Few toys are as iconic as Legos. The multicolored, interlocking plastic blocks are surely as important to the free time of those who came of age in the late 70’s to mid 80’s as videogames are to later generations. No doubt Traveler’s Tales sought to capitalize on that generational nostalgia synergy when they began making Lego-branded videogames, and it seems to have worked out for them as their Lego games are generally popular and well-received. The series is now into its second Harry Potter themed release, and Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 continues the series’ trademark humor, childlike innocence, and gently irreverent interpretation of the source material.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 is basically identical to the previous Lego games whether they be Harry Potter-themed, Star Wars-themed, or Indiana Jones-themed. Whether that is a good thing is entirely up the player. If you love Lego games and you love the Harry Potter film franchise, then you’ll almost certainly love Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7. It sticks to the Lego videogame template with little to no variation. You’ll spend your time as one character with the ability to switch to other characters if they are with you or you’ve previously unlocked them. Many of the game’s puzzles require the skills or powers that only one character has, meaning a lot of backtracking if you’re intent on collecting every single Lego stud (that’s an unlikely pairing of words, is it not?) in the game. In other words, it is exactly like the first Lego Star Wars game that came out way back in March of ‘05.
Gameplay wise, it’s the same old combination of collection, combat, and puzzles; however, because Harry Potter deals with magic, you’ll be casting spells at enemies mostly instead of shooting or hitting them with your laser sword. Just like all previous Lego games, the targeting is wonky, probably because the camera angle is always slightly askew and requires the player to move the thumbstick in directions that most Xbox 360 controllers just can’t achieve with consistency. The camera also makes platforming a pain, again because of the angles involved. I found it impossible to accurately gauge what direction I needed to jump in unless it was a simple up/down/left/right jump. Another annoying camera issue crops up when you are playing with a co-op partner. When you get too far apart, a line forms to create ad hoc
split screen; however the line is ever shifting and neither character is locked into a specific section of the screen, leaving both players disoriented and confused as to where their character is. I’m sure a veteran Lego player has no problem with it because these issues go back to the very first Lego Star Wars game (except for the ad hoc
split screen.) and by now you’ve either learned to deal with it or moved on.
Similarly, the Lego videogames’ trademark humor requires a certain familiarity as well; you have to have seen the film or films it is based on because, like the other games, there is no dialogue. There are only gestures, grunts, faces, and other forms of physical comedy. For me personally, since the last Harry Potter movie I saw was the second one (and I‘ve never even seen one of the books, let alone read), let’s just say I was totally lost. Of course, it should be well known by this point that Lego games are less about a compelling narrative and/or gameplay experience that’s attractive to new players than it’s about tapping into the adoration the player already has for the franchise the game is exercising. That’s not a criticism either. Traveler’s Tales should be commended for the often hilarious, highly clever, and "in-jokey" way the franchises are often twisted. It’s just that only fans of those franchises can really appreciate it.
Technically, Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 is also just like its Lego Xbox 360 brethren. Graphics are as sharp as broken glass, but never jaw-dropping, as usual, with well known locations transformed into cute Lego versions filled with structures that can be disassembled and reassembled whenever a good puzzle is needed to break up the action. Sound wise, it’s the same: sharp, but generally unremarkable. The music and sound effects are exactly what you’d expect from a Lego Harry Potter game. For both graphics and sound there was little to nothing in the way of glitches, frame rate issues, or any other technical imperfection that usually mars even the biggest budget games today. But even that is no different from previous titles.
Ultimately, Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 is as much a love song to the Harry Potter franchise as it enters its waning years as it is a serious videogame. It should be what every Harry Potter fan could want out of a Lego game. What it isn’t, however, is any different from any other Lego game that’s ever been made. Whether that is good or bad is up to the gamer.