Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 Review
Reviewed on Sony PS Vita
While their origins may have been speculative the Lego video games are big business now. With variants gracing nearly every platform you can think of they all offer up the same basic gameplay hooks across a wide range of popular franchises. One of the most modern of these franchises is the Harry Potter series, a glowing endorsement of the power of the brand to have made it into such esteemed company. The latest in the series, Lego Harry Potter: Years 5–7, found its way to the rest of the gaming world back in November 2011 making this Vita port an ever so slightly younger sibling. With the Vita’s power and graphical shininess in mind this release could have been a leading star in a product list still small enough for the market to flock wholesale to popular titles. ‘Could have been’ being the operative phrase here.
The first thing that hits you about Lego Harry Potter: Years 5–7 are the looks; the gameplay is as vibrant, colourful and immersive as anything we have come to expect from the Vita. Spell animations behave exactly how you would expect and there are no frame rate issues or other judders. Which makes it all the more hard to understand why the cutscenes in the game look like they belong on an early PSOne title. Blurred to the point where they can actually be uncomfortable to look at there has clearly been no optimisation work to try to beautify them for the Vita. The cutscenes themselves are the standard Lego affair of major scenes from the films reworked with squeaky comedy sounds and the odd pair of legs falling off; while they are clearly not needed to enjoy the gameplay itself the shoddy quality puts a dent in the rest of your expectations.
As with other Lego titles appreciation of the stories themselves is required to get the most out of the game as virtually nothing is explained outright, but then it’s hard to imagine anyone buying into the game series who hasn’t either read the Harry Potter books or watched the films. You control Harry and various other key characters as you play through each of the years in turn, although, as with the films, the Deathly Hallows section is split into two. Interaction with your surroundings is essentially painless, with top marks going to your selected spell updating to a more relevant kind if you hold down the square button and hover over particular objects or figures. You can revel in glorious destruction as you progress, with the act of casting ‘Reducto’ at large pieces feeling particularly cathartic. However, whilst there are different spells to be had from the array of characters they are minor and the areas you visit are almost entirely linear with clearly signposted routes. The only puzzles that pop up are almost derogatory in how challenging they are, but for a title aimed predominantly at the younger market this is probably something that should be expected.
Released so close to the Vita’s launch it comes as no surprise that Lego Harry Potter: Years 5–7 comes with the obligatory touch control additions. Thankfully in every case there is a button and pad alternative, something which other developers should take note of. The option of either navigating menus by touch or button ensures that the player can use whichever option they wish when they wish, rather than having one or the other forced upon them. This lends the controls a degree of intuitiveness, although casting in game with touch still feels fairly clunky. In the mini-game duels however the touch controls reign supreme, simple enough to perform in the heat of battle and actually proving themselves faster than the button controls, especially when a change of direction is required.
It’s a shame then that even with the benefit of these touch controls the duelling side game starts to feel so dull so quickly. Instead of this handheld version offering you the tactical rock-paper-scissors of the main consoles you instead can win pretty much every fight by spamming any spell you feel like down one channel towards your opponent. This leads to a feeling of missed potential that becomes prevalent throughout the game; play sequences are shorter and more in keeping with the PSP/3DS versions of Lego Harry Potter: Years 5–7, and the game only has one hub area unlike the console games. Again, with the power and capability of the Vita in mind these factors give the port the feeling of it being rushed, and this is only compounded more when you realise that it has no multiplayer elements whatsoever. Long after you have finished a Lego game and hours after the trophy/achievement grind has worn you down they still manage to feel fun running around in co-op smashing stuff up. The absence of multiplayer is a clear oversight and one that helps limit how much time you will be willing to dedicate to the game.
And that’s really the majority of Lego Harry Potter: Years 5–7. Replayability is found in the Free Play mode you can unlock after playing through each story section once and you will be able to run through multiple times unlocking the extra characters, red bricks (which unlock cheats) and trophy room mini-figures you may have missed the first time round. Even the most ardent adult fan will likely tire of the repetition sooner rather than later, but in the hands of a younger fan this title may well provide a large helping of go-back-to value.
With the launch of the Vita variant not coming until three months later than the console versions developer Traveller's Tales has had more than enough time to fill the game with hardware specific functionality and fully optimise Harry and his nipple-headed chums for Sony’s new poster-boy. However, while the core Lego experience remains as fulfilling as ever the potential of the game is let down somewhat by both the overall quality of the port and the omission of certain key features. Saying that, Lego Harry Potter: Years 5–7 on the PlayStation Vita is by far the best Lego gaming experience you can get on the go, and if you are either a kid or a Harry Potter fan you will lap the game up. And then probably start it over again in Free Play mode. The beauty is that the game delivers for the more casual undiscerning gamer, and apart from the odd trophy hunter that’s the real Lego market – just hope that next time around they try to shift the balance a little more in the favour of innovation.