LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Reader Review
Were you privileged enough to have a regular Western upbringing? Yes? Well, in that case, you probably spent many a happy hour playing with toy building blocks, meticulously hand-crafting towering skyscrapers and wondrous landmarks in your youthful yearning for creative enlightenment.
You might also remember the tortuous anguish through which you went upon returning from school, only to find that your wretched, unfeeling younger sibling had mercilessly demolished your hallowed creation. What was even more heart-wrenching was the fact that what replaced it, some makeshift windmill or shopping centre, wasnít even any good. It amounted to little more than a pitiful, unsightly mish-mash of coloured plastic, complete with all the aesthetic charm of a stitched wound.
Thatís the Lego video game series, that is. For all its enchanting visual appeal and capacity for the inherent creative fulfilment buried in the remnants of our lost childhoods, itís always had an inexcusable tendency to kick itself down and sour the quaint Lego experience. Just like your erratic sibling, its child-like innocence means that you canít stay angry at it forever, but you canít help but resent it a little for spoiling your fun.
With that in mind, those prepared to admit to having played any of the previous Lego titles will know just what to expect with Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4. At its core, itís a relatively balanced, evenly-spread mixture of platforming, single-button combat, puzzle solving and collecting, all wrapped up in the mystical realm of the Harry Potter universe. Oh, and none of the characters speak. And theyíre made of Lego.
So, as with the other franchises to receive the Lego treatment, ranging from Star Wars to Indiana Jones, Batman and, most recently, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lego Harry Potter offers a comical, downright ridiculous Lego-based wrap-up of the first four instalments in the hugely popular Harry Potter series, interspersed with a substantial array of mini-games, collectibles and unlockables. Itís basically a very formulaic, predictable affair as far as gameplay is concerned, but itís become clear that the player interaction isnít exactly why Lego addicts keep coming back.
The fact of the matter is that, when looked between the eyes as a raw, interactive experience, Lego: Harry Potter leaves an awful lot to be desired. Despite several years of prior experience, its developer, Travellerís Tales, has still failed to address the lionís share of the quirks and irritations that have plagued the series since its debut with Lego Star Wars in 2005. Platforming controls remain maddeningly unresponsive; AI allies are still unashamedly stupid; glitches and bugs still rear their ugly heads far more regularly than one might consider acceptable. Not only that, but online co-operative play, an established feature of previous feature of previous titles, is conspicuous in its absence, whilst the gameís targeting system, upon which youíll rely rather heavily for casting spells and battling enemies, is woefully inaccurate and temperamental.
Undoubtedly, then, gameplay isnít really Lego: Harry Potterís strong point, a statement that ought to be a resoundingly damning condemnation of its worthiness as a commercially-released video game. The thing is, though, that it actually isnít. When allís said and done, Lego: Harry Potter rises like a phoenix from its own ashes and manages to more or less redeem itself through pure presentation alone.
Take the graphics, for instance. Theyíre nothing special when placed side-by-side with the unreal-powered technical behemoths of the benchmark score-obsessed fraternity, but the art style fills the game with so much wide-eyed life and dynamism that it doesnít matter at all. And itís not just the visuals for their own sake, either. The gameís numerous cutscenes, too, evoke every last drop of magic and allure of Rowlingís iconic wizarding world, making for more than a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments and set-pieces that are as memorable as they are ludicrous.
The game sounds great as well. As always, Travellerís Tales has gone to the well to use all of the source material available, bringing the scores of John Williams and his much less eminent successors to life with almost effortless aplomb. Itís easy to take decent soundtracks for granted in Lego titles, but one shouldnít understate the sheer precision and skill required to blend some of the most instantly recognisable music in popular culture so seamlessly with a relatively shallow platformer based around plastic bricks and mute, robotic action figures.
And itís not as though there isnít at least some appeal in the gameplay, either. Collecting the various goodies on offer may not seem an enticing prospect from the onset, but the variation involved in obtaining them is generally rich enough to avoid any lingering feelings of a lifeless, repetitive grind towards a meaningless goal, even though thatís exactly what it really is. Travellerís Tales have clearly done an admirable job of catering to the compulsive completionists of the gaming community, and even threatens to lull the most fickle, inattentive speedsters into a sense of tame obedience towards a common goal, helped in no small part by the hugely impressive volume of trinkets and trophies littered around the vast, expansive game world. Yes, itís little more than a case of collecting for its own sake, but thatís one of the most successful, tried-and-tested facets of the video gaming medium.
It seems, then, that we keep on forgiving the Lego series for its long list of shortcomings because we find it almost impossible to be firm with it, lest we somehow offend and traumatise it. To revisit the younger sibling analogy, it certainly seems easy to resent Lego: Harry Potter when it destroys your works of creative majesty, but that inherent soft spot for it inevitably comes to the fore when it wears a serving dish as a hat and sticks wax crayons up its nose.