Game Review: ‘Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4’ For XBox 360

The LEGO games have always been known for taking popular franchises and turning them into enjoyable, family-friendly videogames. In the case of LEGO Harry Potter, they manage to achieve this and more. With an already beloved story and characters behind it, this game is certainly one of the summer’s greatest, but also quite possibly the best LEGO game to date.

LEGO Harry Potter starts at the very beginning of Harry Potter’s tale and progresses all the way through the fourth story in the series. While most games had a central home base where you could do everything (The Batcave in LEGO Batman, the Mos Eisley Cantina in LEGO Star Wars, etc.), LEGO Harry Potter uses The Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley as sort of a starting point, but also utilizes Hogwarts Castle as a sort of “mission center.” This does away with the “rinse and repeat” feeling of the previous games, as you’d always access everything from the same area.

This also allows for an almost completely explorable Hogwarts, including Hagrid’s cabin, the Great Hall, and the Quidditch Pitch. While there are always missions available, including all the previous ones, it’s nice to have the option to just go run around, explore, and maybe do some shopping in Diagon Alley or ride a broomstick around in between getting the missions done. The game also includes the memorable film score by John Williams, adding to the experience and atmosphere of the game.

The typical gameplay of most of the LEGO games of building objects to overcome obstacles and move through the game is changed somewhat, as characters cast specific spells instead of building. This is a welcome change, as the task of choosing the right spells to complete each task is never as boring or tedious as just holding down a button and watching your character build something.

Instead, you’re using Lumos to chase away plant monsters and Wingardium Leviosa to move rocks out of the way or reassemble a suit of armor to progress in the game. And whereas LEGO Batman made you pick up the suit upgrades one at a time in Story Mode, LEGO Harry Potter’s spells are always available for easy access on the controller.

It’s safe to say that LEGO Harry Potter is still first and foremost a game for kids, but it’s more challenging than the previous LEGO games. It’s no longer as simple to get the “True Wizard” title (this means collecting over 50,000 LEGO studs throughout the level, which isn’t as simple as it sounds to begin with) nor is every level as cut and dry as the ones in the previous titles. Because the game is heavily based on using the right spells, not only do you have to use the right ones but timing also comes into play. Players must not only master spells, but also broomstick riding and driving vehicles. A second player is always able to drop in and out using the second controller, allowing players to solve puzzles cooperatively or defeat particularly nasty beasties as a team.

While it’s pretty simple to breeze through the Story Mode of the game, collecting everything else is certainly a challenge. There’s a whole score of bonus characters to be purchased in Diagon Alley, but in order to unlock them for purchase you must find them in the various levels by solving puzzles or reaching hidden areas. And similar to the previous games, after they’re unlocked you still have to collect enough studs to purchase each character. There’s also a ton of bonus levels inside Gringotts Bank, unlockable by golden bricks collected as rewards in missions. The level creator from LEGO Indiana Jones also makes a return, but you won’t be able to share your levels online in this game either.

Story-wise is  the only place where the game seems to fall short. Most players coming to this game are playing it not just to be Harry Potter and his friends, but to experience the story that we all know and love so much. A lot of elements are changed and some things are left out, but to the game’s credit it does manage to pack four of these stories into one game and still give us a great experience. Players will definitely find themselves saying “That’s not how that happened!”, but this won’t take away from the gameplay or enjoyment of the game, for most people anyway.

If you’re approaching LEGO Harry Potter as an amazing gateway into the world of Harry Potter with all the characters you know and love, you’re in luck. But If you’re up to the challenge, the game will provide you with hours of fun, challenging gameplay in a quest to collect anything and everything the world of magic and Hogwarts has in store. This game definitely stays true to everything the LEGO games are reputed to bring to the table, while bringing in new elements that make playing LEGO Harry Potter a unique experience.

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