You’ll know what to expect already if you’re even remotely familiar with Traveller’s Tales’ LEGO games: Take impossibly addictive brick-bashing LEGO gameplay formula, add beloved fan-favourite franchise and stir vigorously, serving to gamers with consistent and awesome results. LEGO Harry Potter naturally takes the tried-and-true blueprint covered in LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Indiana Jones, with Harry Potter taking the place of Luke Skywalker and Henry Jones, Jr., while whips and lightsabers are replaced by wands and magic. Only “real” magic, so it’s thankfully free from lame card tricks, creepy dudes cramming small animals into hats and David Blaine striking terror into your soul with his unnerving glares.
LEGO Harry Potter is, without a doubt, the most wildly fun, immensely charming, wonderfully layered and addictively involving entry in the series yet, but with one major caveat: It’s impossibly tough to recommend it to those unacquainted with J.K. Rowling’s creation in some form. Players expecting the game to fully catch them up on Potter history or even give them a fully-formed, coherent story throughout will be left wanting and likely confused. While you’ll never be lost in terms of the tasks you need to accomplish while playing, in the larger sense, the silent cut-scenes do little to explain the actual story for the uninformed and expect a huge amount of foreknowledge to fill in the blanks. The story experience for non-Potter fans is akin to flicking through foreign TV channels and stumbling across a bizarre Turkish sitcom: You might have a fun time watching and giggling at the sight gags and slapstick, but you’ll have zero clue what the hell is actually happening.
The LEGO games have always been odes to the fans though, and even casual Potter aficionados will be giddy with glee at how much love and care has gone into crafting the game recreation of LEGO Hogwarts. The LEGO games have always offered up plenty of faithful locations and an abundance of items for players to reduce to bricks, but the familiar wizardry school marks the first time the LEGO series has adopted such an expansive location and adorned it with a living, breathing world of characters true to the source material. Students wander and chat (or monosyllabically mumble in LEGO fashion) in the halls, practice spells or interact with the environment, Gilderoy Lockhart can be spotted wandering with a gaggle of swooning girls in tow, Colin Creevey dashes around the halls following students and snapping photos, while Slytherin students jeer and cackle as Harry and pals pass by. The game is filled with these tiny little details and winking nods to fans that add an amazing added sense of life to Hogwarts’ surroundings.
The bustling, diverse energy and life on display isn’t just restricted to the characters that populate the school either. Every room is overflowing with unique items to play with, and with LEGO Harry Potter’s shift from the destructive, action-centric gameplay of the Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Batman games to a more puzzle-oriented dynamic comes an added level of interactivity with the environment. Flower pots spring to full bloom with a point of your wand, brooms come alive and sweep the floors, chairs swallow students before spitting them out, chess boards play themselves to completion, while the living paintings offer a variety of immensely fun and charming interactions. One hilarious painting has a trio of pub-dwelling wizards who’ll toss out stud coins for you when you zap the frame, slowly getting a little more drunk each time you try, until their attempt to toss the coins miss altogether, failing to make it out of the painting as they collapse in a drunken heap. Sometimes paintings will toss important puzzle items out to you, or you’ll be rewarded for throwing things in – tossing a sword to a knight fleeing a dragon, for instance – while some paintings guard doors, only responding to certain Hogwarts house uniforms. Seemingly every tiny item has its own unique surprise in store, and while it’s certainly a fun distraction from a gameplay perspective, it also captures the Hogwarts we’ve come to know and expect, too: Brimming with an overwhelming array of diverse, magical wonder and character.
Another marvellous change is the minimization of the hub interface; rather than experience each “film” piecemeal, broken into chapters accessible from a hub, entire films take place in Hogwarts, each chapter flowing seamlessly into the next as you roam and explore the school freely, following one of the ghosts to trigger the next story section. Harry, Ron and Hermione will attend lessons along the way, which ingeniously double as tutorials with the students learning new spells to aid in the game’s puzzling, unlock new areas of the school, or interact with familiar hallways in new ways that weren’t previously possible. It’s a fantastic system, and the entire game flows organically, building on the sense of magic and character around the school, while offering a wonderfully layered free-roam gameplay experience, enticing you to replay sections while effortlessly offering a continuous, progressive sense of development.
While the game follows the tried-and-true system of having each LEGO character blessed with their own unique skill, the spell system means it’s much more versatile this time. All main players will learn a shared variety of familiar spells, from the levitating spell Wingardium Leviosa, through the vine-repelling Lumos right up to the powerful Patronus charm to ward off Dementors. You’ll slowly learn all of them as you progress, with each one easily scrollable or selectable from a dial interface. The magical fun isn’t restricted to spells either, as cauldrons can be found all over Hogwarts, and after finding three ingredients around the landscape to toss into the bubbling pot, you’ll have a handy batch of funky serum. That simmering crude may look like a hideous mix of bile and Marmite, but drink it and your character gains Hulk-like strength to pull chain levers, while the powers of the shapeshifting Polyjuice potion allows you to morph into another student you’ve unlocked to pass through Hufflepuff-only halls. The beloved trio have their own unique set of tricks, naturally: Harry has his invisibility cloak, Hermione can let Crookshanks loose to dig in certain locations, while Ron can send Scabbers through small openings (thankfully Richard Gere is nowhere to be found). Another fun new addition to add a dash of diversity is the ability to levitate and construct LEGO structures; in some locations you’ll find a stack of coloured blocks and will be tasked with either assembling them piece by piece to match paintings and unlock doors or you’ll need to slot them together however you see fit to create a makeshift stairway to higher levels.
Of course, with these unique traits and the general fun of the series’ two-player option, the game really comes alive when playing with someone else in co-op mode. However you choose to play though, the constant tweaking and refining of gameplay issues throughout the LEGO series means that the unfortunate issues of old are now non-existant, or at least infinitely less noticeable. Thankfully the sliced, independently-moving split-screen has make a welcome return, so there’s no more dragging your pal to an untimely plastic demise if you dash off too far in the opposite direction. But for those who’d rather play through alone, the wealth of spells means less need to switch between characters, while console AI is better than ever. Though there’s often instances when the AI won’t zap a bench you’re standing on to help you magic your way to a higher plateau, an added perfected targeting system (akin to the batarang targeting in LEGO Batman) means you can target things yourself and take care of business without issue. There’s still minor foibles, such as the other characters occasionally crowding you and blocking your ability to pick something up, or nudging you perilously close to edges on narrow walkways, but it’s infrequent enough to not be a major issue.
Naturally, half the fun of Traveller’s Tales’ LEGO games is the addictive joy of unlocking added bonus items, or buying new characters. LEGO Harry Potter only embraces that trend, and there’s an overwhelming wealth of secondary secrets to find. Every section has 4 segments of house crests to find, a student in peril to rescue, golden bricks to discover, special red bricks to find and deliver to Hedwig, hidden character tokens, a True Wizard status to earn, to say nothing of the staggering amount of bonus levels, characters and spells to be unlocked and purchased in Diagon Alley or the level editor to be found at Gringotts Bank. The amount of replay value is staggering, and more importantly, it’s intensely fun and addictive rather than repetitive.
Fundamentally, the LEGO games are so consistently great and fan-focused that your favourite will simply be whichever franchise you love most. Harry Potter fans have lucked out though, as their game is unquestionably the most polished, richly rewarding, brilliantly layered and gleefully addictive entry in the series. It’s astonishing how wonderfully Traveller’s Tales have distilled the spirit, character and energy of Harry Potter and adapted it into a gameplay experience so fabulously detailed, lively and, well, magical. Those unfamiliar with the scar-headed wizard and his adventures might be left cold by the unwelcoming nature of the fans-only narrative, but Potter lovers will be left humming that damn theme and torn between wanting to dash to watch the films again after how well the game captures the giddy wonder of Harry’s adventures, or playing through for just a few more hours whenever you might consider switching it off.
LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is available to buy on all consoles now.