IT SEEMS THAT THE LEGO SERIES is the videogame equivalent of Pixar fi lms; they’re aimed at kids, but there’s enough mature humour between the lines to keep the grownups interested. From LEGO Star Wars through LEGO Batman and LEGO Indiana Jones, these games are simple enough to pick up and play, boast absolutely charming visuals and keep the action suitably G-rated. The LEGO series also presents the only scenario in which I’d be caught dead playing a Harry Potter game.
Perhaps that’s the genius of the LEGO titles; no matter which way you look at them, they broaden the appeal of already popular franchises in one way or another. In the case of the earlier titles – Star Wars, Batman, Indy et al – it allowed kids to be included in what were otherwise mature franchises. In the case of Potter, it’s a game that more obsessive or hardcore gamers can play with their kids and still have a great deal of fun in the process.
If you’ve played any of the previous LEGO titles, you’ll have a fair idea of what to expect here: you guide Harry and other support characters – either alone or with a friend via drop-in, drop-out co-op – through various 3D environments. You’re tasked with solving puzzles in order to progress the story, collecting LEGO studs all the while (some of which are deviously hidden). Many of the puzzles require you to reassemble LEGO objects that will allow you to access new areas in one way or another; it can be as simple as waving Harry’s magic wand, or require the manual reassembly of, say, a LEGO suit of armour in a piecemeal fashion (torso onto legs, then each individual arm, then the head). While puzzle-solving and object reassembly are not new to LEGO games, LEGO Harry Potter brings its own unique activities such as broom riding and the game of Quidditch into the mix.
Fairly early on in the game you’re given virtually free reign of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Early levels take place in the form of “classes”, with Harry and the other characters often learning new spells and abilities as the game progresses. These new spells – the names of which will instantly mean more to Potter fans than they do to me – will typically allow you to reach previously inaccessible areas of Hogwarts. You’ll see seemingly out-of-reach LEGO studs littered around Hogwarts in the early stages of the game; once you learn the appropriate spell, all will become clear as to how you can fi nally snag them. There’s a large emphasis on exploration and item collection in LEGO Harry Potter, and there are plenty of studs and golden bricks to be found.
Harry is always the central protagonist, and he’s always accompanied by a secondary character (be it Dumbledore, Ron Weasley, Hermione or otherwise). In single-player mode they’ll be controlled by the AI, but you’ll need to switch between characters at certain times in order to make use of their unique abilities; for instance, Ron Weasley can produce his pet rat to crawl through small tubes to access out-of-reach objects or switches, while Hermione can use books to solve certain puzzles. Best of all, another player can pick up a second controller at any time and assume control of the AI-controlled character. If the second player has to leave for whatever reason, the AI will resume control. Unfortunately there’s no online multiplayer option, and while it’s not a huge deal, it would be nice to have it.
My unfamiliarity with Harry Potter has also revealed another of the strengths of the LEGO franchise that I never picked up in the other offerings: its ability to relay a story without any of the characters uttering a word. The story is delivered visually for the most part, with sound effects and grunts from the various characters the only aural cues. Nevertheless, I was soon brought up to speed with Harry Potter’s origins and how he ended up at Hogwarts, who was friendly and who would go on to become Harry’s rivals. Really, it’s quite impressive, not to mention that it just adds to the whole cutesy charm of the LEGO series.
In all honesty, LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 struggles to hold my attention for too long. However, I can totally understand the appeal to kids, Harry Potter fans and, of course, the inevitable subset of those two groups. I can also understand the appeal to gamer parents as a comfortable compromise when it comes to gaming with their children; something R-rated like Gears of War 2 is (obviously) out of the question, and something like Kung Fu Panda is likely to bore adult gamers to tears. LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4, on the other hand, is just the ticket; it’s inoffensive, easy enough for kids to pick up and play, has drop-in, drop-out co-op and enough humour and charm to keep older gamers interested.
In any case, it appears that LEGO titles are taking over, with LEGO adaptations emerging for a growing number of blockbuster pop-culture IPs. I wonder if it’s just a matter of time before game developers cut straight to the chase and all games become LEGO titles. I can just see ‘LEGO Mortal Kombat’ now…