by Al Warwick
previewed on PC
On paper the LEGO franchise of games really shouldn't have worked. It was a massive gamble to challenge the ultra sensitive Star Wars fans and present their beloved saga in a cutesy, lite adventure with a sharp but undeniably kiddy persona. But it was an unbridled success across the board, eminently playable and crucially completely faithful to the movies. The arguably demeaning visuals did nothing to put off ardent fans and newcomers alike.
The follow ups Batman and Indiana Jones were risks too. Especially the former whose dark tones were a tough prospect to incarcerate in this new guise. But plenty of dark humor and (again) the playability of the darn thing ensured success.
The latest in the franchise, LEGO Harry Potter is the most tailor-made for the block treatment of all the movies chosen. Like Star Wars and to a certain extent Dr Jones, the appeal with the movies lies with an audience of all ages, but with a distinctive leaning towards the younger generation. The Potter films have that perfect mixture of epic (but not too epic) set pieces, battles and locales that allow this engine to function. A movie like Lord of the Rings for example just couldn't be fully realized within the confines of a LEGOverse.
Genuine Potter title
LEGO Harry Potter impresses straight away. The visuals are a huge step up from the first outing and significantly better than Indiana's already shiny coat and hat. This might not seem important for a game which chooses blocks as its staple graphic construct, but it adds a gravitas and a polish that is sorely needed when such other authenticities are sacrificed for humor and cutesy charm. Harry's hair shimmers and the magical effects – of which there are plenty – look truly impressive, whatever platform.
The soundtrack too is a marked improvement over the previous games as this time around, the rights to the films' official score have been acquired. Unlike, say the Batman installment, this entry relies upon and benefits from such a recognizable score. The game feels like a genuine Potter title and not just a gimmicky homage. LEGO Harry Potter looks to be the most conventional installment to the block adventures so far with progressive level design. For many, that C word is something of a danger, but here it seems to work: a standard level structure (playing through the movies in order) is a world away from the 'choose your mission' nature of the light-sabre'd original where things were all a bit too free roaming.
Magic and flying
So despite these changes, is this still a LEGO game through and through? The answer is unaccountably yes, as the staple elements all return. The elusive red bricks, and even tougher gold's are back, the latter of which can only be collected once mini-tasks are completed and quarters of the Hogwarts seal compiled.
Magic is integral to the game and Harry never loses his abilities once learnt. You can call on them at any time, unlike in Batman where you needed to find certain items/capes/suits to progress past certain points. This should help with the fluidity of thing which has all your usual suspects, training segments and boss fights all looking notably slick.
There is however, one addition to proceedings – you can fly in LEGO Harry Potter. It all looks pretty neat; slow at first as training takes over but things look sure to quicken. Some characters are better on the broom than others, and as with nearly all of today's platformers, the titular character isn't the hands down optimum choice.
As with the previous titles, Lego levelers can choose between on-screen characters at will, offering a wide choice (over 100 block men and block femmes) of playing styles and different weaknesses and strengths for each character be they hero or villain.
Even though LEGO Harry Potter looks rather good, these LEGO games are still an acquired taste of course. Certainly at times, the predecessors have shown signs of being just a little too kiddy in their gameplay. Despite its undeniable quirks and perks, this game doesn't look like breaking that mould. But given its core audience why should it?
So be warned in that respect, players looking for a more substantial challenge may not find it with this one, though sophistication, polish and fun look to be in abundance.
All this and the series' trademark humor and strong replayability value look to make this a magical entry into the strong if sugary LEGO catalogue.