Since the first Lego game, Lego Star Wars, I've always bought – and as a result recorded – every entry in the brick-based franchise. The Lego Star Wars series was great, near perfect in fact. They kept true to the story of Star Wars while injecting Traveller's Tales signature brand of humor into the cutscenes. And yet, they still mixed hints of challenge into the ridiculously fun lightsaber duels. Lego Indiana Jones merely rode the success of its counterparts as somewhat of a disappointment, being incredibly easy to 100% and extremely derivative in its approach to combat. Lego Batman brought the franchise back to its former glory before Traveller's Tales began their downfall.
Indiana Jones II released as an insult to all things Lego. Terrible organization, glitches, and shoddy all-around quality, besmirched the Lego name. Harry Potter: Years 1-4 didn't help the situation. With the launch of Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean, Traveller's Tales finally seemed to be getting their act together.
With the release of Harry Potter: Years 5-7, the developers do their best to emulate the Harry Potter storyline. The game is much less accurate than the movies, and the movies are much less accurate than the books, but the main idea of the movies is still conveyed: stop Voldemort. If you watched the films, how Traveller's Tales uses the licensed music and the way they orchestrate the cutscenes actually makes Years 5-7 feel a little epic, even if it's just a Lego game. The narrative is hardly what I'd call perfect, but the humorously random events retain the charm of exploring a school for young witches and wizards.
As usual, Ron cowers behind Harry.
In every Lego tie-in, your goal involves solving rudimentary puzzles with the different abilities (in this case, spells) you're given so you can advance the pantomimed narrative. A huge part of the fun lies in the fluidity of the controls and aiming. Harry Potter: Years 5-7 sports the same easy to figure out, easy to remember, and easy to use control scheme (this is a series for children after all), but there are times when you won't be able to piece together the fish because you keep trying to light the candle hanging above the yellow duck. Platforming elements also rear their head, which can be especially clunky, leaving me to question how little focus testing Traveller's Tales spent trying to make these sequences as manageable as possible.
To access separate levels and sub-levels, you must run through Hogwarts and its adjacent areas while following a ghost on your first playthrough. At first, this mechanic sounds intriguing, but it eventually grows real tedious and boring. You are often traversing the exact same paths to reach a zone on the opposite side of Hogwarts, which sometimes takes five minutes thanks to the plentiful loading screens. I personally hate the way this forced exploration and wish they stuck with the level selection from previous Lego games. This also makes collectible hunting overly difficult and incredibly annoying once you finish the game and hate yourself for it, if you manage to get that far.
For a while, Lego titles appeared to be considerably fast-paced, where every objective needed doing instantly. This hardly gave you time to figure out what was happening, and ruined the experience as a result. Thankfully, Harry Potter: Years 5-7 is slower than previous Lego games in terms of building and digging animations, the expanse of the levels themselves, and duration of the cutscenes. This forces you to pay more attention to the atmosphere and gives you a chance to soak in more of the stud-laden environments. Although technically just a kids game with little depth, these factors help more than you would imagine.
Even in Lego form, Umbridge is still a vile, heinous woman.
Being more family oriented, cooperation is a major component of the Lego series, but Years 5-7 lacks online support, meaning you and a friend will be playing this iteration on the same console only. The co-op convinced me to buy the Lego games in the first place so my brother and I could smash bricks together. This game sports drop-in/drop-out co-op where you can join and leave wherever and whenever without disrupting the person who wants to keep progressing. You also receive unlimited lives and respawn where you died, maintaining the casual, friendly experience the franchise is known for.
Previous LEGO games didn't have a split-screen feature, meaning you were forced to share the same screen. After Lego Indiana Jones II, all Lego games contain this dynamic split-screen that merges when you're close and splits once you part ways. Millions of people loved this, but my brother and I differ from the masses. TV size isn't the concern here. The dividing line constantly shifts across the screen, distorting the players' perspectives between vertical, diagonal, or horizontal splits, making for a flustering experience when trying to see what you're doing. After a while, we ended up staying together so we could stay on the same screen.
Contrary to its hypnotizing aesthetic, you do not buy a Lego game for its graphics. Still, compared to last generation's releases, these visuals show off an impressive amount of detail, from the ornate dormitories of Gryffindor tower to the damp recesses of Slytherin's dungeons. Traveller's Tales even excels in producing life-like animations from normally stationary characters.
And yet, the sound of Harry Potter: Years 5-7 warrants the most praise. For a Lego game, it sounds like you would imagine. Bricks snap into place with a faint click, the spells and grunts clearly emphasize their point, and the cauldrons bubbling, incessant children laughing, and snakes hissing are all crisp and clear. The use of licensed music is another excellent touch, evoking the same feeling of watching the films. Several annoying selections make no sense in their context, but overall, the soundtrack contributes to more enjoyable cutscenes, boss fights, and a better experience altogether.
Oh Ron, that's not what frying pans are for.
To me, this game had a fair amount to live up to after a disappointing first foray into the Harry Potter universe and the bug-riddled journeys of Captain Jack Sparrow. Harry Potter: Years 5-7 atones for many of its predecessors sins thanks to the absence of glitches and upgrades to the visuals, physics, and audio. However, the disorganization of Hogwarts and levels bring it down. Running from level to level should take twenty seconds, not five minutes. Having to memorize the entirety of Hogwarts and adjacent areas is an incredible pain for collectible hunting. Once you beat the game, you gain a level select menu from inside the Leaky Cauldron, but it should have been like that from the beginning.
Co-op is a big part of Lego genre, since these are family games. If you play with somebody you don’t want to maim or seriously injure, then spending a couple of hour magic-ing about the environments can be a good source of entertainment, no matter how old you are. If you play solo, expect a dramatically different definition of "fun".
If you've never played a Lego game before, I recommend purchasing Lego Star Wars II or Lego Batman first. If Harry Potter screams excitement over Jedi or comic book heroes, wait until this one's cheap. It's fun, it's hilarious, it's much better than most recently released Lego games, but it ends up falling to needless repetition and boredom after darting through the same Hogwarts hallway for for the fifteenth time.
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Release Date: November 18, 2011
Number of Players: 1-2 (Cooperative)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PSP, PlayStation Vita, PC, Nintendo DS, 3DS, Wii