LEGO-branded games come with a guarantee: games for everyone, no pretension, incredibly funny, extremely stylish. Traveller's Tales has extensive experience in the production of these parodies, to a degree where we can rely on their proven formula.
It's with this thought in mind that we enter a small room dedicated to Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7, an awareness that while we were going to see what will probably be a good game, there'd be very little shown that was new enough to write about.
It isn't difficult to admit to the similarities between the various LEGO games. The context and characters will change, but the gameplay is always the same and the graphic style virtually identical. This time, however, we were wrong.
The game, at first glance, bares the standard hallmarks of a title starring the digital building blocks. The developers showed us an area near The Burrow, Weasleys' country house. Visually it looks similar, apart from the background that seems almost painted. The gap between the graphic style of the backdrop and the usual "cuby" 3D that characterizes every LEGO game is evident and is both striking and fascinating. Clearly it's a minor detail, but soon turned out to be merely the tip of the iceberg.
The developers took the opportunity to show the different mechanics of puzzle-solving, an essential element in every LEGO game, but this time everything is enhanced. In the first LEGO games, the puzzles were limited to the recovery of some missing pieces, or pressure-plates to trigger with multiple characters. Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 shows us how the series has evolved by introducing different types of puzzles.
Some puzzles can be only solved with the use of magic, especially by using a Leviosa spell, cast with the B button. Mapping a single spell onto a button denotes the great importance Leviosa will have in this game, since many puzzles require you to use it, although it'll need to be combined with other spells later. For example, developers have introduced the so-called "argumented spells" that can play a crucial role in solving some puzzles. These spells react with the surroundings, changing them. A water spell, for example, will make climber plants grow, while a fire spell can burn some brambles, and so on.
Other puzzles require the use of your pets, which can squeeze into tight spaces and activate buttons or retrieve objects. Boxes from Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes shop act as a Mary Poppins' bag, spilling out special (often enormous) items that can allow the player to perform certain actions, such as walking on walls. We can build vehicles to overcome some challenges. Finally, there are also the traditional puzzles only solvable by specific characters.
It must be said that, in order to keep the casual tone of the game, the puzzle type is indicated by particular signs (a transparent block, for example, identifies the riddles solved through an elemental spell). Given the wide variety of puzzles though, such indicators were almost inevitable and certainly justifiable.
What more than anything else makes us appreciate the work of Traveller's Tale, however, is the extraordinary attention to the detail. The game is inspired by the movies, but we couldn't help but notice some strange elements, such as a curious haunted part in The Burrow.
"This element is present only in the books," the developer says. "We wanted to introduce some details that only the most careful readers of the books could notice. So we created a game inspired by both films and novels, not to confuse those who have only seen the movie but to excite fans of the books as well". It's the kind of material which, we believe, will make the most devoted fans jump for joy.
Finally, the graphic refinement the LEGO titles have achieved is simply amazing. We have already talked about the very inspiring backgrounds, but we must also mention the extraordinary lighting in Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7. It gives the game a darker tone, and pastel backgrounds make it almost spooky every now and then. In addition, the developers have taken their time to show us a stage where the game turns into a 2.5D platformer. Nothing innovative (Little Big Planet, anyone?) but a further sign of how they've tried to vary the gameplay.
Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 will arrive this Christmas and, for once, we would like to include it into our list of the most anticipated games of this year. Given the amount of hardcore titles coming in the next few months, the presence of a casual title is necessary, with your default choice being this title. However, everything indicates that the new Lego Harry Potter will mark a new standard for Traveller's Tale's gaming parodies.