You’ll run back and forth along the same corridors and cloisters more times than on a speedrun of Super Metroid, but it never really feels like a chore, as the details change, and you usually have a new spell in tow. The main hub of the game is actually The Leaky Cauldron and the surrounding Diagon Alley, although the game never forces you to go back there – you can simply continue to the next stage of the game. When you do choose to explore it, you’ll find a number of shops all too eager to trade your studs for additional content.
The major difference from previous LEGO games is the addition of magic, and the lack of any stock enemies like Star Wars’ stormtroopers or Batman’s villainous henchmen. You will fight a few bugs and plenty of bosses along the way, but there’s a bigger focus on puzzle solving – using magic to repair bridges, brew potions or even play the xylophone for a music-loving dragon. The pairing of an advanced physics system with Wingardium Leviosa was always going to be a good one, and it pays off with some not-too-challenging and occasionally pretty clever stuff.
As expected, much of the game involves using the right spell at the right time. For instance, Lumos scares plants away, while the Patronus charm turns Dementors into piles of bones. Some characters have unique strengths or abilities, too – Ron can deploy his pet rat Scabbers to scamper through pipes, while Gringotts goblin Griphook can open locks with his massive shiny key.
We usually approve whenever a game borrows elements from Metroid, but it can get quite tiresome constantly switching between characters and spells -more so when you end up doing it multiple times within the same room. This will be less of an issue in co-op, but in single-player the only time your partner helps out is during puzzle sequences – most of the time they just stand there, shuffling their feet and trying their best not to get in your way. Hermione spent most of her time during one of our treks to the Forbidden Forest doing the backstroke in a waterlogged marsh. Endearing, certainly, but muggins here was left gathering yet more potion ingredients to make yet another Popeye-like strength potion.
One potentially annoying problem with the PC version: there’s no keyboard and mouse support, so unless you have a gamepad, you’ll have a horrible time trying to control Harry and friends. Even with a gamepad, broom control is a bit crappy, even if it’s barely used, while the spell-targeting system can’t decide whether to be helpful or useless - usually settling on an unhappy medium. The traditional fixed perspective can make platforming tricky too. We forgave these minor faults, however, and so will you if you’ve forgiven Emma Watson’s over-emotional eyebrows or the decline of the later Potter books. It’s taken its sweet time to get here, but LEGO Harry Potter is the first game to really do justice to the wizarding world, even if it does achieve this while flushing Harry’s head down the toilet.
Its characters may be made of plastic, and its plot may be conveyed by shrugs and/or grunts, but this is the best Potter game yet. Thanks to a licence that truly gels with the playful creation and destruction so vital to the enduring construction toys, it’s probably the best LEGO game too.
Jul 27, 2010