LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Review
Just when you thought that the LEGO game juggernaut was running out of steam after the lackluster LEGO Batman and LEGO Indiana Jones 2 releases, it's found some new magic in the form of Harry Potter. Developer Traveller's Tales deserves a lot of credit for not just shoehorning Hogwarts into another production line LEGO game, and for making magic, potions, and broom riding as much a part of the game as they are a part of Harry's world. A lot of work has gone into keeping the game's overall story relatively true to the first four books in the Harry Potter series, and to bringing so many of the series' characters and locations to life. The look of LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is taken from the movies, as is the soundtrack, but astute fans of the books will be happy to find plenty of references from the books added to the game for their pleasure.
The basics of the game follow the traditional LEGO game model. The gameplay is heavily focused on solving simple puzzles and destroying objects to collect the little LEGO pips that spill everywhere when you do so. LEGO Harry Potter has a few boss battles, but fighting has taken a backseat to the puzzles in this game, which also means that you don't have to deal with the endlessly spawning annoying enemies that plagues some LEGO titles in the past. As always, it's enjoyable to see how familiar locations look when they're built out of LEGO, and the cutscenes all feature that charmingly silly LEGO humor that makes them a delight to watch. Diagon Alley serves as the game's hub, and from there you can spend your pips to unlock new spells, characters, and the like. You can also enter the next chapter in the story, revisit story levels you've already completed, and enter special challenge levels.
Spells are an integral part of the game and like Harry you'll learn new spells as you progress through your career at Hogwarts. You use the left bumper to select your active spell and then cast it using B. Some spells such as Lumos do not require a target, while others such as Wingardium Leviosa can't be cast without a target. It's easy to see which objects can be the targets of spells and which spells affect these targets as the game will highlight the object with a color-coded halo when you move the aiming reticule over potential spell targets. This can certainly be helpful but it also makes the puzzle-solving easier when you can sweep your wand around the room looking for potential spell targets. There will be plenty of times when a spell target is overly sensitive to your position - i.e. you can't cast the spell unless you're in just the right spot – but this is more of a minor nagging annoyance than a game-breaker.
Brooms bring flight to the LEGO series, and while this does add a vertical element to some of the levels it's clear that the game engine wasn't built with flight in mind. Directional control is a little squirrelly and the altitude control requires some patience. You press a button to float upwards on a broom but there's no corresponding button to use to lower your altitude. Instead you eventually start slowly dropping if you keep your finger off of the altitude button. Trying to do anything precise such as collecting pips laid out in an upward spiral or aiming a spell at a particular target is anything but precise.