Traveller's Tales are the masters of the brick. Their LEGO creations deliver not just fun gaming experiences, but those magical sort of games that you can enjoy alone, with friends, or with children.
I've been a fan since LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game hit in 2005. Now, six years and twice as many LEGO games later, can their creations remain just as charming, just as approachable? Is LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 worth picking up? Let's do a gut check.
Brian Crecente, who's played every LEGO Traveller's Tales game made and loved them: Sometime around the LEGO Indiana Jones game I started backing away from Traveller's Tales LEGO games. They were beginning to feel slightly, just slightly derivative to me. I still played them all, but didn't quite anticipate games like LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars and LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean: The Video Game. The original LEGO Harry Potter specifically, was a game I had no interest in playing. Until I played it.
Somehow Traveller's Tales had managed to reshape their winning formula enough to make things feel fresh, look fresh and reward gameplay with the sorts of moments you enjoy and, yes, anticipate.
That same can be said of LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7, this game looks amazing. The lighting effects in particular are incredible -- something you wouldn't expect to think about or notice in a game that consists almost entirely of characters made of smooth pieces of animated plastic. But the way shadows play across their tiny faces and around their wands when they use certain spells is almost mesmerizing.
The game's level of detail, the number of characters at play in any given scene, has also been expanded, offering scenes crawling with movement and beautifully rendered minutia. It's those amazing scenes, like a flight over a LEGO River Thames or your return to Hogwarts, that is this game's biggest selling point, though there are plenty of other things going for this game.
As with the previous Harry Potter LEGO game, players have access to a collection of spells, though this time around the game seems to lean a bit more heavily on potions. The cast of characters isn't as colourful as you may find in other LEGO games, but their abilities and familiars easily make up for that.
The story is handled deftly, plucking out the most memorable scenes from books and movies and reimagining them in brick. One in particular, the Tale of the Three Brothers, stand out as a new high point in Traveller's Tales many games. In the book, the Tale of the Three Brothers is a parable. In the game it becomes a side-scrolling pop-up book made of LEGO. The effect is magical and the creations inside it memorable.
As with any Traveller's Tale LEGO game, this is a title for a certain type of gamer, someone who enjoys whimsical play over skill-based mastery or tactics. But I'd easily recommend this game to anyone (Even if you haven't read the books or seen the movies.) Yes.
Stephen Totilo, who has played most of the LEGO games and read most of the Harry Potter books: The graphics in this new LEGO Harry Potter, believe it or not, are a selling point. They're consistently impressive thanks to some of the most expressive animation done in any gaming graphical style. The furniture, in this game moves with more personality (and is less wooden) than the people in most other 2011 games. And the world design, as in the previous LEGO Harry Potter, joyfully emphasises exploration over combat. These LEGO games are at their best when they are virtual pop-up books and children's toys, unfolding surprising spectacles at the many things you can poke in their world. (See also the stunningly entertaining LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars cartoon adaption from March.) Ignore this new LEGO adventure if you want something deeper than a collect-a-thon with backtracking and J.K. Rowling characters. Play it if you, like me, want to see what happens if you cast a spell on a newly set-up chessboard that is set up in a Hogwarts hallway -- and if you would like a game that responds by having a ghostly, two-sided chess match on that board suddenly play out in fast-forward. This one's a constant pleasure of small delights like that and therefore a surprise Yes.
Brian Ashcraft, Your Friendly neighbourhood Non-Potter Player: Confession: I've only seen one Harry Potter movie all the way through (the first one), and I didn't like it. I haven't read any of the books, because, and this is arrogance on my part, I think they are poor copies of John Bellairs books (which I adored -- Edward Gorey covers and all), which, of course, they aren't. I've never bought into Potter-mania, and the only thing I think is actually cool about the films is the Stone Roses lead singer Ian Brown appeared in one of the Potter films. To be clear: I do not like Harry Potter.
I have, however, enjoyed many of the LEGO games. All of them are cute, and many of them are fun and provide a solid gaming experience. My kids love them, especially the Indiana Jones and Star Wars ones.
Many people do like Harry Potter -- no, love Harry Potter. So if someone asked me, "Brian Ashcraft, should I buy the latest LEGO Harry Potter?" I'd imagine that the person asking the question does not share my distaste for things Potter, and remembering how much my kids like the LEGO games, I'd reply with this: Yes.
Gut Check is an off-the-cuff impression of what we think of a game: what we'd tell a friend; how we'd respond on Twitter or Facebook or over a beer if someone asked us "Would you buy this game?" Our lead writer, who has played a lot of the game, decides. Other writers chime in for additional points of view.