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Xbox 360 Review: Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4

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The Lego franchise has become a popular mainstay in the world of video games. As Developer Traveller’s Tales has branched out and explored popular licenses, gamers young and old alike have found something to appreciate. So far Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Batman have all been explored to varying degrees of success. The next franchise in the lineup, Harry Potter, comes long-awaited and in time for the upcoming release of Deathly Hallows in movie theaters. Does Harry have what it takes to win the Lego Triwizard Tournament? Or is he stuck in a bathroom with Moaning Myrtle?

Like all other Lego games, Harry Potter: Years 1-4 follows the storyline of its mainstream counterpart quite closely. The game starts out with Harry being delivered to the Dursley’s, receiving invitations to attend Hogwarts later in life, and eventually walking the hallowed halls. He befriends Hermione and Ron along the way, and makes enemies with Draco as well. The plotlines of each of the first four books is represented here with the caveat that players really need to know their Potter stuff in order to appreciate what’s going on.

The game is full of grunts, mumbles, and exclamations, rather than dialogue or text. It’s not a bad thing, mind you, but true appreciation of the game comes from understanding on-screen references, particular situations, and boss battles. To that end the game is a faithful representation of what one might expect. Everything from Tom Riddles diary to the bathroom encounter with a troll and even a romp through a forest filled with spiders is included here. Each situation is detailed, instantly recognizable, and charming in every way. Harry Potter: Years 1-4 really appeals to the fan-base, and thankfully the game that’s crafted around that offers a great experience.

If you’ve played other Lego games, then you should already know what to expect. The structure, layout, progression, and features all stick with the tried and true formula. If for any reason you haven’t experienced a Lego title before, then you’re probably unfamiliar with some of the trappings. Basically, Harry Potter is a series of six stages for each of the four years. One can access these areas via progression in the story, or replay past levels through the world hub, which in this case is the Leaky Cauldron. As Harry and company heads through the game they’ll travel Hogwarts, attend classes to learn new spells, and use these skills to help friends and thwart Voldemort. Essentially the gameplay boils down to running around a stage, blowing stuff up, and collecting Lego studs.

A slight break in tradition from other Lego games is the fact that this one doesn’t feature quite as much combat. Sure there is the occasional critter that needs frying, but through and through Harry Potter is about exploration and puzzle solving. This is definitely a good move considering combat was always the weakest element of Lego games from the past. The stronger emphasis on puzzles leaves the title feeling more like an adventure, and every bit as fun.

Harry Potter really capitalizes on the strengths of the source material. Spells play a strong role in the solution of puzzles and it’s necessary to really learn what magic is available and how it’s implemented. Using spells like Lumos to ward off plants, Peskipiksi to freeze pixies, or Wingardium Leviosa to levitate objects just barely scratch the surface of what players can do. There are even Polyjuice Potions to consume, an Invisibility Cloak to wear, and animals such as Scabbers and Crookshanks to use. As players head through the many stages and locations in Hogwarts, there are also hints at what spells will come later. By the time Year Four rolls around the spell selection is meaty and the variety expands greatly. The system is handled perfectly here and really gives the game a nice flow.

Rather than just going from point A to point B and beating bosses, Harry Potter offers plenty of things to unlock. The Lego pieces that players collect through each stage come in handy when visiting the shops on Diagon Alley. Here characters, spells, gold bricks, and red brick cheats found in the game can be purchased for use. There is a ton of stuff to unlock and buy, and quite literally players will need millions or Lego pieces in order to see the game through to 100%. In addition to unlocking these extra features, there are also hidden students to save, Hogwarts crests to assemble, Super Kits, and each stage has a completion rank of True Wizard that is a challenge in itself to obtain. There are even bonus stages to tackle for more goodies.

Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is a decent length game that is easily accessible. It’s not exclusively a children’s title either, and it’s one that all members of the family can enjoy playing or watching. Same system two-player co-op is a nice touch as well. Young and old alike will find themselves enthralled by this game. It’s entertaining, fun to play, and accurately represents the Harry Potter franchise and all its trappings. This is arguably the greatest of the Lego games, and if you’ve cut your teeth on the tried and true formula, you owe it to yourself to see what Traveller’s Tales has done with this one.

As far as graphics are concerned, Harry Potter offers up some of the best that the Lego franchise has ever pulled together. The look of the game is authentic to the material, but with a Lego aesthetic. Characters are cute and charming, environments are richly detailed, and all around the game exudes personality and humor. Some screen tearing and animation glitches pop up occasionally in this Xbox 360 version, but instances of these are few and far between. This game really pops and is easy on the eyes. The audio in the game is just as endearing, with music pulled from the films and sound effects to match. The lack of dialogue is no surprise, but it does hold the experience back somewhat compared to other titles. Just look for cute Lego gibberish and you won’t be disappointed!

Lego games have become a popular mainstay in the world of video games and chances are quite good that you have played at least one of them at some point. Charming, fun, and addictive, Lego games offer an experience that is simplistic yet masterful, and Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is an example of the series at its best. There wasn’t a single dull moment in this game and the amount of unlockable features kept me going back for more. Years 5-7 can’t come out soon enough!

Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence and Crude Humor. This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS, PC, PS3, PSP, and Wii.

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