We had a bit of a discussion here in the office just a few days ago: what other games could translate well into a Lego title? Lego Call of Duty? Lego Twilight? How about a Lego fitness game… OK, I'll be quiet now - developers could be listening. Either way I imagine that over in Warner Bros. HQ there is a big list, surrounded by dollar symbols, with every future Lego title that can and will be made. The next one to be struck off is Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4, a magical universe loved by children and adults alike, and as we have come to expect from the Lego series, it's seriously good fun.
Years 1-4, eh? Sequel confirmed, then. Here we follow the story of the world's favourite young wizard and his friends, through their first four years in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It's obvious to any Harry Potter fan that the foundations of the game are rooted in the films rather than the books - there's no appearance from Peeves the Poltergeist, and the unnecessary moving staircases are ever-present. But in terms of capturing the magic (excuse me!) of Harry Potter, developer Traveller's Tales has nailed it.
As with previous entries in the Lego series, the meat of the story is told through a number of short, light-hearted cutscenes. Again, all voice acting is conducted with grunts and nonsensical gibberish, but the often hilarious interpretations of these iconic moments mean that you generally get the idea of what's going on, and what to do next. One part that particularly tickles me is the moment when Harry and Hagrid walk into Gringotts bank for the first time so that Harry can withdraw some wizard money. They approach the desk of a menacing-looking goblin knuckled down in his paperwork, and present Harry's bank key (complete with a little Lego Harry Potter keychain). The goblin goes back to his work, obviously eager to finish it before he goes to help. As the camera pans behind him, he steps out of the way to reveal a child-like crayon drawing of a house, stick-people and an enormous yellow sun.
It's this kind of inoffensive humour that really speaks to me; just a light touch of funny without taking anything away from the story being told. You can expect to see one of these pre-rendered shorts every 15 minutes or so, neatly wrapping up the key plot points so you can get on with being a wizard, or rather a wizard in training. In order to learn Harry's full arsenal of spells you'll need to attend all of the necessary lessons. These take the form of short demonstrations followed by a simple challenge to use the new technique, after which it will be added to the spell wheel on your HUD.
Potion-making becomes a game in itself as you hunt down the three separate ingredients for your recipe, usually requiring you to move, build, or demolish objects before the necessary items are revealed. Gradually more and more of Hogwarts School will be opened up as you unlock the skills, charms, potions and characters required to negotiate the variety of obstacles in your way. There are layers of gameplay here; series of micro-tasks make up the pieces to larger puzzles, which in turn are the building blocks of the grand design. The school is massive once it opens up, so it's a neat way of easing you into your life as a wizard without dropping you straight in the deep end.
As with previous Lego titles the fun isn't limited to the story. Collectables are found everywhere, awarded for tasks like magically turning on all the lamps in a room, rescuing a student in peril, or simply finding all the missing Lego pieces from a broken object. Rewards come in the shape of Hogwarts crest pieces and gold bricks, and since there are a great many of both (more than 200, in the case of the bricks), completionists may find themselves in some kind of magical heaven here. Even more so than previous titles, just about everything detonates into a shower of gold and silver studs when hit with a well-aimed attack spell. You will often find yourself forgetting about the task at hand in favour of simply bulldozing through the level, sending hexes in every direction, just to collect as many of the pick-ups as possible. Collect enough studs to match a level's requirements, a number often in the hundreds of thousands, and you will be awarded True Wizard status, complete with another gold brick - phew!