There have been enough Lego games by now for their design to become familiarly formulaic. Follow the basic plot of a movie series, mix in Lego aesthetics and puzzles, add a healthy dose of humor and call it a day. But Lego Harry Potter, Years 5-7 has to stay bright, cheerful, and family-friendly while tackling some pretty dark subject matter. It also has to cover a lot of the exact same ground as its predecessor, Lego Harry Potter, Years 1-4 as Harry, Ron, and Hermione trudge back to Hogwarts for yet another school term. The game does as well as it can under these restraints, but lacks the sparkle that makes other Lego games so very special.

Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 follows the basic plot of the movies as Harry gets closer to fulfilling his destiny as The Boy Who Lived. Though most of the major events are represented, some of the bleaker details get glossed over or given a humorous twist in order to prevent the game from becoming too gloomy. Harry never has to head to detention with Delores Umbridge, for example, and Sirius’ death is played as no more inconvenient than getting caught in the rain. Other tasks are invented not only to give players something to do, but to keep the action light and goofy. Playing through Years 5-7 feels strange at times, with certain levels being exact copies of their cinematic inspiration, and others looking like they came from some other film entirely.

The game takes a while to spin up, as Harry, Ron, and Hermione must first clomp around Hogwarts for a while before getting into the actual adventure. Exploring Hogwarts would be a treat if we hadn’t already done it extensively in Years 1-4, but the halls and classrooms of the school gave up their secrets to us long ago . Things pick up considerably once the game begins in earnest and you’re given new areas to explore, new creatures to defeat, and new puzzles to solve.

The action of Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 will be immediately familiar to fans of the Lego series of games, favoring puzzle solving over combat while recreating the visuals of the movies with admirable accuracy and charm. Harry Potter fans will squeal at the detail that went into the game’s visuals – you’ll recognize characters immediately, despite them being reduced to tiny plastic blocks with c-shaped hands. Though there are a few frustrating fights here and there, for the most part you’ll be using your wits to figure out how to use spells and potions to get past the many obstacles in your way. Years 5-7 wisely starts you off with a few spells already in your arsenal, presenting the opportunity for new spells and new ways to solve puzzles. You may have to walk the same halls of Hogwarts, but at least you’ll be performing new feats of prestidigitation while you’re there. Ron and Hermione are also now constant companions, unless the plot of the movie would make that impossible, so you’ll have immediate access to areas that require a book or a pet. Most of the puzzles that required the awkward maneuvering of the levitation spell has been ditched, too, which alleviates much of the first game’s frustration.

These small changes help Years 5-7 from feeling like a stale copy of its predecessor, but they also reveal some frustrating choices. While it’s a staple of the Lego franchise to encourage replays by making certain areas inaccessible until you have the specific character you need, too much is out of reach in the first few hours of the game. The balance between finding hidden goodies and knowing you have to come back later is seriously out of whack until about two-thirds of the way through Order of the Phoenix, and, as a result, you feel frustratingly cut off more than you feel tempted to return. Plus, you have to discover character tokens to unlock extra characters, and then pay to have them unlocked. Coughing up cash to play as a small, but important character like Molly Weasley is fine, but you really want me to pony up 250,000 studs to unlock a Muggle orphan? That is so not gonna happen. Harry Potter fans will at least enjoy playing as Dumbledore, Snape, Luna, Fred, George, and pretty much every other character for whom they have any kind of affection, as they make their way through the main story.

In between solving each area’s puzzles, you’ll be looking for plenty of collectibles as you run around Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7/. There are pieces of the Hogwarts crest, students in peril, gold bricks, character tokens, and red boxes for Hedwig. Most of these are tucked away in areas that require a particular skill to reach, like Arthur Weasley’s knack for fixing things or Dudley’s exceptional strength. Though some are in plain sight, just waiting for you to acquire the necessary character or ability, some are practically invisible due to the game’s uncooperative camera, which also occasionally prevents you from performing simple tasks like getting up a flight of stairs. It won’t kill the fun completely, but it will make you grumble more than once. Driving any of the game’s vehicles, on the other hand, will ruin your day pretty much immediately, so don’t even bother.

Bottom Line: Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 manages to turn dark material into something lighthearted and fun, but it never quite achieves the magical goofiness that its predecessor does.

Recommendation: Fans of the movies will enjoy the chance to run around Hogwarts and fight the forces of He Who Must Not Be Named, but if you’re just here for the Lego, there are better options out there.

[rating=3.5]

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

What our review scores mean.

Game: Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Publisher: Warner Bros
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, DS, 3DS, PC, iOS
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)

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