The Big Picture
Covering the major events found in the books and films of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the game presents its own unique twist to this famous fantasy series. That is because everything is constructed out of Lego blocks. From the Basilisk serpent and the giant Troll, to Harry Potter and Professor Dumbledore, to flying broomsticks and the Knight Bus, all persons, things and scenery are made out of Lego bricks. Since Lego characters don't talk, the story line is presented in pantomime. These Lego characters all have "attitude" and frequently mug to the audience, purposely overact, and try to milk their scenes for all possible laughs.
How to Play
The game starts out on Privet Drive, with Hagrid delivering the infant Harry Potter to the Dursley family and ends with the Tri-Wizard tournament at the end of Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The game presents much of the storyline through video sequences acted out by the Lego look-alike characters. While the serious events of the books are presented, many of the videos have a Lego-ish humor super-imposed onto the events. For example, the delivery of baby Harry is presented as Hagrid reaching into his coat to deliver a magic trick. At first he draws out a bunch of flowers, looks chagrinned and then pulls out baby Harry. Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall exchange looks and smirk.
In between these major video-sequenced events, you play as Harry Potter and other characters that populate this world. There are 170 playable characters including Harry's best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. As Harry, you attend classes; learn, practice and cast magic spells; mix potions; fly on broomsticks; complete tasks; and hunt for magical secrets throughout Hogwarts and beyond. Most of these actions allow you to earn some Lego studs, the currency in this world.
As you learn more magical spells, you can use this magic to transform your environments. If you find a pile of shiny, jiggling Lego bricks, you can cast a spell to build them into something useful. At times, large Lego bricks will be strewn around a room. If you find and then follow the blueprint hung on a wall, it will provide you the means to explore a new unreachable area. Likewise, large cauldrons can be used to create potions to transform you into something you aren't, but need to be.
Many of the challenges are environmental puzzles. In one, you find fellow classmates trapped dangling high from giant chandeliers. To get them down, you have to cast magic spells to lift objects or put together other Lego characters who can help you to trigger levers that will swing the chandeliers down to the ground. Some characters, like Ron, have pets that can be released into hard-to-reach places to help you complete tasks. Understanding each character's magical abilities and then switching to them as needed is one of the key play mechanics.
In addition to playing through this adventure, the game provides you with Free Play and Replay modes. There are so many hidden secrets that players can spend hours exploring the Hogwarts' 3D environment. By collecting items, you will find new playable characters, abilities and new magic spells. You can also purchase many of these in the Diagon Alley stores using Lego studs.
The game also offers a special Lego building area found deep inside Gringott's Bank. By opening special vault doors, you will find a portkey that transports you to these building levels.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is a deep, funny and very satisfying game. While you feel as if you are in a vast world, you never get overwhelmed, because the game constantly provides you clues of how to proceed, either by arrows or by having a ghost show you a path. Those clues don't ruin the game experience because you do have to puzzle through a lot. The environments are so interactive that it is fun to try crazy things. With unlimited lives, you aren't afraid to fire a spell at a teacher or take on the bellowing troll.
The console versions offer a two-player experience in which a second player can drop-in or drop-out. This makes it the perfect game for family members to play together. Since this Lego version of the story is less scary, if your kids know their Harry Potter, they will enjoy this game. Sure to be one of the best games this year, don't miss this magical experience.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.