The LEGO games' genius is in its dual appeal. Adults love the parody of their favourite childhood movies, and kids love just playing as Batman, Indiana Jones or R2-D2. But the real magic happens when the two come together; when adults play cooperatively with kids - father and son, uncle and nephew, brothers, that sort of thing. Really, the LEGO games are the Toy Storys, Finding Nemos and Ups of the video game world, and developer Traveller's Tales is our very own Pixar.
So you can see why J.K. Rowling's phenomenally successful Harry Potter is such a perfect fit for TT's famous LEGO treatment. Young people love it because middle class kids go to boarding school to learn magic, and adults love it because, well… we're not sure why, but we know they do because we can see them reading the books on the tube and they don't look at all embarrassed. You know the type: they sigh and roll their eyes as they tell you they're taking their kids to see the new Harry Potter movie, but really they're just as excited to discover who Harry and Hermione get their magic on with as the next sugar-crazed kid.
This is what LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 hopes to emulate: adult and child bonding over LEGO blocks built to look like Harry, Hermione and Ron, in a game world built from the brick up to be broken down, then built up again. It is co-op gaming in perfect harmony; pure, unhindered, unadulterated, unified fun for all the family.
So, what you'd expect to see in a LEGO Harry Potter game based on the first four years of Harry's adventures (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), will be in the LEGO Harry Potter game based on the first four years of Harry's adventures. You'll be able to unlock over 100 characters for use in the classic floaty, two-player co-op, combat/puzzling LEGO style. You'll be able to explore iconic locations from the books and films, such as Diagon Alley, the Forbidden Forest, the village of Hogsmeade and the twisting and turning school of Hogwarts - the biggest single area ever created for a LEGO game and the undisputed jewel in TT's Harry Potter crown. And, of course, the famous Harry Potter story will be told across scores of LEGO-fied cutscenes, packed full of the kind of slapstick, voiceless humour TT is known for.
But - and this is a "but" long-term LEGO fans will consider BIG - what's new? What makes LEGO Harry Potter more than just LEGO Batman, or LEGO Indiana Jones, re-skinned? Appropriately, it's all to do with magic. As you play the game, each of the many characters will learn magic spells, from bog standard zaps that cause LEGO to fall apart in the way LEGO has a habit of doing, to classics like "Wingardium Leviosa", which, as any budding wizard worth his salt knows, is a levitation charm.
At the start of the game, when Harry's just a wee wizard with a weird lightning scar on his forehead, he can't cast any spells. All he can do is walk and jump about like a frog in a boarding school uniform. But bearded behemoth Hagrid - Harry's companion throughout the early part of the game - can do some magic (despite not being allowed to). So, early puzzles involve moving Harry on to a platform, switching to Hagrid, then casting Wingardium Leviosa to raise the platform, and therefore Harry, to new areas.
Spells are selected via a Mass Effect-style radial wheel. Once it's brought on screen, all you have to do is select the one you want with the thumb stick and away you go. At the beginning of the game all the spells are blacked out. Unlocking them - and filling in the spell silhouettes - as you progress through the story, is one of Harry and co's chief goals.