LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 DS Review

Pocket sized magic

LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4 DS Review
31st July, 2010 By Ian Morris
Game Info // LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4
LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Boxart
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Players: 1
Subtitles: Full
Available On: DS
Genre: Platform (3D)

The LEGO games have quickly become something of a seal of quality for anyone looking for a game that their kids can enjoy - an appealing mix of family friendly humour, easily accessible gameplay, and some of the largest licenses in the world. Somewhat unique to the LEGO games so far, however, they've also managed to straddle the age gap almost perfectly, being a game that kids and adults, both young and young at heart can enjoy.

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Screenshot

There's much more reading this time round.

And while LEGO Harry Potter is still a game that's sure to appeal to kids and adults alike, it does seem a bit strange that they've chosen to change the winning LEGO formula, if only slightly. Whereas the previous games were designed with minimal restrictions for younger players, LEGO Harry Potter strangely includes a rather large amount of reading - at least, for a LEGO game. Rather than being inconsequential banter, the text is often essential to figuring out what you have to do next, too, with characters often giving you instructions ("Go here and find five of 'X'"), meaning that children who are just learning to read may struggle to play this on their own. Of course, a lot depends on your child and how well they can read, but it certainly seems that LEGO Harry Potter has been aimed at a slightly older audience.

The rest of the game, however, retains the same winning formula as the other LEGO titles - donning Harry's wizard's hat, you'll stroll through the corridors of Hogwarts, taking in the story of the first four Harry Potter books, learning spells, exploring the hidden passages, and basically following the story of the popular books and films in a simple platform adventure. With around fifty short (and therefore perfectly suited to a handheld), but entertaining adventuring, and item collecting levels, there's plenty to get your teeth into here, and each level has a lot of replay value.

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Screenshot

Jumping's been kept incredibly simple for this one, as you can't actually jump on your own - all you've got to do is find a cliff like this, and if you can leap it, an arrow appears on the other side of the gap. Touch the arrow and you'll jump automatically. No more pixel perfect jumping!

As you may imagine for a DS game, there's a lot of touch-screen use going on here, and the game's pretty much entirely controlled using the stylus. Touch the screen where you want your character to go, and he/she/it'll run there - or touch items that are highlighted with a green outline, and you'll be prompted to cast the spell. Spell casting is done by tracing the outline of a shape on screen - so, to set fire to something, you'll have to draw a picture of a flame; to cast Wingardum Leviosa, you'll have to draw an upwards curve. There's even a Cooking Mama-esque potion-making minigame in here, which sees you slicing and dicing ingredients, before stirring them into a bubbling concoction.

And with different characters knowing different spells, or having different abilities, you'll often have to switch between the various characters in order to complete the levels. With over 170 characters on offer, it's enough to have Potter fans bubbling at the mouth, and while this may seem quite daunting, the game does its best to keep things as simple as possible - when you come across an item you can cast a spell on, but you haven't got that character selected, all you need to do is touch the portrait that appears at the top of the screen, and you'll change automatically.

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Screenshot

Collect the studs, unlock things in the levels, and buy the extras at the shop.

But the greatest appeal of the LEGO games is the fact there's just so much to do. With upwards of fifty levels, each of which has eight or nine unlockables - whether it's solving a tricky puzzle in the game to find the illusive red bricks, or simply collecting enough studs (the game's currency - little LEGO studs scattered around the level) to earn a "True Wizard" rating, there's enough to keep you going here for many months.

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Screenshot

You start your adventure in Privet Drive, doing chores for the Dursleys.

Unfortunately, we did come across a few daft design decisions during our time with the game, but only once were they enough to properly leave us scratching our heads. At one point, we were completely stumped by a puzzle where we had to sneak past Snape. Even though we were using our invisibility cloak (which you need to put on for the slightly awkward stealth sections) it appeared there was nowhere for us to go - the only thing we could see to do was to try and walk past Snape, which always just ended in us clonking him on the way past, and being discovered. We eventually found out that there was a little green lantern sitting on a bookshelf that you could cast a spell on. The problem was, while the lantern was being highlighted, the thing green line they'd circled it with was pretty much exactly the same colour as the lantern itself, making it almost impossible to see you could interact with it. Some trial and error, and much tapping of the screen in frustration later, we eventually, almost accidentally, managed to trigger the spell. Whoops.

At the end of the day, though, LEGO Harry Potter is slightly different to the usual formula, yet its not really any better or worse for it - all it means is the game has a slightly higher entry requirement for younger children. For everyone else, however, this remains as instantly accessible as before - easy for anyone to pick up and play, great for kids who can read, with enough depth to keep adults coming back for ages. With those long summer holidays only just getting started, LEGO Harry Potter is the ideal way to keep your kids, or yourself occupied as the long days drag on.

Format Reviewed: Nintendo DS

StarStarStarStarEmpty star
It may have lost a bit of polish in the shrinking, but the handheld version of Potters adventures hasn't lost its charm.
  • +
    Loads of stuff to do, plenty to collect.
  • +
    The platforming's been simplified, without taking away the fun.
  • +
    Enough fan service here to keep Potter fans grinning throughout - especially the soundtrack.
  • -
    Occasionally a bit tricky to tell what you can use magic on.
  • -
    Some sections seem a bit complex for younger players.
  • -
    Infrequent jerkiness and slowdown irritate.
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