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Hands-on with LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4

You know, LEGO is pretty magical stuff, even without the help of JK Rowling’s rabble. Ever clipped a normal LEGO piece to the underside of a Duplo monstro-block? Magic. Ever connected a man’s legs to his own head? Magic. Ever completed a Technic model? No, us neither, but apparently some people somewhere have.

Connect everyone’s favourite blocks to the coat tails of the Harry Potter universe and something happens that’s a little bit more than just ‘magical’. The two combine to form a game that puts a little hocus-focus back into the staling LEGO template.

Above: Screens from the Wii version

Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Batman – all franchises that primarily revolve around duffing people up, and their LEGO game counterparts duly obliged. Nerdy old Harry Potter can’t keep pace with the Skywalkers and Indys of this world, which has necessitated a less action-orientated design for his LEGOised console debut. Far from holding the game back, it instead allows this latest block-based outing to slow things down and concentrate on capturing LEGO’s inventive qualities.

This is most strongly realised in the ‘magical building’ segments of the levels, where you’re presented with a heap o’ blocks that you can re-arrange as you see fit. Rarely do you have to fit together anything more complex than a set of stairs, but they’re your stairs. You built them. It’s your design, right down to that little sticky-out bit in the middle that everyone keeps tripping over. It’s a satisfying, long-overdue freedom.

On all other occasions, Harry (or Hermione, or Ron, or whomever of the vast roster of 140 playable characters you have on show) can bring up a selection wheel containing all the spells that they’ve learned at Hogwarts, which also serves as the central hub world. This is where things start to get a little familiar – in particular, Darth Vader will be neck-squeezing his lawyers when he sneaks a peak at the Wingardium Leviosa spell, which is the Force in all but name.

Harry and company can put it to better use than mere lawyer-choking, though. In keeping with the more puzzle-orientated design, they can use the levitation spell to yoink flat pieces of LEGO from their resting places and position them over gaps to form impromptu stepping stones. With two maniacs running around levitating everything in sight (LEGO Indy 2’s split-screen co-op is back), things soon get predictably hectic, with potential pathways flying around all over the shop.

And what of the vehicle sections? Well, there was only going to be one mode of transport in the frame – the humble broomstick. The interesting thing to bear in mind here is that each character has a different skill level – Harry can do tricks, spins and barrel rolls, like the jammy git he is, but poor old Hermione? Shove her backside onto the broom and it will jerk around the screen like a bronco with the proverbial ants in its pants.

Packed full of variety and chock-full (sorry, block-full) of the classic slapstick comedy on which Traveller’s Tales have built their name, it’s clear the developers have struck the commercial jackpot once more. But although the re-focus has given the LEGO formula a much-needed squirt of Febreze, it’s not the revolution some might have been hoping for.

Apr 20, 2010