LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4
Traveller's Tales games have had a lot of success taking blockbuster movie franchises like Star Wars and Indiana Jones and turning them into family-friendly Lego games, so it wasn't that much of a surprise when the developer announced its latest endeavor, Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4. The game draws its inspiration from the first four books of the popular fantasy series, and looks to put the Lego franchise back on track after the disappointing Lego Indiana Jones 2. Will it succeed? We played the first few hours of the boy wizard's block-filled adventure, and have the scoop on what Potter fans can expect.
Like previous Lego titles, Harry Potter forgoes character dialogue in favor of funny pantomime, so you'll have to rely on your memory of the books or movies to fill in the much of the story's plot. The cutscenes I saw were like watching animated CliffsNotes for the series, but TT Games' slapstick approach to storytelling keeps things moving and gets you back into the game before confusion or boredom can set in. That said, there's plenty of fan service for wannabe wizards, and all of your favorite characters are in the game, in playable form to boot. In the first few hours I traded off between Harry, Hagrid, Hermione, and Ron. Though they all shared some spells in common, they each had some unique characteristics as well: Hagrid's larger frame means he can pull heavy objects that other characters can't. True to the books, Hermione is horrible at flying, and Ron always looks slightly afraid when casting spells, knowing full well that he's probably going to screw things up. TT is claiming there will be over 100 playable characters in the final game. It will be interesting to see how many characters have unique aspects like these, and which are simply different skins. However, based on what we've seen so far, we're expecting Harry Potter will meet or exceed other Lego titles in terms of unique characters.
Spells & Potions:
The main ingredient to the Lego series' success has always been gameplay variety. In addition to the game's different characters, Lego Harry Potter changes things up through the use of spells and potions. Spells function similarly to force powers in Lego Star Wars, and are learned throughout the game via classroom lessons. Early spells include: a basic lightning spell for breaking down objects into precious Lego studs; Lumos, for lighting dark areas and scaring off monsters; and Wingardium Leviosa, for assembling broken Lego blocks back into functioning objects. Progression through Hogwarts is primarily tied to spells, as each new skill opens up previously inaccessible areas.
Potions also grant the player extra powers, but only for a limited time. In order to make a potion, players must first gather a number of ingredients from the surrounding area. Some are simply scattered around the environment, while others are hidden or require defeating enemies in order to collect them.
Magic spells acquired from attending classes will unlock new areas in Hogwarts
The Lego series is the definition of a collect-a-thon, and Lego Harry Potter is no exception. In addition to the Lego studs that erupt from just about every object in the game, you'll collect Red Brick sets, Gold Bricks, pieces of the Hogwarts Crest, character tokens, and more. But the incessant collecting is broken up by innumerous entertaining puzzles. Many involve using Wingardium Leviosa to automatically put together broken contraptions, but some involve manually lining up Lego blocks to create stairways or reassemble characters, which are more engaging. Some characters also have pets, which sport their own special abilities: You can control Ron's pet rat Scabbers to scamper through pipes to areas human characters can't reach. Another set of puzzles called "Students in Peril," task players with helping Harry's classmates out of various dilemmas, such as scaring off a group of bullies with a magic spell, or helping a kid down from a chandelier by arranging blocks beneath his feet. None of the puzzles I've come across have been too difficult, but they've all been unique, and often humorous, which will go a long way toward keeping players engaged.
Between story missions, players are free to roam down Diagon Alley, which hosts a number of stores aimed at customizing your character. These include shops for buying new playable characters, cheats, and malevolent spells to pester the game's inhabitants with. You can also create your own custom characters by mixing and matching different body parts and clothes. Diagon Alley also gives you access to the game's level builder. Players who tried out the level builder in Indiana Jones 2 will know what to expect, albeit this time you'll have all of the objects and characters from Harry Potter at your disposal. All of the items in Diagon Alley are unlocked with the studs and other Lego pieces you collect in the story levels, which should keep completionists occupied for a long, long time.
After a few hours of play, it was apparent that we only scratched the surface of what Lego Harry Potter has to offer. Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 will be available June 29.