LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 Review
By Simon Graves |
Just as gamers were beginning to grumble about Lego franchise fatigue, Traveller's Tales busted out Lego Harry Potter Years 1 – 4. The magic of the Harry Potter franchise proved the perfect backdrop for Lego's eclectic gameplay and goofy puzzle solving, and Hogwarts Castle made an ideal hub world. Toss in a huge cast of characters and plenty of memorable set pieces and you end up with the best Lego game yet, an improbable six games in.
Lego Harry Potter Years 5 – 7 feels more like the second half of the same game rather than a true sequel, a fact sure to disappoint some at first glance. But what the game lacks in originality it makes up for with plenty of humorous cutscenes, family-friendly co-op gameplay, and a world jammed full of secrets to ferret out.
The basic structure remains the same, as it has since Lego Star Wars made its debut in 2005. The final four Harry Potter films have each been split into six co-op friendly stages, allowing gamers to play out iconic moments from the films like Half-Blood Prince's raid on Gringott's, or the climactic Ministry of Magic battle from Order of the Phoenix. In between missions, players are free to explore Hogwarts and the surrounding grounds.
Players spend most of their time within the levels solving light puzzles, and blasting apart anything made of legos. The "puzzle solving" here is less about actual lateral thinking and more about exploring the environment. Most puzzles just have one step. See red bricks? Use this spell. See a locked chest? Use that spell. The magic is watching what happens as a result. Zap a vacuum cleaner to see it go berserk. Blow apart a lego tree and reassemble it into a cauldron. The Lego games are sometimes criticized for being filled with puzzles that "solve themselves." Fine, but the element of surprise makes up for that as players don't know what's going to happen next – it's fun seeing all the zany environmental reactions. Plus keeping the puzzles simple ensures the game remains fun for all ages.
It's not really 5 – 7's fault that it feels so much like 1 – 4; Traveller's Tales is bound by the Harry Potter fiction to return to many of the same environments. But it's still disappointing to explore King's Cross Station… again, and Hogwarts… again. Players spend the bulk of the game re-learning their magic spells, as well. Some spells are new, but others have been lifted wholesale from 1 – 4.
Traveller's Tales has thankfully made the hub world surrounding the castle even bigger this time around. Players can explore a portion of the Dark Forest, the Hogwarts observatory and a "muggle world" London scene among others.
All the Harry Potter baddies you love to hate are here.
New abilities include Weasley's Wizard Wheezes boxes, usable by Weasley family members only. These usually contain barrier-destroying fireworks or suction-cup shoes to allow players to walk up walls. A new Aguamenti spell allows gamers to shoot water from their wand to put our fires, water flowers, or (if you're me) pester your co-op partner.
The centerpiece addition to this sequel is undoubtedly the dueling system, however. It's a smart inclusion, given that combat has never been the Lego franchise's strong suit. At certain scripted times players enter one-on-one dueling circles with key opponents. To win players must quickly select the right spell (tipped off by the color of their enemy's half-circle) and mash the attack button to win the ensuing back-and-forth spell collision. It's novel and fun, but also overused. By game's end I was entering a lengthy duel what felt like every few minutes.
Even more so than previous Lego titles, Traveller's Tales has jammed an impressive amount of secrets and post-game content for players to explore. My completion wasn't even at 50% when I cleared the final story mission. Huge portions of Hogwarts castle are completely optional and easy to miss. Players need to clear each level more than once to achieve 100%, but these repeat visits open up new paths and new puzzles to prevent them from feeling too much like padding.
Weasleys can now climb up walls in special areas.
The ubiquitous Lego studs players collect for just about every action they do in 5 - 7 are also put to great use after the story mode has been cleared. Over 200(!!) Lego Harry Potter characters can be purchased, along with 20 special cheats including stud multipliers and magnets, secret locators and plenty more.
Although Lego Harry Potter is a decent distraction playing single player, the game truly shines when playing cooperatively with a friend or family member. Co-op is drop-in/drop-out, which allowed my wife to pick up a controller and join me anytime. Then when I kept playing she could leave, without interrupting my play session. The franchise's same smart split-screen system from the last few games has thankfully returned, as well. When close together, players are presented with a single screen. But wander apart and the screen splits dynamically to give you each an individual view. Slick.
Visually, Years 5 – 7 adheres to the same formula as all of TT's previous Lego titles – pre-rendered backgrounds stuffed with destroyable polygonal Lego structures. It's great seeing TT's take on locations like Hogsmeade, the Room of Requirement, and the Ministry of Magic. It's fantastic fan service wandering around these scenes solving puzzles with orchestrated Harry Potter music tracks playing in the background. That's why Traveller's Tales' Lego games succeed.