Experience The Magic, In Brick Form: A Review of LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7

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Well gang, I hate to admit it, but it’s spelled out in the skyward ceiling of the Grand Hall. The Legend of the legendary Harry Potter, a 20-year-long book series and a 10-year-long movie series that launched a pop culture phenomenon which now occupies roughly 9¾% of my childhood memories, has finally come to a close. The eighth and final film, The Deathly Hallows Part 2, has been available for several weeks now on DVD, and Complete 8-Disc Collections on Blu-Ray are flying off the store shelves to make homes under a Christmas tree near you. For those of you experiencing a case of HPCADS (Harry Potter Closure Aftermath Depression Syndrome), then Travelers Tales may just have the remedy for you. LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7, available on all current gen consoles, is here for you to relive the second half of the Harry Potter epic in a way that is guaranteed to make all your sorrows dissapperate.

Well, unless you’re Ron that is.

Looks like SOMEONE just watched the special features of Deathly Hallows Pt.2, and found out Rowling was going to kill him off during her emo writer stage.

 

By now, if you’ve played one LEGO game in the past, odds are you know how these play out: you take a series of popular movies and reenact them as if all their characters, plots, and set pieces were to be performed in the light, whimsical, rigid and plastic (in a literal sense) world that is LEGO. Gameplay itself hasn’t budged an inch either: You alternate playing as a multitude of LEGOised characters from said movies (in this case, Harry, Ron, Hermione, and just about any minor character you can think of), progressing through LEGOised set pieces from said movies (Hogwarts, Diagon Ally, the Ministry of Magic, etc.) by form of platforming, solving puzzles, fighting off enemies from said movies (Dementors, Death Eaters, etc), all the while involving the need of teamwork by implementing each of the characters’ individual abilities and items from their skill set which, more or less, is based on their unique attributes from said movies (Harry’s Invisibility Cloak, Ron’s Weasly gadgets from his brother’s joke shop, Hermione’s pet Crookshanks,what have you).

And yet, as formulaic as these games have gotten, with LEGO Harry Potter it still manages to feel unique and entertaining. In my own opinion, both LEGO Harry Potter games (Years 1-4, and Years 5-7) are probably the best LEGO games. My reasoning behind this is that the source material translates a lot better to this style of play than the other franchises Travelers Tales has attempted to tackle. Case in Point, magic spells and wizarding artifacts from Harry Potter are a lot more fun to play with LEGO style than guns, whips, swords, and blacksmithing from Indiana Jones or Pirates of the Caribbean.

And while all their games have done a great job visually by adapting each of the movies’ set pieces quite faithfully, the level design this time around felt especially well done. Particularly any scene that took place in the Room of Requirements really caught my fancy. That place truly felt like a giant over-cluttered junk-filled hole-in-the-wall.

So much stuff. So much detail. Let’s blow it all up.

 

All joking aside, sometimes the funnest route to completing these games really is to just run around and zap everything zappable and collect all the LEGO bits (Studs) you can. I still don’t really know why, but grabbing a Blue Stud is still one of the most satisfying sounds to hear in every game. Only after everything that is expendable has been expended do you turn on your brain to solve a puzzle or two, which can mean an assortment of things: collect a key, mix a potion, recruiting other characters to assist you with their own unique attributes, things like that. Many of these quote/unquote “puzzle sections” are pretty self explanatory, especially if you’ve already played through Years 1-4 (A game that actually did have one or more places that pretty much stumped my friends and I). I will forgive it though, because it’s trying to make puzzle sequences accessible for kids. I’m 23, and kids half my age should have very little problem progressing through this game. Even kids a third of my age who have their wits about them should be able to learn something.

But at the end of the day, the question of whether or not this game is too easy for older audiences or too hard for younger audience really turns out to be irrelevant, as the biggest selling point in these games is not so much the game play, but the laugh-out-loud cut scenes that humorously pantomime through scenes adapted straight from the films. While the story occasionally takes a few liberties for the sake of level construction, and there is definitely a bigger emphasis on the movies rather than the books (much to the dismay of all you whiny purists out there who won’t stop having a hissy fit that The Burrow never got burned down in The Half Blood Prince), it’s best to think of it as a high-end parody, because that’s what it is. A very well written and masterfully animated parody.

“I, LEGO Gary Oldman, challenge you, LEGO Jason Issacs, to a LEGO Duel!”

 

That’s not to say this game is not without its faults. Unfortunately, HP Yrs.5-7 carries on a few of the same technical faults as its predecessors. These LEGO games have a tendency to be occasionally glitchy. When my friends and I were playing, there was one instance when an NPC background character would wander around, then stop directly in front the doorway to the outside, preventing us from exiting to the next portion of the stage. We had to exit through another doorway in the room, then backtrack to see if he went away. In another instance, we had the game freeze up on us during a load screen. Sure, we turned it off and rebooted the game back up just fine, but it’s still tedious.

Those were just two that I experienced first hand. Now these aren’t necessarily glitches, but they are worth mentioning. Your Leviosa spell, which is pretty much your bread and butter when it comes to putting LEGO contraptions together, activating inanimate objects, and throwing blunt force attacks at enemies, has an auto-lock-on feature that in theory should work very easily, but when there is too much stuff on the screen, there is a tendency to not activate the proper target if your avatar is not looking and standing in a very specific direction. Another thing is that many of the other standard spells that all playable characters will have, (Reducto, Lumos, Patronus, Diffendo) all do pretty much the exact same thing (fire a different colored magic beam attack) unless they hit a very specific target that triggers their unique property. The only spell that looks somewhat different is the Aquamente spell, and it’s the one that seems to be the most imprecise when it comes to aiming.

Once all these different colored spells are learned, they are used in a new dueling mechanic. Wizards face off one-on-one and you must attack your opponent with the corresponding colored spell in order to counter them with a quick time event. It’s very simplistic, yet quite intuitive, and does challenge how quick you are to rotate though all your wheel of spells.

Quick Dumbledore! Repeatedly Press X Not to Die.

 

To wrap this up, I was surprisingly pleased with how much I enjoyed this game. The prequel, Yrs.1-4, was inherently about the lighter and fun portion of the Potter storyline, so of course it was perfectly fitting for the LEGO universe. Yrs. 5-7 on the other hand is much darker, with far more mature undertones, so I thought it would be a lot more difficult to translate. Turns out, there was nothing to worry about. Travelers Tales found what was fun in these films and road with them regardless of the tone, and the disjuncture of the LEGO backdrop with the dark story almost made it more hilarious.

Seeing as there is not much competition out there, I feel safe staying that LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7 is possibly the best Harry Potter video game available for the current generation of consoles. It pokes fun at the movies and a bit of the books while also capturing the heart and spirit that made you fall in love with the series in the first place. All of John Williams’ outstanding music scores are present and accounted for. The 2-player Co-op in this game is also done brilliantly. If you are looking to get a game for the Potter fanatic in your life this Christmas, you can’t do much better than this.

Well done, TT Games. Now go make LEGO Spider-Man. {Pranger’s Note: Or LEGO Dragon Ball Z!]

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