Isn't it about time TT Games did something new with its LEGO franchise? How many others have gotten away with utilising near-identical gameplay formulas this many times? Not that it's a terribly bad thing – we'll happily trek through another humorous toy-sized tribute as the team rarely misfires. Delivering the same casual fun as its predecessors comes LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7, the third 3DS entry in under a year.
Like most LEGO games, this one relies heavily on environmental manipulation; when you see the visual prompt, you'll hold A to cast Wingardium Leviosa at your surrounding objects to transform and reshape them to suit your needs. You'll learn a number of other spells as well, though they're not so universal in use, much like those of LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4. Lumos scares away pesky plant life, for example, and Aguamenti sprays water to fill up containers and put out small fires. There are a number of other actions you can perform as well: you can create potions, Hermione can use certain panels to rummage through her bag and the Weasleys can open Wizard Wheezes boxes to find tools like wall-climbing sticky trainers.
Generally, the somewhat small stages will give you a task and then have you accomplish it by using these or other tricks, but by the end it grows somewhat tiresome as you'll return to the same or similar tasks time and time again. When you see a cauldron, you'll know to search for the displayed ingredients; when you see floating paw-prints, you'll know to get a pet out who can dig up whatever's buried; when you see an orange handle, you'll know that the components for a strength potion to help you pull it can't be far away. There's generally little lateral thinking required, puzzles instead requiring that you search for and respond to these visual cues. You'll watch huge, inventive transformations as you stand back, holding A while the game puts it all together for you. Many times you won't know why you're to do something until you've done it, and you might find yourself manipulating and firing spells at random objects at times. This also makes the gameplay a great fit for a less experienced or casual audience as it's so straightforward, yet so imaginative. Does clearing books blocking a staircase by breaking apart and rebuilding scenery into a giant pair of false teeth to chomp the clutter away sound fun? If so, this is the game for you.
The other major component is combat, which was never LEGO's strong suit. You can't die, you can only lose a number of studs, the series' currency, once you're drained of all your automatically regenerating hearts. While plenty of times, defeating enemies is not the main objective, there are about as many instances in which it is, an unfortunate turn from the relatively battle-light Years 1-4. However, this entry shakes things up by introducing the duel, which puts you in the ring with an opponent and shoot and defend against wand-generated blasts. Timing is key here, though it's simple and accessible, true to LEGO form – you just basically have to press Y or B at the right time. Anything is better than just casting at enemies beat-'em-up style as in some of the series' other titles, and it certainly helps break up the action.
Of course, a LEGO game wouldn't be a LEGO game without its signature humorous style, balancing just the right amount of slapstick and heart to make you laugh riotously without it ever coming at the expense of the source material. It's largely what makes these games such a joy to play, especially to Potter fans, who will get the most out of this. Like LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean before it, the developer has cut enough plot points out of the interstitial cutscenes to make the proceedings almost completely unintelligible; for example, one character's death is completely removed, making the following chapter's opening on his grave quite confusing. These are the most help you'll get figuring out what's going on story-wise, making the toys' signature dialogue-free mumblings and pantomimes more a curse than a blessing. Besides that, the console's enjoyable jaunts through Hogwart's are absent, a real shame since exploring its halls can prove a wonderful experience, right in line with the LEGO emphasis on having fun without necessarily moving toward "beating" anything.
To truly enjoy a LEGO game, especially when Wingardium Leviosa is involved, environmental manipulation isn't limited to puzzle-solving alone. Making objects break apart and transform into others nothing like what they were before is half the fun, and this is possible with almost every object you see. You're even able to pick someone up off the ground and have them levitate in the air if you like. You can please your inner completist by collecting every stud and special object you can in doing so – no action takes place without an explosion of these currencies, which go toward cheat code-esque modifiers and unlockable characters as whom you can venture back through again in Free Play to access new parts of stages and more goodies. This may not be a terribly long game, but even once Voldemort is no more, that elusive 100% will remain far from complete.
It's more than apparent now that the developers are content to limit the games' very fun two-player co-op mode to console iterations, which is a shame as playing with a friend is a truly enjoyable experience, the light, comical and casual gameplay making a perfect match for such a feature. We wait anxiously for the studio to début this on a handheld. Until then, you can get by with a meagre StreetPass mode that lets you choose a series of attacks and defences with which to engage passersby in battle.
Handheld Harry is a pretty game with some well-compressed cutscenes, though it won't take your breath away or dazzle you with inventive 3D effects. The score is a real treat as well, with some nice tracks from the films' captivating and memorable soundtracks.
Years 5-7 captures the type of fun we've come to expect of LEGO fare, pleasing us as well as its predecessors have but with few surprises or innovations. Its reduced scope can make events feel like disconnected missions, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, though the overall similarity from puzzle to puzzle and their often minimal interactivity can make things feel a bit repetitive. It's still enjoyable and entertaining, its humorous style and accessible gameplay perfect for casual and less experienced gamers. It may not put a spell on you, then, but there's still some magic to it.