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LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7

(Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment; US: 11 Nov 2011)

There is a fairly limited repertoire of terms that someone who has played any number of the LEGO (Insert Movie) games has at the ready when they begin to play a new one. “Whimsical”, “humorous”, “silly”, “fun”, “easy”, “great for children”, “imaginative”, and “collect-athon” come immediately to mind. In general, apart from a few specific sequences in a few specific games, these are almost passive experiences, hyperlinear things that encourage the player to wander from scene to scene to scene, solving a few rudimentary puzzles and fighting a few simple battles. There is likely a hub world to explore, and there is a ton of collecting to do, most of which is included as a means of showing the player just how much work Traveller’s Tales put into making the environment interactive in surprising and imaginative ways.


It’s practically a template-based game at this point, with a few tweaks that depend on the franchise being sent up. Anyone who plays the things would be hard pressed to call them poorly made games given the number of smiles that they tend to inspire over the course of a playthrough, but it’s getting harder and harder to be impressed by the novelty of LEGO given the almost rote gameplay that the games traffic in.


As such, perhaps the most shocking thing about LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 is just how beautiful it looks. Playing the Xbox 360 iteration of the game is as close as the LEGO games have come to appropriating the feeling of manipulating minifigs throughout the worlds and lands established by the books and films they are based on. This may well be due to LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7‘s expert blending of non-LEGO and LEGO environments. There are actually setpieces here that inspire awe, rather than the more typical awwwwws evoked by the LEGO transformations. There is a wonderful flight on a broom, there is some time spent on the back of a dragon, and there is a fight with Voldemort himself that is just lovely on a purely visual level.


This seems like a superficial observation when it comes to games that spend so much time doing such imaginative things, but the truth is that these lovely visual touches do much to “wake up” the player to what is being seen. The familiarity of the gameplay—especially for those coming straight from the previous LEGO Harry Potter game, can lead to a sort of blindness when it comes to the environments; the utter familiarity of much of Hogwarts, for example, turns its still-impressive architecture and design into something to take for granted. Offering tweaks to what the player has already seen alongside beautiful new set pieces opens the player up to being absorbed in the game in unexpected ways.


On a level beyond that of the visuals, the game’s collaborative nature also contributes to the beauty of the game. Like no LEGO game before it, LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 is a game meant to be played alongside friends and family. The decision to incorporate split screen into the multiplayer game is an inspired one—too often, the conflict between the player who wanted to progress and the player who wanted to explore had to be worked out with a begrudging concession from one or the other. Here, both are possible, save for the moments in which multiple players are necessary to solve a given puzzle, times when actual teamwork is necessitated.


Teamwork in which individuality is allowed to shine through is the best kind of teamwork. The teamwork that LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 allows for is the type of teamwork that will allow friends and relatives to show each other things that they never would have seen had they not been playing collaboratively. It makes LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 a richer game than any visuals could allow for.


It is understood, however, that not everybody has someone to play with at all times, and so Traveller’s Tales has improved the game’s AI allies as well. Rarely will you need to wait more than a half a second for one of your AI cohorts to do what you were hoping that they would do—they even go so far as to help with some of the puzzles in which it’s not immediately clear that two people are needed. Sure, this takes away from the player’s agency a bit, but those looking for a substantial challenge are probably looking at the wrong series. It’s comforting, the feeling that the AI knows what you’re thinking and can help when not even you know what you’re thinking.


In other words, it plays just as beautifully as it looks.


The return of the first LEGO Harry Potter‘s magic system and the additional tweaks given to the visuals and the collaborative sense of play make LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 the best LEGO movie game so far, not to mention the best Harry Potter game so far. Much like the books and movies themselves, the latter years of Harry Potter in LEGO form offer a deeper, richer, and more absorbing look into the universe that J.K. Rowling created, offering a beauty that even the most wholly original games find difficulty in attaining.

Mike Schiller is a software engineer in Buffalo, NY who enjoys filling the free time he finds with media of any sort -- music, movies, and lately, video games. Stepping into the role of PopMatters Multimedia editor in 2006 after having written music and game reviews for two years previous, he has renewed his passion for gaming to levels not seen since his fondly-remembered college days of ethernet-enabled dorm rooms and all-night Goldeneye marathons. His three children unconditionally approve of their father's most recent set of obsessions.


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