While Harry Potter fans are eagerly waiting for the latest movie installment to come out, they can keep themselves busy by revisiting Hogwarts in Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4. The story is told in typical Traveller's Tale Lego fashion. There's plenty of goofy humor and dialogue that consists primarily of "huh," "oooh," and "hmm" as the yellow-faced characters quickly reenact the first four years of the beloved fantasy series. We've seen and played the game a bit before, but we recently got a preview build so that we could experience Harry's adventure right from the beginning.
The magical world that J.K. Rowling created is mimicked here, but with plenty of new additions for you to discover. Through short and to-the-point cutscenes, you'll find out how Harry wound up on the doorstep of his aunt and uncle. With Hagrid's help, you'll immediately be whisked away from your muggle world and will wander the streets of Diagon Alley. Harry doesn't start off with any spells, but you can switch easily between Harry and Hagrid to move forward. You'll find that in most instances you can swap between several characters and use their unique abilities to solve puzzles.
Once you reach Hogwarts, the place is yours to explore, as long as you have the right spells to get past certain areas. The game does a good job of telling you where you need to go, because it's easy to get lost within that intricate network of corridors. Nearly Headless Nick (with his head reattached) will leave a trail of ghostly Lego coins to guide you to class or to other story-driven activities. You're free to wander any area of the school that can be accessed with your current spell list, and as you learn spells, such as lumos and wingardium leviosa to clear vines and put objects together, even more of Hogwarts will be accessible.
In your first year, you'll spend your time going to class to learn the basic spells needed to get by. You'll find yourself taking a potions class with Professor Snape, as well as an herbology class to learn the dos and don'ts when it comes to harmful plants. Each class gives you a brief exercise on how to use a particular spell so that once you've completed the task, you'll gain the new spell. You can shuffle through your spells using the bumper buttons. Using these spells, you can help your fellow students fend off bullies, or you can destroy anything that isn't nailed down to retrieve as many Lego pieces as possible.
What stands out most about Lego Harry Potter when compared to the other Lego games is that almost everything that is in the background can be interacted with in amusing ways. If you misfire a spell and hit another character or even a professor, he or she will respond by casting a spell on you as well, which will not only harm you, but can come with funny results. Whether you're stacking Lego bricks using wingardium leviosa or interacting with animated paintings, the school is full of curious objects that might surprise you--such as hungry furniture.
Last time we were able to jump further into the game, where it gets more difficult with trickier platforming sections. However, the pacing at the beginning as well as in the puzzles is fairly easy making it a great cooperative experience when you're paired with a younger player.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 will be released on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo DS on June 29.