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Genre: Action
Min OS X: 10.6

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4
February 14, 2011 | Jon Carr

Click to enlarge

Harry Takes On Mandrakes

Mac OS X: 10.6 | CPU: 1.4 GHz Intel Processor | RAM: 1 GB | HD Space: 8 GB Graphics: 128 MB - The following cards are NOT supported: NVIDIA 7xxx series and Intel GMA series.

Two things most kids like are LEGO toys and Harry Potter novels. Heck, I used to love LEGO products growing up, and the Harry Potter books. How does this merging of toys and fiction hold up? Does LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 from Feral Interactive successfully capture the magic of the books and the fun of LEGO at the same time? Let's find out!

The story covers the first four books, each year signifying a book in terms of the timeline. So starting with Harry being delivered to the Dursely's all the way to the ending of the Tri-Wizard Tournament in year 4. Your experience of the game will certainly be greater if you can tell Draco from Dobby, but it's easily accessible nonetheless. The game follows the movies more than the books, but this isn't a negative. There are some diversions from the exact lore, but it's done with such charm and humor you won't mind. Since this is primarily a kid's game, any frightening or violent scenes have been toned down to be silly or amusing instead. There is also minimal combat, usually only with boss characters or particular instances like the troll in the bathroom for example. The developers pulled this off well, and it's just the right balance.

The world of Harry Potter and Hogwarts (the school) is a well crafted fiction, and as a fan I enjoyed running around seeing it recreated in LEGO fashion. The level of detail and atmosphere is strong whether you are running about the halls of Hogwarts or fending off creatures in the Forbidden Forest. There is a lot going on in any given scene and each area is filled with objects, characters or scenery you can play with.

Playing is straightforward. You always start in the Leaky Cauldron and you can replay a level with characters you've unlocked, or head off to Diagon Alley to buy new stuff. If you want to continue the story you just go to Hogwarts and start following the ghost of Nearly Headless Nick to the next mission.

The majority of your time will be spent gathering LEGO studs, solving puzzles, learning to cast new spells and doing platforming. But there are lots of other things to do like Quidditch and places to go along the story, such as Ron's house. The controls handle well, and it's great to see the unique magic system intact and put to good use. Even outside of puzzles or a boss fight, spells are fun. You can levitate other students, freeze people into block of ice on Diagon Alley, or just zap off your spells to see the fireworks. Those looking for a challenge won't find it here as the game is very forgiving, and never proves to be difficult. Most spells are auto-targeted and if you fall off a ledge or lose all your health you just fall to bits then appear back where you where, making platforming easy should you miss a jump. You do lose some LEGO studs upon "death" but it's not significant enough to be a penalty.

LEGO Harry Potter is very good at constantly rewarding you as you play, so every minute you feel like you've accomplished something. This isn't just a facade, as all the things you collect serve a purpose. The more LEGO bits you gather, the more spells and trinkets you can buy. The more Gold Bricks you find, the more bonus levels you unlock. While you can get away with simply plowing through the levels and story, it's a lot more fun to explore nooks and crannies, looking for secrets and House crests. Those "must find everything" types will eat their heart out as the game is bursting with collectibles and things to discover. Every level gives you a percentage completion so you will know when you've done everything.

Unless you have a gamepad, you will be playing on the keyboard. This is awkward and uncomfortable for any length of time, though the controls are simple enough. To be fair a gamepad is a recommended accessory, but if you are new to this style of game, it's unlikely you're going to have one. There is also a co-op mode, which can be done on the same keyboard for split-screen action. Since there are always 2 or 3 characters following Harry around or at least 2 characters on the screen at all times, this works rather well. A number of puzzles require two people to solve, and the AI does a good job if you don't have a second person to help. In a neat bit of tech, Feral also made the controllers hot-swappable. This means you could switch around a PS2, PS3 or Xbox controller as you like and it even updates the controls on the screen for you.


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