Traveller's Tales have managed to sit themselves into a fantastic gaming niche, with a charming and old favourite childhood product - Lego. There's nothing that Lego can't make better, and it can be said that the Lego video games are amongst some of the best iterations of popular intellectual property franchises around. They have captured the fantasy science fiction of George Lucas' Star Wars, they have delved into forgotten tombs with Indiana Jones, soared the heights of Gotham with Lego Batman and braved the dark waters of Pirates of the Caribbean, they have also trodden the mystical halls of Hogwarts at least once before.
How does it play?
Harry Potter has not enjoyed great movie to game outings, the last efforts by EA have been less than successful and less than enjoyable. Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 on the other hand was a tongue-in-cheek surprisingly faithful and extremely humorous/addictive take on Harry Potter that left the big boys stranded in the dust. Now it is the turn of Years 5-7 to chronicle the ever-growing wizard's journey to a final confrontation with 'He Who Must Not Be Named' and what a journey it is.
Years 5-7, takes what TT learned from Harry Potter 1-4 and polishes it to a fine shine. The gameplay is spot on with very little in the way of control issues. It is possible to finish the story in 20 or so hours, but you'll be left with bonus levels to find, extra characters to unlock and a ton of secrets to unearth that can't be found without first of all making it through to the end of the game. The usual mix of action and puzzles abounds with the early films having very little in the way of direct confrontations, instead they opt for level puzzles and lessons based on Harry's' magical spells.
These puzzles are quite fiendish in some cases and they require the use of several spells from Harry's repertoire. All handily selectable either with the use of the triggers or a handy-dandy spell select wheel that makes grabbing the right magical charm a doddle. A good many of the Harry Potter magical spells are used in the game, with the Patronus Charm used to drive off Dementors and the like.
There is also a greater emphasis on using magic to build objects in the game, with numerous objects needing to be destroyed, dug up by a pet or assembled beforehand until the puzzle is solved. We're also being vague about the puzzle side of the game since we don't want to spoil a single one. One of the newest features to the game is duelling where you can now enter a wizard battle with an opponent, using the same coloured spell as is shown on your GUI and on their side of the duelling ring. Match and cast the right spell, you enter into a spell lock where you have to tap the right button to force the feedback towards your opponent. Do this a few times correctly and you'll win.
Swapping characters remains in the game and that hasn't changed much at all through the Lego games, save for Pirates that is. In this case, we're back to tapping Y to swap to the closest character and this can cause a few problems where you need to switch quickly. It's never been the most accurate system. Saves remain the same, automatically updating as you move through Hogwarts and enjoy the various puzzles within.
Nearly Headless Nick is back to guide you through the vast corridors and areas of the school, leaving a trail of ghostly studs that provide extra income if you can get the right unlock to let you pick them up. This method of using the ghost of a character as a guide means that the game can prod you in the right direction even if you decide to go off and explore, a vital thing if you want to get 100% Completion on the game or unlock every character or find every secret.
There is very little that has changed from the core gameplay here, including potion making from the first game so fans of the first game and other Lego games will feel right at home.
How does it look?
Over the years that TT has been producing the Lego games, they have begun to refine their graphics engine quite a lot. Years 5-7 is one of the best looking of the games to date with a great mix of colourful Lego objects and proper 3d backgrounds that evoke the nature of Hogwarts nicely. The juxtaposition of the Lego objects and the normal backgrounds means that it is easy to see the correct thing you can interact with and you don't spend five hours trying to destroy something in the background that might not be susceptible to a spell.
Hogwarts is crafted perfectly and changes over time, especially in Year 7 as the greater darkness theme runs through the books/movies and the game. There are other iconic locations from the movies, such as Hogsmeade and the Ministry of Magic to name but a couple and they are all brought to life with a Lego twist that makes them charming.
That is also a good way to describe the visual and animation feel to the game: charming.
Years 5-7 comes packed with great audio, lots of it spot effects and effects from spells and other sources. There's a great sense of fun throughout the audio palette of the game and as per usual the voices are just the odd grunts and various quibbles from the characters, voice work for the Lego games must be some of the easiest paid work going in the game industry.
All of the Potter themes are there and the music is haunting, familiar and of course picked to match the on-screen action/puzzling/events perfectly.
Playing with a friend?
Split-screen returns and is similar to that found in Lego Indiana Jones 2. It works well enough and the game is a lot of fun with a second player.
Getting it right
This is the second Harry Potter Lego game and it pushes all the right buttons, it's fun, it's addictive and it's cleverly designed. It provides hours and hours of entertainment and most of all gets the Potterverse correct. It's much better than the direct movie tie-in games and provides far more entertainment. There's a lot of Potter lore here if you're willing to go look for it and some great tongue-in-cheek moments.
It's a perfect game for adults, kids and big adult kids. Seriously, if you're a Harry Potter fan just go for the Lego games, this is one not to miss.