for a game such as this, where, to be honest, high quality isn’t necessarily expected.  The snowbound streets and rooftops of Hogsmeade were a particular standout and the quality was brought home further in the devastated campsite at the start of ‘Goblet of Fire’: a grim backdrop of smouldering ruins and wreckage with Lego corpses prone beneath immovable boxes.  It took me a good few minutes of messing around before I realised that the characters couldn’t be saved and it occurred to me that perhaps, Lego had grown up a little, or that the game was reflecting the increasing darkness of the stories.  That thought didn’t last long, however, Lego games can’t help themselves; even the death at the end of Goblet of Fire carried a humorous note.

The humour is very much unchanged in Lego Harry Potter, with slapstick and pratfalls being the order of the day along with the usual cut scenes providing a smile, but rarely laugh out loud moments.  That’s not to say that they aren’t amusing, just that it is standard Lego fare – family friendly, inoffensive, and a touch predictable.

Predictability is ultimately where the decision to buy will come in.  Beneath the new, albeit impressive skin, it is a Lego game – smash, grab, build, and backtrack.  If it sounds at all familiar, that’s because you’ve likely played it before…several times.  Any gamer who has dabbled with a Lego game knows the drill by now and if it’s not your smear of Marmite, then that’s understandable – most gamers will have an opinion on Lego games.  For the ones who enjoy them, it merely comes down to whether or not they find the skin the machinery is wrapped with appealing…in this case Rowling’s wizarding world.

The games are inoffensive, fun, and formulaic and Lego Harry Potter, while introducing some welcome gameplay changes and spiffy new graphics, is no different.  The customary co-op mode has been given a dynamic split screen, allowing the players to wander off and explore, pinging quickly back to full screen once they rejoin, making the two player gaming easier.  Ultimately it is as accessible as its predecessors, with no prior knowledge of the franchise needed to be able to play, though arguably, the player will get more from it if they have touched on the source material.  With the same basic formula, the same frustrations rear their head and while the gameplay has been improved and given more depth, there are some lingering annoyances.  Vehicle handling sections are as hair-tearing as ever, with cars, bikes, and broomsticks as skittish as a gelded stallion.  Similarly, there are several chase sections, in which it is all too easy to miss collectables and interactive items, necessitating the need for repeated replays.  Occasional screen tearing was also an issue, though, while not distracting, was very noticeable for observers and its irritation factor will be scaled by your tolerance for such things.  The camera, alas, is also still a problem; trying to judge depth to scoop up floating studs while controlling a broomstick was especially irritating, however, the game on the whole more than balances these niggles out.

Everywhere in Lego Harry Potter there is something to be enjoyed, from Danny Elfman’s spellbinding theme, to the background characters and actions lending a depth to the world, fleshing it out – whether this is in the form of bullying students, snoozing characters, or people laying in the snow making snow angels.  While the game is very much the game of the films of the books, it works, offering a rich environment and a wholly deeper gameplay experience which levitates above its predecessors.  With Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4, Travellers Tales have conjured an impressive first half to their Lego-isation of the Potter franchise and if the next half is anything as enjoyable, it will be worth waiting for.

  • Improved graphics offer beautiful, more detailed environments
  • A natural hub merges Lego staples seamlessly with the Potter world
  • The linear approach to game and story is a perfect, logical fit
  • New gameplay innovations make for a smoother journey
  • Wealth of areas and secrets to be explored and opened up
  • Camera is still a pain in the neck
  • Vehicle handling is as problematic as ever
  • Screen tearing
  • Missable collectables in chase scenes is frustrating

With improved graphics and gameplay, Traveller’s Tales have made their latest re-skin of the Lego formula a joy to play, rather than a predictable drag. While there are a few familiar niggles raising their head once again, they are more than outweighed by the depth and richness of the world and its environments. Standing above its predecessors with smooth, natural gameplay and story progression, the world of Harry Potter has been blended seamlessly with the tried and tested Lego mechanics to make an enjoyable game, whether you’re a Lego veteran or newcomer alike.

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  1. Pete says:

    I’ve enjoyed the previous LEGO games I’ve played and am looking forward to giving this one a go :)

    How long til pay day? lol

  2. Lee says:

    Just had the following message from the head of Tt games on twitter. “Just a quick note on the screen tearing, the pause menu has vsync option which will eliminate it.” thought i’d let you know

  3. Lee says:

    Sorry I can get back to reading the review now. I picked this up on friday and am yet to pop it in, think i’ve gotta wait for Kat she wants to play co op. I love the lego games, it’ll be hard not to really, they are with out question the only games of movies that are ever any good

  4. Edward Edward says:

    The Lego games tend to cause a change within me where I need to destroy and collect everything in sight.
    Will this induce a similar feeling, or is it less likely to because of the way the levels are selected?

    An awesome review! :D

  5. Lorna Lorna says:

    Cheers :) It will induce collector mania Ed…there are tons of things to hunt down: House Crest parts, red parcels, Gold Bricks, students in peril…should satisfy your lust ;)

  6. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I’m torn with this one really. I played Lego Star Wars and, for the first hour or so, I was captivated by the gorgeous graphics and the quirky humour. By the time I got to the second hour I wondered why I couldn’t get into certain places and then realised that I had to play through the level again with a different character to allow access through their character attributes. Another couple of hours later of having to change characters yet again and STILL not finish the level just killed the whole Lego experience for me. I didn’t play the game ever again, and never will. I haven’t even touched Lego Batman and I’m SUCH a Batman freak and, although I liked the look of Lego Indy, I have no interest in playing it.

    I prefer Batman and Indy to Harry Potter as he’s a snivelling little git, but I’m more taken with the Lego Harry Potter game then the other Lego games… it’s just a case of whether or not I drag myself to the XBox and give it a shot or not. I may give co-op a shot, I dunno, but I doubt I’ll pick up the controller and play it single player as I really don’t like repetition in games. No matter how pretty they are!

    Enjoyed the review though, certainly piqued my interest more than the other Lego games. Maybe one day!

  7. Kat says:

    I bought this today :) Like Mark I’m uncertain about the Lego games but my eldest adored both Indy Lego and the Harry Potter books so she’ll be playing it regardless. Hopefully having Lee hold my hand and carry me through it will help :D

  8. Ben Ben says:

    Very much tempted by this, is only £20 on Steam at the moment and could be a nice game to take my “family gaming” into.

    Might just well come down to the flip of a coin this one, nice review though – Like Mark has put it on my [potential] radar.

    Can’t go wrong with Lego though, it just sort of makes the world a happier place regardless of its surroundings.

  9. Lorna Lorna says:

    After replays, I should now note that it is possible to save the chaps buried under boxes in the first Goblet of Fire level, but only with the Reducto spell.

  10. [...] our Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 review get you excited enough to rush out and buy your own copy?  Hopefully it did, but if you [...]

  11. Aidan says:

    How do you get red brick 1. I know that it is singing mandrakes and I know it is in the Herbology greenhouse but how do I get it? I’ve got to floor 3 in the herbology greenhouse do I need to get further and if so how do I?

  12. Lorna Lorna says:

    Hi Aidan,

    Here are a few links that you may find helpful:

    Here is the text for the brick that you are looking for from the first thread link:

    Herbology Second Room (use RD in the classroom, near the back)
    Character: Fleur Delacour – There’s a chest in plain sight in between the two rooms, use RD.
    Student In Peril: Gather the ingredients for the strength potion, then pull the chain to free the student.
    Red Brick (Singing Mandrake): After doing the above SIP you can make a staircase to the upper portion. Bring all the mandrakes up and put them in the pots to get the brick. Owl is in the bottom left.

    Hope that helps. If you get stuck, it is always worth checking the forums over at and the site usually always has guides for various collectables.

  13. Rook says:

    Finally got around to reading this, with regards to the eighth magix spell slot cycling through numerous spells or using the bunpers to choose certain speels, you could eliminate this by holding the X button and moving the targeting cursor around the screen/objects, it would automatically use the correct spell if you knew it.

    Really liked the line you used – the game is very much the game of the films of the books.

    Loved this game, it even made me watch the films so I could follow the story, I will definitely buy the next one without hesitation.

  14. Lorna Lorna says:

    The X targeting doesn’t work with the rotating eighth spell slot; because these spells are the nonsense ones, there is no correct spell to use so it will just fire off whatever it has cycled to when you let it go, making it easy to miss certain spells such as Glacius if you have bought them all before you try and use a specific one.

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