The Lego series of games have been coming at us at a fairly steady pace, and the latest one completes the latter half of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter story. The game follows the movies far more closely than it does the books, but does it do a decent job of it? The ultimate goal of any review is to answer the question “is it worth spending money on?” Let’s find out.
Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 (which, sadly, I did not review, but did play in preparation for this review—I take my reviews seriously!), which covers the events of the first four films, came out in 2010 for just about every conceivable current video game platform. I joke not: the game even appeared for Windows, Mac OS, and iOS. The PS2 had to be left out in the cold with this version. I think that Traveller’s Tales figured that porting the game to a ninth video game platform was perhaps pushing it a little. Either way, they’ve gone and done it again for Years 5-7, because the second Lego Harry Potter game, released in 2011, is available for every available video game system, and then some (nine platforms at last count, with a possible tenth later on this year). The PS2 still gets left out of this release, though.
If you’ve never played a Lego game before (and haven’t read either of my prior Lego reviews—shame on you if you haven’t!) it runs a little something like this: cute, themed Lego characters run around in beautifully rendered scenery, re-enacting said themed plot, and collecting as many little Lego studs as they possibly can. Also, it’s very child-friendly. Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 (I’m just going to refer to this game as LHP2 from now on! This 5-7 business is downright tiring!) is both superior to and inferior to other Lego games, for some very interesting reasons. For the sake of disclosure, please note that this review discusses the PS3/Xbox360 version of the game, which ostensibly includes the Windows version. The mobile versions are notably different, and are not covered here.
Thankfully, LHP2 uses the same game engine that was introduced in Lego Indiana Jones 2, and allows for the same dynamic split-screen play, instead of the players being locked to the same screen, as was seen in older Lego games. What makes the Lego Harry Potter games different from the Lego games, however, is that there are two hub stages, as opposed to the usual one (for example, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean has Port Royal as its hub, while the first Lego Star Wars game used the Mos Eisley Cantina). The first hub is Diagon Alley and London, which is where you can buy characters, spells, gold bricks, red bricks, and replay past chapters to find all the students in peril and the bits of the school crest. The other hub is Hogwarts castle itself (including the village of Hogsmeade), and I must say that this is possibly what sets the Lego Harry Potter games apart from the others. Hogwarts is simply HUGE, with so much to do that it’s difficult to get bored. You’ll spend more time in and around Hogwarts than any other location in the game, so it’d serve you well to learn how to navigate the place, since it can get insanely confusing. Aside from progressing the story, there are character buttons to be found, students to rescue, spells to learn, things to explode, things to try spells out on, monsters to face, puzzles to solve, beasts to ride, mischief to be had, and tons and tons and tons of things to break and studs to collect. It’s simply crazy how much there is to do in this game. And all this is without actually doing anything in the story itself! If that isn’t value for money right there, I don’t know what is! Another aspect that sets Lego Harry Potter apart from most of the other Lego games is that, unlike the other games where you progressed quite noticeably from story chapter to story chapter, the transition between exploration and story level is far less noticeable here. The game plays far more seamlessly than the others, which, in my honest opinion, makes for a superior game.
As is proper for a game based around wizards and witches—and like Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4—in LHP2 you have access to a number of spells. The basic few are attack spells and levitation spells (I’m deliberately staying away from the actual spells names for fear of alienating any readers who aren’t familiar with the Harry Potter universe), but there are also spells that spew water from the wands, spells that produce light, and so forth. Furthermore, for reasons that will become clear later, each spell has a particular color attached to it. It can be a little bit daunting at first, especially if you’re coming from a Lego game other than Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4, but you get used to the idea of switching spells very quickly, and it all becomes second nature by the time you’ve cleared the first few story levels.
If you are coming from Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4, I have lots and lots of good news for you, and one piece of bad news. For one thing, the levitation spell is assigned to a single button permanently, and does not require you to be on the correct spell any more. This means that as you wander around the game, things that are interactible will highlight, regardless of which spell you have selected. Furthermore, the highlighting of objects is far less fickle than the first game, and it’s now much easier to select what you want to destroy/fix/alter/throw. Curiously, Diagon Alley is the reverse of what you saw in the first game, and the locations of where you obtain your characters, bricks, etc, have all been altered. Red bricks, for example, must be bought from the Leaky Cauldron, and not Eylop’s Owl Emporium as was the case with the first game. On the other hand, everything is still just as breakable, if not more so, and you also don’t have to get too used to spells being in different places on the spell wheel, since Traveller’s Tales have tried to make the transition between the two games as painless as possible. Boss battles have also been simplified. Each boss is a simple one-on-one magical battle where you have to match the color of your spell with the color of spell of your opponent. Just in case you are colorblind (like myself), the relevant spell slot also flashes, which is a nice touch.
One of the things I was grateful for in this game is that Traveller’s Tales, the developers, seem to have sorted out a huge problem that was quite noticeable in Lego Star Wars III and Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4, which being the manipulation of objects in the game. In my review of Lego Star Wars III, I mentioned that using the Force to move stuff around gets frustrating and silly, because trying to move something around in 3D space can be confusing, especially if the object in question doesn’t really want to go in the direction you want it to. It’s not a nice feeling to lose a battle of wits to a simple Lego brick, and I am not a man so overendowed with wit in the first place. It was thus a pleasant surprise to find that things move around far more fluidly than before, so that’s one really brilliant point for the game.
This brings us to the single bit of bad news that I have. The game lacks online play. “So what?” I hear you say. “You griped about this in Lego Star Wars III and Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, what makes you think that Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 will be any different, you silly reviewer you?” I’ll respond to that insult with this one single fact: Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 had online play for both PSN and Xbox Live. I’ll sit here smugly while you clear the O_O look off your face. Yes, go back and read that again: an older game included online play and was removed for a later version. One can only hope that Traveller’s Tales will do what they did with Lego Indiana Jones 2 and patch the game to enable this.
All of this brings us to a very minor point: if you’re not a fan of the Harry Potter universe, I doubt this game will do very much for you. On the other hand, if you love the humor and charm of the Lego games as a whole and aren’t too fussed about the plot, you’ll find this game brilliant fun. Fans of the story will appreciate the way that an increasingly dark tale is kept child-friendly and light throughout. It’s a testament to the brilliance of the talented fellows who somehow extract the most important parts of the plot and distil it all down to six chapters per story.
Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 is definitely a worthy addition to the Lego series of games, and with so much (local co-op) fun to be had, it’s a great game for bonding with kids over. Even if you’re childless, but love the Harry Potter universe, you’ll have a magical time pottering around Hogwarts and surrounds, breaking things and collecting things. If you were sitting on the fence about buying this game, do yourself a favour and buy it. If you were over there on that side of the fence about it, well, I doubt there’s little I could say to tempt you over to this side anyhow. But you’ll be missing out on a lot of fun.
Final Score: 7.5 brick-shaped prawns out of 10
Publisher: WB Games
Developer: Traveller’s Tale
Platform: PS3 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Windows, iOS, Wii, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, Playstation Vita, PSP
RRP: R499 (PS3, 360), R399 (Wii, PC, DS, 3DS, PSP), TBA (Vita)
Release Dates: 18 November 2011, ETA 22 February 2012 (Vita)
Age Rating: 7