Thanks to the success of giving some of the most beloved franchises in pop culture a Lego makeover, it was only a matter of time before Traveller's Tales set its sights on rebuilding the magical world of Harry Potter using the colorful Danish bricks. Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 tells the story of the famous boy wizard in its signature cheeky fast-paced Lego style. It follows the first four movies, which include The Sorcerer's Stone, The Chamber of Secrets, The Prisoner of Azkaban, and The Goblet of Fire. This isn't the first time that the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been re-created in video game form, but there's a certain charm to seeing your favorite wizards, witches, and muggles transformed into blocky, yellow-headed characters.
Our first look at Lego Harry Potter began with a cutscene on Privet drive, where we saw the young Harry Potter dropped off by Dumbledore. The story was told through exaggerated motions and expressions by the characters, as well as minimal sounds, but as always, it was incredibly effective in terms of getting the key points of the story across, especially if you're already familiar with the material. We watched as Harry received his letter of invitation to attend Hogwarts, and before we knew it, we were in the Leaky Cauldron with Hagrid, destroying everything that wasn't part of the background.
Similar to previous Lego games, you can play with a friend (and online if you're playing on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3) and use the abilities of a specific character to solve puzzles, as well as collect bonus items. What's new in Lego Harry Potter is that Harry and his spellcasting friends will gain new abilities as you progress through the game. At first, Harry can't do much except zap with his wand and wave at people who pass by him. But after attending his classes at Hogwarts, he'll build up an impressive repertoire of spells and abilities, which can also be upgraded. There will be 140 playable characters, each with his or her own distinct personality and abilities, so there's plenty of unlocking to do if you have the patience to explore by leaving no brick unturned. Hagrid has been given some spellcasting abilities to help Harry out initially, so between the two, we watched as Hagrid used his leviosa spell to put together objects in order for Harry to snag some hard-to-reach items. Because Harry was much lighter, he could bounce off of makeshift trampolines, whereas Hagrid would just crush the object. However, both characters were able to hop around the cobblestone streets on a green lawn chair as though it were a pogo stick. Because the Harry Potter universe is filled with mystery and surprises, it's fun to keep an eye out for peculiar items because you never know what they'll do.
There are plenty of secrets to discover in the world of Harry Potter by being thorough. Not only do you find your way to the next area, but if you find the four crest pieces in each area, you'll also get a gold brick, which will then give you access to bonus material. Moving from one area to the next doesn't involve jumping around in a hub menu; instead, the story events (six events in each story) will unfold when they're supposed to, which provides a seamless transition from one level to the next. You have the freedom to revisit older areas, like classrooms to practice spells, but once you're ready for the story event, the game is set up so that you will be guided to the next level.
Harry will share similar traits with his friends Hermione and Ron because they're learning the same stuff in school, but they will still be unique. For example, Ron has his pet rat Scabbers while Hermione has her cat Crookshanks, and we assume these pets will help them in some form or another. Hermione's superior knowledge will grant her access to areas that aren't available to the other two boys, and she'll have the time turner. Harry, on the other hand, will eventually learn parseltongue and the Patronus charm. While there is no quidditch match to play in Lego Harry Potter, you can still hop on any broomstick to ride it, and it's hilarious to see the differences among the three students as they try to get a handle on broom riding. Eventually, when you unlock some of the other characters like a member of House Slytherin, you'll get access to the Slytherin common room. As in the previous games, unlocking more playable characters will allow you to return to previous areas and access things that were impossible to get the first time around.
The build we saw was still in its early stages, but we were impressed with the background and the details of the environments. Other than the obvious Lego bricks and pieces that can be taken apart then slapped back together, the settings were quite realistic. They provided an interesting contrast to the Lego pieces and gave us that authentic vibe from the movies. From the animated portraits in the halls of Hogwarts to the clothing-eating drawer in the Gryffindor common room, the humor and goofiness that the Lego games are known for is all here. The music has been borrowed from the movies as well, so the trademark tunes and themes will easily invoke memories from the films.
We're excited to see more of Lego Harry Potter and for the chance to explore the long corridors of Hogwarts or take a walk in the Forbidden Forest. Other areas that we took a brief look at included Gringotts Bank and the Weasleys home. Both were re-created as faithfully as possible with some extra fun stuff thrown in, like riding a tractor on the Weasleys lawn and using your magic to get garden gnomes to ride a motorbike. There's no limit to the kind of whimsical things that can happen in this rich magical world, and it looks like Traveller's Tales is taking full advantage of it. We didn't get a chance to see it, but we're told a level editor similar to the one in Lego Indiana Jones 2 will also be included. We'll update you with more information on Lego Harry Potter as soon as it becomes available. The game is currently set to be released in May on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, and the PC.