Pros: Entertaining animations, beautiful recreation of Hogwarts.
Cons: Not much actual gameplay, too much wandering between missions.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 puts me in mind of those toys for babies in which you press a button that makes the toy say “the cow goes moooooo” or “the duck goes quack.” It takes no real skill to operate, and yet it wildly entertains its owner. Like that toy, the latest Harry Potter game doesn’t require a lot from the player, yet the game if so entertaining that one can just push its buttons all day, just to find out what the next animal sounds like.
Developed by: Traveler’s Tales
Published by: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
For ages: 10 and up
Release Date: Nov. 11, 2011
The Basics: Lighthearted Kid's Entertainment
Years 5-7 covers, unsurprisingly, the last three increasingly traumatic years of Harry’s stay at the Hogwarts School of Magic. The trauma, however, has been removed; the grim death scenes from the books are infused with slapstick humor and a suggestion that no one is really quite dead.
For those of you who have somehow managed to avoid the previous million or so Lego movie-based games, they all have the same basic structure. Animated Lego figures representing movie characters explore a world built entirely out of Legos. The games are a mix of easy combat, in which you fend attackers off with a button push and are resuscitated immediately if you lose your health points, and simple puzzles. I use the word “puzzles” loosely; you rarely have to solve anything; you simply break every breakable object and whenever you find a loose pile of Legos you press a button that form it into a useful device.
While lacking much in the way of challenge, the games always have entertaining cut scenes that parody the movies they’re based on, whimsical in-game animations, lots of collectibles and a general sense of action and excitement.
Presentation: Amusing Magic and an Impressive Magic School
For me, the first Lego Harry Potter game, Years 1-4, was a disappointment. The game began with the same simple puzzles but with no combat, and without the latter, the game felt static; I soon tired of it.
After attending a preview of the sequel, I was concerned I would feel the same way. Once again, the game looked to follow the same low-combat/brainless puzzles approach of the original.
It does, yet I found myself enjoying the sequel more, not because the gameplay was improved, but because the results of the various magic spells you cast are so entertaining. Zap a cooked turkey in the dining hall and it gets up to dance. Cast a spell on a table and it reconstructs itself into a Punch and Judy show. Hand an item to a fellow magician and he melts an ice wall by turning a coffee-cup-shaped sign above a diner into a real cup that pours down gallons of hot coffee. The number of imaginative little animations is truly impressive, and even though all you are really doing is pressing a button, you feel as though you are doing magic.
The game also does a terrific job of creating a living, breathing Hogwarts. It’s a big, multi-floor school with paintings that wink and smile and chat amongst themselves. Students throng the halls. Little Lego pigeons roost everywhere and fly up as you approach. There are secret passages, you can play with the tapestries, and sometimes you will find a student trapped in a closet or stuck to a giant spider web that you can free. Unfortunately the developers seemingly decided players would love walking endlessly through the school; there is no way to go directly to your next mission, you always have to walk up and down corridors, up and down stairs, in and out doors, to get to where the story takes up again.
Gameplay: Easy and Mainly Very Mellow
In terms of actual gameplay, Years 5-7 is somewhat anemic. You do have access to a few different spells, to create water or light or a big explosion, and you do have pets that can dig up the ground, but the game always tells you what to use where, so no thinking is required.
For a big chunk of the game there is little to no combat, but as things progress this changes. Duels, in which you fight an enemy one-one one by choosing the correct color-coded spell, are easy at first, but after a while the game throws quicker opponents at you. Later there’s a mildly tricky scene in which you must fight off hordes of the undead as Dumbledore drinks some nasty liquid.
By the time you’ve reached year 7, violence is unavoidable; it’s a tough year in any game. You are often confronted with Voldemorte’s minions, who can appear at will anywhere they like and the game has the same sort of excitement you can find in other Lego games, with battles and raging fires and a general sense of urgency.
That final year also is when the designers start mixing things up a bit. They have one sequence that takes place underwater, and another visually striking 2D sequence in which you must make your way past various monsters. It’s a shame there aren’t more such sequences earlier on, as they definitely spice things up.
Verdict: An Entertaining Kid's Game
In that last year at Hogwarts, Years 5-7 turns into, rather surprisingly, an actual game, with the simple challenges found in the best of the breed. It’s still pretty simple kids fare, but it does begin to feel more like a game and less like a toy.
Ultimately, Years 5-7 doesn’t seem to care whether it’s a toy or a game; it simply wants to entertain. And sometimes, learning the cow goes moo can be surprisingly entertaining.