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

Harry Potter gets the LEGO treatment

Some of the most successful movie series of all time have already received the LEGO treatment, so it's no real surprise to see the immensely popular Harry Potter series given a blocky makeover. While LEGO Harry Potter doesn't stray too far from the trademark gameplay mechanics the series has featured in previous installments, there are at least enough new Harry Potter control influences to give it a unique twist for those who've already tackled some of the other LEGO releases along the way.

At its core, LEGO Harry Potter is basically a standard platforming adventure with a host of unique touchscreen puzzle elements tossed into the mix. In each segment, you'll be treated to a rather enjoyable LEGO movie sequence that sets up the current level and then you'll be given specific objectives to accomplish in order to complete the level. These can range from locating certain objects to carrying out special requests for various characters from the movies.

Moving around can be done using either the D-Pad or the touchscreen, with each method having its own strengths and weaknesses, so it will end up being more of a personal choice than anything else. The D-Pad tends to feel a bit more intuitive, but lacks some of the pinpoint directional precision that the stylus offers. The game will even toss you a bone from time to time and simply allow you to tap the areas where you wish to jump to, making some of the more challenging platforming sections a bit more manageable, albeit rather too much so in some cases. It also wouldn't be a Harry Potter game without getting the opportunity to wave your magic wand around, and the DS stylus manages this role quite well in allowing you to trace various shapes in order to cast specific spells.

As you complete levels in the game's Story Mode, you'll then be able to play the completed levels in Free Play mode, at which time you can go back and collect things you might have missed or not had access to the first time around. These items range from LEGO Studs that can be used to buy items in Fred and George's shop to Golden Wizard Hats that can unlock Spell-It Statues in the HUB. There's even a character customiser for players that like to mix and match character pieces in the game's Free Play mode. It's nice that the game allows you so much freedom in choosing how in-depth you approach the game, something that offers up a nice wide range of difficulty to appeal to players of varying ages and skill levels.

From a control standpoint, LEGO Harry Potter offers a unique gameplay experience by making use of the DS system's touchscreen functions, but sometimes relies a bit too heavily on them. There are just so many platforming sections of the game that tend to scream out for a more traditional set of D-Pad and button controls and end up feeling a bit too dumbed down for their own good due to their simplified stylus controls. Of course it's still an enjoyable gaming experience and one that features some extremely creative level designs, not to mention some very crafty puzzles to solve, so it all tends to even out in the end.

Since this is the DS system we're talking about, don't expect the full 3D treatment of the console releases. Instead, the game is presented in an isometric fashion that does a nice job of allowing the DS hardware to bring the enchanting world of Harry Potter to life using the system's 2D sprite capabilities. There's plenty of vibrancy and detail in the many areas of the game, most of which will immediately look familiar to fans of the first four movies. Even the LEGO character renditions are all very well designed and animated.

The musical score you'll be treated to throughout is actually extremely well done, though unfortunately it tends to blend into the background of the game so much that it can be difficult to fully hear and appreciate at times. Some of this can be attributed to the lack of volume found in many of the various musical tracks, whereas other times it can be further concealed due to the game's overly emphasised sound effects. It's certainly not a deal breaker, but definitely something to consider for gamers who put an increased importance on a game's musical presentation.

Conclusion

It's difficult to fault this DS rendition of LEGO Harry Potter as most areas of the game are executed quite well, aside from some slightly unresponsive touchscreen controls that can be a little tricky until you get a handle on them. While not quite as fulfilling an experience as that of its Wii counterpart, the game still provides a nice puzzle-infused platforming romp that should more than please fans of the Harry Potter series of books and movies.

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