This is one of those reviews that could be four words long: “It’s Lego Harry Potter.” By now, you probably know whether or not you enjoy the Lego series of games, and almost assuredly know whether or not you’re fond of the boy wizard’s exploits. If you like either half of the equation, you’re almost certain to have a great time with Lego Harry Potter (unless you absolutely despise the other half), and if you’re that cross section that appreciates both, you’re guaranteed to have a blast. For those of you who are new to both camps, be relieved to know that you don’t have to be familiar with either property to have fun following Harry and his friends through their first four years at Hogwarts, but affection for the young wizards will definitely help you overlook the game’s few issues and flaws.

As its predecessors did with the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies, Lego Harry Potter faithfully recreates its source movies, down to tiny details that fans of the series will delight in identifying. If you’ve seen it in the movie, it’s more than likely in the game, along with just about every character you can think of: Harry and his friends are there, of course, as are teachers like Dumbledore, Snape, and Hagrid, but even smaller characters like Madame Pomfrey, Fang and Colin Creevy make an appearance. Wandering through Hogwarts as you play through Story Mode is like reliving the films as you go to class, brew polyjuice potion, and watch the endless parade of Defense Against the Dark Arts professors.

Though at times you’ll have to actually fight an enemy like a troll or Dobby the house elf, most of the challenge of Lego Harry Potter comes from figuring out how to manipulate the environment in order to overcome obstacles like locked doors and blocked passages. As with all Lego games, the answer usually lies in some combination of blowing Legos apart or putting them back together, though you’ll also have to rely on the spells and abilities you learn in class, too. The light spell Lumos will get you past Devil’s Snare plants, for example, while the ability to handle mandrakes safely will let you use their shriek to shatter glass. Acquiring the skills is fun, but you’ll really only use two with any kind of frequency: you’ll levitate things to put them together, or zap them to blow them apart.

Part of the appeal of the Lego series of games is the fact that they can be played co-operatively, but Player 2’s enjoyment depends a lot on how good the sidekicks of that particular game’s source material are. Did you really want to play as Short Round in Lego Indiana Jones? Me either. Lego Harry Potter has a such a deep roster of great characters that Player 2 never has to feel slighted – you might actually argue over who has to play as Harry, as opposed to gets to play as him. Switching between characters is dead simple if you’re playing by yourself, but the game is way more fun if you play with a pal, even if you do tend to “accidentally” zap each other with your wands from time to time.

Your characters will change to fit the scene as you play through Story Mode, so you may find some of the game’s many collectibles out of reach until you replay that level in Freeplay Mode, when you can choose who comes along for the ride. Characters have individual abilities – Harry’s great on a broom, Ron can send his rat Scabbers into pipes to flip switches, Fang can dig up patches of earth – that you’ll need to tap in order to find absolutely everything in the game. And man, there is a lot to find. You’ll hunt down boxes for Hedwig, students in peril, bits of the Hogwarts school crest, extra costumes, extra characters, gold bricks, red bricks, and, of course, studs. Studs are the game’s currency, which you’ll use to purchase more costumes and characters, and unlock wonderfully ridiculous game modes, like one that gives everyone an enormous head, or turns all the wands into carrots. Useful? Not even a little bit, no, but it’s worth a few chuckles, just the same.

You’ll spend most of your time in Lego Harry Potter with a smile planted firmly on your face, but not all of it. The camera can be decidedly unfriendly, forcing to steer your character using sheer guesswork; it can be particularly bad during the camera shifts to try and accommodate both players during co-op. The game also has some occasional difficulty figuring out what you’re trying to target with your wand, which is again exacerbated when two virtual wizards are running around. The collision detection can be iffy, which, when combined with the not-so-generous camera can make the game’s jumping puzzles particularly swear-inducing. (Not advised if you’re playing with kids, by the way.) None of these problems are so pronounced that they actually ruin the gameplay experience, but when you’re having a good time bashing around the quidditch pitch and then suddenly have to spend five minutes fighting the game just to proceed, it’s a bit of a buzzkill.

Bottom Line: Like I said at the top of the review, it’s Lego Harry Potter, and all that comes with that. It’s fun, light-hearted, great to play with a pal, and based on a wonderfully rich and vibrant fictional world. It has some flaws that may set your teeth to grinding, but you’ll forgive it as soon as you see the next familiar location or character.

Recommendation: Tons and tons of stuff to unlock, loads of replay value, and a great sense of humor: It’s a perfect game for summer. Go get it.

[rating=4]

Check out what our review scores mean here.

Game: Lego Harry Potter
Genre: Platforming
Developer: Traveller’s Tales
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: June 29th, 2010
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Wii, PS3, PC, DS, PSP
Available from: Amazon

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

Susan Arendt regrets that the warm North Carolina winters prevent her from wearing her Gryffindor scarf.

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