The last time we ventured through the lively halls of Hogwarts, we got a glimpse of what the stars of the Harry Potter series could do with a little class time and practice. At the 2010 Game Developers Conference, we played Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 for the first time and found that it can be just as fun to play as Hagrid's drooling puppy Fang or Hermione's fat cat Crookshanks. Granted, they can't cast spells to ward off dementors or get through devil's snare, but they come with their own unique abilities to help you get where you need to go.
Our first stop was Hagrid's house where he would eventually take the young wizards to the Forbidden Forest. After a few goofy cutscenes where Hagrid was airing out some dirty laundry and tending to a sick unicorn, we were on our way through the mysterious woods. Because Harry is not always alone on his adventures, you can easily rotate among the members of your party, including the nonhuman ones. One particular handy party member was Fang because he could dig in areas that were highlighted by paw prints, giving us access to secret areas. He could also pounce and attack giant wasps that were otherwise in our way.
Hagrid may come well equipped with a crossbow, but Fang can bark, beg, climb ladders, and even play dead. Not too shabby for a big dopey dog. And you can play as other pets--not just as Fang. By using the right bumper to rotate through your arsenal of spells, Hermione can bring out her fluffy cat Crookshanks, and you can control the cat temporarily to help you dig. The forest is full of strange critters and out of control plants, so it's fun to see what kind of animations are triggered when you put the right pieces into place. It's important to interact with anything that you can because you never know what will happen if you water the plants or put a particular brick back where it belongs.
We jumped ahead to year three to watch a scene where Harry goes for a ride on Buckbeak with Hermione and they get dropped off on the rooftop of Hogwarts. Like previous Lego games, there's still a lot of teamwork involved, which is what makes the games more fun to play with a friend. As we made our way across the roof, we realized that we needed to rely on Harry to cast expecto patronum to keep the dementors at bay and that Hermione was most useful by keeping the devil's snare in check. Friendly fire is usually off when you're playing with someone, but when you're partnered up with the computer, some funny things will happen--like enlarged faces--if you mistakenly zap your fellow wizards.
For our final stop, we moved onto year four, jumping head first in the Triwizard Tournament. Some liberties were taken so that you won't be facing a giant fire-breathing dragon alone, so just know that Hermione has got your back when it comes time to face the trials. The game becomes more intense as the years go by, which makes sense as the series gets darker as more time passes. After fending off dementors in year three, we were hopping around by year four trying to track down vital potion ingredients for a strength formula all while dodging the dragon's flames coming from the background. It's chaotic but fun, and it'll be sure to keep you on your toes.
Little details and new objects are continuously being added so we'll have more updates when we get a chance to play with a build of our own in the near future. The game looks good so far and can be played cooperatively offline across all consoles, as well as online for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 will be released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, and PC later this year.