Game: LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7
Developer: Traveller’s tales
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, PC, OnLive and PSP (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Let me let you into a secret, I love the LEGO games. Simplicity mixed with a marvellous sense of humour, fun and playability make for a game that absolutely everyone in the household can enjoy, which is an achievement in itself. The Harry Potter entry into the LEGO series is without a doubt one of the best there is, with everything that is Harry Potter lending itself so well to the mechanics of the LEGO games. But in 2011, the year of the sequel, does it stand up a second time around?
This game is available for a 30 minute demo via OnLive, by clicking the banner below:
STORY: As you would expect, Years 5-7 pick up right where the previous game ended, telling the tale of books 5 (Order of the Phoenix), 6 (Half Blood Prince) and 7 (Deathly Hallows; both films, for those who haven’t read the books), bringing the Harry Potter canon to a close. Harry and friends are still battling he who shall not be named (screw you Voldemort, seriously, you’re beating up kids) and are experiencing everything else that comes with being a teenager; love, angst, friendship, you get the picture.
As with all previous LEGO titles, the story is told through gameplay and charming cut-scenes full of humour. If there is to be a negative about the way the story is told in Years 5-7, it is the fact that, whilst the books often veer down a slightly darker path, the game cannot really follow. Whilst Traveller’s tales have made an attempt to go a more serious direction, it really can’t be helped – the LEGO characters just look funny (in a good way). This may not even be a bad thing though, as the darker moments of the books/films are replaced with a more child-friendly version, meaning children that had to jump out of the universe as it got scarier, can jump back in and join in the LEGO fun.
GRAPHICS: The last few LEGO games have seen a subtle shift in visuals. They always looked good, but now they look stunning. It started with LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars and has continued since, but there are some genuinely stunning moments in Years 5-7, with highly polished visuals that look like love and care have been lavished upon them. One of the most noticeable upgrades is to the way you put LEGO together. The magical element lends credence to blocks swirling around and building themselves (which you’ll be seeing a lot of) and this looks pretty and effective.
There are very few niggles in Years 5-7 visually and whilst nobody will say it’s the best looking game of the year, if you are a fan of the Harry Potter universe, you will notice tiny references that almost don’t matter, but have been carefully rendered anyway. There did appear to be a few frame-rate drops during split-screen co-op, but a younger player wouldn’t notice this and will adore the visuals throughout.
AUDIO: As usual there is no voice acting, the LEGO people will mumble and make various noises to impart emotions otherwise carried out with dialogue in the books or films. This is actually part of the charm of the series, but again the darker aspects aren’t played out through terrifying delivery, instead you get Voldemort growling, which just sounds funny.
The score to the game is exactly what you’d expect from a Warner Bros. published game, orchestral and luscious. If you’ve played the previous LEGO Harry Potter game then you know exactly what to expect, because in all honesty, save for a few bells and whistles, the audio to Years 5-7 may as well be lifted from it’s predecessor.
GAMEPLAY: The simple magic of the LEGO titles, is that on a fundamental level, what Traveller’s tales have done is transpose what it feels like building real-life LEGO into a video game. A series of puzzles that never really feel as if you are forced into them, you will go around the environments created and collect or find LEGO blocks, putting them together (in Harry Potter’s case, with magic) to make something fantastic happen, before moving onto the next one.
The idea of the wizarding world of Harry Potter being created in LEGO is genius. Like the previous title, magic just lends itself so well to what you are seeing on screen; the characters have wands and they are making all the wondrous actions happen, it just looks right.
As you explore the story of each book, you will attend classes and learn more spells, which in turn opens up more of the world to you. What you end up having, between actual progressive story levels, is almost an open world. Within the confines of Hogwarts there is a ridiculous amount to find, some of which you can’t access straight away, but you can explore to your heart’s content.
New to Years 5-7 is a duelling mechanic; you will stand-off against a foe in a confined circle and have to cast a magic spell at them. The circle will change colour to tell you which magic spell to attack with (they are colour coded) and once you connect, you’ll have a mini-QTE event where you have to hammer a button to push the spell back at them and take away a life-heart. If you aren’t quick enough they will attack you first, but this is countered by using a shield, whereby you can then launch your own attack. These duels aren’t over-used, but are a nice addition to the series, but one that could probably only work in a Harry Potter game.
The biggest issue with the game is that it is simply too easy. The only difficulty for older players will be finding every last collectible and grabbing that 100% achievement. You’ll also be spending a lot of time following a ghost around to the next location, which is extreme hand-holding as you literally can’t get lost. It’s perhaps slightly unfair to complain though, as the games are obviously aimed toward the younger audience or family play, which the local-only co-op confirms.
The co-op has an interesting take on split-screen. Rather than confine players to the same “box”, you will be free to explore as a dynamic diagonal split appears, allowing you to explore any given environment until one player leaves through a door, or goes to another area. Drop in/drop out is the order of the day too; implemented in a fabulous manner, if player two wants to stop playing you can literally yank the battery out of the controller and you won’t be faced with the Xbox guide (for example), the game will just continue.
LONGEVITY: LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 is massive. Even after you have finished the 3 books you will be nowhere near 100% complete and probably not even 50% done. Collectibles are littered through the world, be it unlockable characters, gold bricks (200 in all), students in peril (that you have to free from some manner of trap), boxes for owls (that allow cheats to be purchased) and plenty of other secrets throughout, there’s a huge time investment required to grab 100% completion, which you’ll end up wanting to do, no doubt.
The fact that after you complete a story level you can unlock free-play means that there are even multiple secrets in every level that you can’t unlock first time around. You’ll need to go back to the levels, perhaps after you’ve unlocked a dark magic user, so you can find that gold block hiding in the object only a dark magic user can utilise. Co-Op adds yet more replayability, with achievements being varied and time consuming.
VERDICT: Ultimately, whether you will love LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 boils down to if you actually like Harry Potter or not. There’s a chance that if you aren’t a fan, you may be drawn in with the charming visuals, exploratory gameplay and excellent structure, but at the end of the day it is still Harry Potter starring in the game. Fans however, will absolutely adore every moment.
Despite being too easy for the more “hardcore” audience, Years 5-7 is nevertheless a hugely enjoyable game that has had just enough changes, in both the visuals and gameplay, to mean that coming back for some more LEGO Harry Potter will give you an enormous amount of satisfaction and entertainment.