As the Harry Potter books and flicks progressed, Harry and his friends grew up. They went from cute chubby-cheeked scamps playing Quidditch to handsome and fashionable twentysomethings spouting spells and battling the darkest of evil.
Now they grow up in LEGO form too. With LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7, gamers are given interconnecting block versions of the leaner, meaner, more violent threesome. But how is it that the typically cute LEGO franchise can capture the story's growing fear of death and desolation with a fistful of plastic characters who can't talk?
Well, maybe it can't. Time to find out.
He Who Is Not to be … Built?
Like the Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Batman games before it, this latest LEGO Harry Potter installment chooses key moments of Harry's last three films and re-creates them with as much charm as possible. That equates to placing a bunch of whimsically rendered and melodramatically gesticulating figures in a series of environments that can be broken down into their blocky basics and then rebuilt. In these demolishable arenas, the game's heroes are given a whole lot of plastic stud gathering and puzzle solving to accomplish. And I do mean a whole lot.
The essential goal here is to guide Harry and his pals all around a Pottery version of England. Your young heroes seek out the seven magical "Horcruxes" that contain pieces of the Dark Lord Voldemort's rancid soul. And if they can find and smash up all of these mystical doodads—fighting off soul-eating dementors and the like along the way—they just might save the day.
And, yes, there are cauldrons full of wand-zapping battles to be had, just as there were in Years 1-4. In fact, there's quite a bit here exactly like that predecessor. Because, really, the only thing much changed is that a few of the locales feel more dreary and the faces of certain characters glower more. Again, there's no gore or mess. But the sharp-toothed goblin, dragon, giant spider, giant snake, ghosty and wizardly foes can be a bit creepy, even as LEGOs.
Your wand-bearers blast the bad guys with colorful bursts of magical energy, and the defeated crumble into their component LEGO bits. In fact, that crumbling demise is how every fallen enemy goes—except for one cutscene that focuses on a rather dramatic dissolving death.
To do all of that smashing, collecting, reconfiguring and fighting, gamers gradually acquire access to eight different spells that are displayed on a quick-choice spell wheel. These whammies include your basic bashing and levitating blasts, along with some other specifically named magickings. A Focus spell, for instance, makes it possible to see what other characters are thinking. Lumos casts a bright light that can pierce the gloom and scare away vine-like obstacles. And Expecto Patronum creates an embodiment of your spirit that chases away darkness.
Now, these spells and incantations are never really explained in any detail in the game—like, for instance, that the creation of a Horcrux requires a caster to commit murder and rip a soul apart. But that doesn't mean inquisitive young gamers might not be drawn to the books or other sources for more expansive explanations. And, as we said about the previous title, that's probably the most problematic element of the LEGO Harry Potter games.
Let's face it, Harry's valiant battle against evil incarnate—especially here in its final chapters—is a tale that glamorizes and wraps itself in a world of witchcraft and dark, deadly, mystical happenings. The Potter books try to give that darkness a more pleasant, youthful appeal. And these LEGO games sweeten the goings-on all the more. But the murky bits are still at the story's core, even when they've been clothed in puzzle-filled plastic charm.