How many LEGO games are there? Whatever the number, the folks at Travellerâ€™s Tales must be a well-oiled machine by now â€” and it certainly shows in LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7. Itâ€™s a polished experience crafted by people who are well into their groove, something thatâ€™s apparent in both the positive and negative aspects of the game.
If youâ€™ve played any of the previous LEGO games, you know the score: you guide Harry, Ron, and Hermione and a couple of hundred unlockable characters through the later movies in the series, represented by cute cutscenes, an explorable Hogwarts, a series of discreet levels, and an oodleplex of hidden treasure.
In fact, if youâ€™ve played through the first LEGO Harry Potter game, itâ€™s best to think of this one as a direct continuation rather than a full-blown sequel. While there are a number of improvements, a lot remains the same, from the majority of the schoolâ€™s layout to the spells available to use.
The early game also assumes some prior knowledge on the part of the player â€” while it makes an attempt at easing you in, youâ€™ll quickly have access to multiple spells, abilities, and puzzle situations that arenâ€™t for LEGO newbies. I largely see that as a positive â€” after all, what are you doing playing Years 5-7 if you havenâ€™t played Years 1-4 first?
So what is new? Well, the levels obviously depict scenes from the final movies, which means in between filler content like feeding those skeleton horse things, you get to partake in the really-quite-gripping final defence of Hogwarts.
Helping matters out is a new dueling system. At certain times, youâ€™ll enter a one-on-one fight against an opponent that forces you to read tells, cast the correct spell, and attempt to out-maneuver your enemy. While it drags a bit towards the end, itâ€™s still the best implementation of combat Iâ€™ve seen in any LEGO game to date.
One thing Iâ€™m not keen on is the over-reliance on opaque chains of events that get passed off as puzzles. Say you need a key to get through a locked door. Itâ€™s very rarely clear where that key might be, so your only recourse is to smash absolutely everything in sight, wave your wand at anything that glows purple, and hope that the subsequent series of events results in the item youâ€™re after.
Itâ€™s not terribly satisfying, because you canâ€™t figure things out for yourself â€” how was I supposed to know that some random items would form a net catcher, that in turn would automatically catch a paper airplane flying above that the camera refused to show me? It simply encourages mindless destruction of everything around you, which - to me - misses the point of LEGO somewhat.
As always, though, that destruction is what will thrill the completionists and their kids. There is a staggering amount of stuff to unlock, collect, hunt for, and assemble in this game. For someone like me, itâ€™s overwhelming and something to try and ignore. For so many others I know, including a number of friends, itâ€™s catnip.
Before buying this game â€” or indeed any LEGO game â€” you should ask yourself how much time youâ€™re prepared to sink into it. Finding all the optional treasures is thoroughly time-consuming, so make sure youâ€™re up to it.
Even if you just breeze through the main plot as quickly as possible, youâ€™ll find â€” as ever â€” an extremely solid platform adventure game. With the various spells, abilities, environmental puzzles and generally tight controls, youâ€™ll always have something new to do.
The graphics and sound are predictably polished, and should delight any Harry Potter fan with their faithfulness to the moviesâ€¦ albeit in block form. On the other hand, if youâ€™re not extremely familiar with the movies, then the cutscenes arenâ€™t going to make much sense. The developers tried, but getting across a lot of dialogue when you donâ€™t use dialogue yourself is difficult and winds up being convoluted. For whatever reason, it worked well in the Star Wars games, but not so much here.
At the end of the day, ask yourself this: have you played lots of LEGO games before? If you have, then youâ€™ll find a ton of familiar elements here. Itâ€™s a very important thing to be aware of: having played basically all of them, Iâ€™m getting a bit tired of the conventions and crutches found here.
But if youâ€™re a Harry Potter fan and loved the first game, then thereâ€™s no reason at all not to pick up its sequel. Itâ€™s just as good, just as tight, and filled with as much love for the books and movies.