LEGO Harry Potter Preview
It's starting to get to the point that any big kid-friendly franchise might just wind up in the hands of TT Games for a LEGO makeover video game. Some are a little sick of it by now, and many felt that LEGO Rock Band played a significant part in people getting sick of all the music games released in 2009. But it's difficult to fault TT specifically, as they are able to continually find great ways to combine LEGO and fun franchises in new ways. Their latest effort is in the upcoming LEGO Harry Potter, which if you think about it for a minute, was pretty much just the next logical choice for their signature crossover game series.
I've tried a couple of the Harry Potter games before, and let's face it: they were the bare minimum effort, made by half-decent-at-best studios, rushed out the door just in time for a simultaneous release alongside a movie. But this time, it's TT Games, and they're not screwing around. The first four movies are covered here in the game, so generally we see really just the best moments and the most LEGO-izable visuals from the films, but the effect works great.
From the little puzzles and secrets in Diagon Alley to the different abilities the characters have (early on, Harry struggles with magic but is good on a broom, while Hermione is pretty much the opposite), this game simply makes sense. Controlling tons of different characters is always fun in these LEGO crossover games, and that's a definite big part of this, but so much of the charm of J.K. Rowling's universe lends itself to the process so perfectly. In some levels, you'll use your wand and a Wingardium Leviosa spell to manually move LEGO blocks to build a staircase (and yes, on the Wii you'll get to aim the remote), and others you'll get platforming puzzles that use Rowling's lighthearted take on magic in order to find a way up to a high platform. And in all of this, the drop in/out cooperative play is smooth as butter, allowing a second player to take control of one of the characters at any time for as long as he or she cares to.
LEGO Harry Potter includes the first book's fantastic introduction and a very charming rendition of Hogwart's, so it seems like a pretty solid structure for a game to have the school be your main hub for the full game. It takes place entirely in chronological order with new rooms and areas of the school opening as you learn spells and become more powerful, and while characters can ride brooms in some sections, there isn't quite a full Quidditch match going on for you to participate in. There will be a ton of secrets to find by way of experimenting with spells and the thousands of objects in the world, and with the 200+ gold bricks that can be found will unlock all kinds of hidden content - including new playable characters.
For someone like me who missed the second LEGO Indiana Jones game (hey, blame the mediocre fourth movie for my fatigue for all things Indy), there have been a few upgrades since you might have seen one of TT's games. One of my favorites is the new dynamic same/split-screen system which allows two players to be on the same screen whenever they're close together, but are allowed to roam freely as the camera will split into two and shift seamlessly to show the two players' views separately. The angle of the split-screen "break" also makes it easy for a player to understand where the other one is in the world without fumbling around. It's a fantastic system that I think more games like this should be copying, as it's simply superior to anything like it that I've seen.
Of course, delivering advanced split-screen technology is easier if you're not trying to also push out cutting-edge graphics in the first place, and while LEGO Harry Potter is no slouch in the art department and can still show a pretty damn good amount of detail, it's not going to be winning any awards for achievement in graphics. The art style is probably just like you'd expect from TT Games, but so many little touches have been added, it'd be impossible to sit down and list them all - plus, it's better to experience them in the game and be surprised by them as you go.
So while I haven't done any LEGO gaming in a while and I haven't been the biggest fan of the Harry Potter series for a few years now, it looks like it will be a total blast to bust out a second controller and cruise through this game with a friend. It won't be exceedingly difficult or particularly hard hitting, but it sure looks like a ton of fun, and that's why we play, right? LEGO Harry Potter is set for release on Xbox 360, Wii, PS3, PSP, DS, and the PC in May.