Review: LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (DS)

Almost as exciting as a lecture from Professor Binns.

By Joshua A. Johnston. Posted 07/16/2010 12:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Respectable fan service to first four Pottter books; LEGO mechanics are timeless
Poison Mushroom for...
The relative lack of combat makes the game rather dull; spells aren't as satisfying as they should be; great musical score hard to hear

The LEGO video game series seems like a can’t-lose formula: almost every entry has been great or at least good.  LEGO Star Wars was nothing short of epic, especially when released as LEGO Star Wars: The Complete SagaLEGO Indiana Jones and LEGO Batman were cool, and even LEGO Rock Band has been a hit.  Now we’ve got LEGO Harry Potter, which would also seem to be a can’t-miss; after all, it’s a combination of LEGOs and one of the finest storylines ever penned.  Unfortunately, it is a miss, and the fault seems to lie squarely on the subject matter, which proves a rather dull subject for the LEGO treatment.

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 for DS is an isometric action adventure game that follows Harry through the first four books in the series: The Sorcerer’s Stone, The Chamber of Secrets, The Prisoner of Azkaban, and The Goblet of Fire.  LEGO games are purely for those familiar with the source material, and Harry Potter is no different, so the game will be unintelligible outside of having read the books and/or seeing the movies. 

Unlike previous LEGO games, this one uses a quest-based approach for each level.  Players speak to NPCs, take on quests, and complete those quests to eventually finish the level and move on.   The rest of the formula, though, is familiar territory: play through story mode and free play mode, collect LEGO bits and extras, and unlock collectibles back in the hub world — which in this case is the fabled Room of Requirement.  Capping things off are scattered CG sequences that highlight major moments from the books.

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1 - 4 (DS) Screenshot LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1 - 4 (DS) Screenshot

The fundamentals of the game work well enough.  The graphics are as clean as DS can make them, and the CG, while a little grainy, show the same good humor that the LEGO series has demonstrated in other franchises.  The music is straight out of John Williams’ movie score and is excellent as usual, although it’s also a bit quiet on DS, even at the loudest setting.  Most of the game is handled via the stylus and it’s a pretty responsive setup.  Walking, too, is handled by the stylus, although the d-pad can also be used.  Spells aren’t always the easiest to pull off but the use of the stylus to make Okami-style motions seems to fit the subject matter.  One minor gripe is that the A/B/X/Y buttons aren’t used, even for movement, so those looking for button alternatives or left-handed play will have to make due.

The first few Harry Potter books are pretty light on combat, and it seems the developers opted to stay faithful to the source material.  As a result, LEGO Harry Potter is light on combat and heavy on puzzles, fetch quests, and casting spells on inanimate objects.  Those who cut their teeth on previous LEGO games are liable to find this rather dull.  The puzzles themselves aren’t terribly hard — this is a kid’s game, after all — and the fetch quests aren’t either, so there isn’t much of a sense of accomplishment as there might be in other games.  In short, the game feels like busywork.

Even where there is combat, it doesn’t work as well as, say, the Force in the Star Wars games.  The primary attack spell is Reducto, but it’s slow to fire and requires a slashing motion to pull off.  Stupefy is also available but also a bit slow.  Of course, LEGO Harry Potter,  like previous LEGO games, punishes death with little more than a loss of a few bits, so these shortcomings aren’t fatal, merely irritating. 

One other point on co-op: well, there isn’t any.  Players can swap among characters, some of whom have unique abilities, but unlike the console version it’s a solo affair only. 

Overall, LEGO Harry Potter for DS is a perfectly serviceable game.  It’s reasonably polished and gives suitable fan service to Rowling’s masterpiece.  It’s also a game that isn’t quite as engrossing as other LEGO treatments, in part because it’s not as action-packed.  Some of this may be an inevitable product of the source material and it may also be a matter of taste; players who enjoy more of an exploration- and puzzle-based game may find this to be a good treatment.  Those wishing for the swashbuckling of Jedi, superheroes, or archaeologists gone by may not latch on to this one so readily.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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