Out of all of the Lego games so far, the original Lego Harry Potter was possibly our overall favourite (with Lego Batman a close second) – and once we'd finally managed to finish all the levels, found all the collectables and ransacked Hogwarts as much as we could (which took us months - if there's one thing these games aren't short on, it's things to do), we couldn't wait for the inevitable sequel.
The story picks up where the previous game left off, as the Order of the Phoenix begins, with Harry, along with his friends Ron and Hermione, heading into their fifth year at Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Told through a series of mute, slapstick cutscenes, the story will certainly have the whole family chuckling along - but one of the few downsides to the game is that if you haven't already read the books, or seen the films, it's kind of hard to actually understand what's going on. While it won't affect your enjoyment of the game too much (the levels are all easy enough to follow - it's just the overarching storyline you'll be lost on), it certainly helps if you're familiar with the events of the films/books before delving into Harry's Wonderful World.
Thankfully, much like the previous games, not all that much has changed to the usual Lego formula. A two-player, drop-in, drop-out at any time platforming game, Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7 sees you and a friend exploring and puzzling your way through a variety of brick-filled, puzzle-fuelled, slapstick levels, based on the key points from the films and books. With less of an emphasis on combat than the previous games, most of your time will be spent putting your wizarding power to good use as you try to progress through the levels, building staircases out of Lego bricks you see lying around, lifting platforms up for your co-op partner (which the computer controls if you're playing on your own), and the like.
Each character in the Lego universe has their own special abilities, whether it's Hagrid's super strength that lets him shift objects other characters can't, Harry's ability to talk to snakes or Griphook, who's key is needed to access locked boxes – each of which will be important for a handful of puzzles somewhere along the line, or summoning Ron's owl, Pigwidgeon, to crawl through a narrow gap, and dislodge something you'll need to solve one of the game's puzzles. Many of the puzzles you do come across are grounded in silliness, whether it's building a flying fire engine to put out fires, distracting a load of wasps with a giant ice-cream or a furnace to melt the ice that's encasing an important item. A couple of new abilities have been added for you to make use of in Years 5-7, too - namely Hermione and her bottomless bag, from which she can pull all manner of helpful objects, and the Weasley boxes, which let any of the red-headed family use all sorts of contraptions from Fred and George's joke shop – fireworks, sticky shoes for walking up walls and a hoard of squeaky horns and many more.
One of the main thing that's been expanded for this year is what you'll be doing outside of the levels. When you're not playing through one of the story-progressing levels, you're given the ability to explore Hogwarts at will, with its winding corridors, rotating staircases, and moving portraits all available for you to explore. Expanded for Years 5-7, you'll also now have the ability to visit a London-themed area, Platform 9 and 3/4, a forest campsite, and Hogsmeade, too.
Another, less exciting addition for this game is the duel system. Every so often, you'll come across some bad guy or guyette who's confined to a mysterious circle on the floor, meaning you can only defeat them by duelling with them. Once you hop inside the circle, it kicks off, and your opponent will use a spell of a specific colour – and it's up to you to select the matching colour and overpower their spell by hammering the corresponding button that pops up on the screen. For the in between times when you sense imminent destruction, you can bring up a shield to give you chance to swap to the right spell. All in all though, it seems a little bit fiddly, and doesn't really add that much to the game.
However, there's one component that hasn't been all that tweaked with for Year 5-7, and that just happens to be the same thing that'll have us playing the game for months on end - the cunningly hidden collectables, that have been scattered round each of the levels and stashed away in the winding corridors of Hogwarts. Some are obvious, but many are well hidden and require specific characters abilities, or perhaps even combinations of abilities, to reach – whether it's having to use a bad guy to open up a chest sealed with dark magic, making use of Hermionie's brains to decipher some runes on a cupboard or using Harry's trusty invisibility cloak to sneak past a bad guy. Each level has four Hogwarts crests to find, one for each of the houses – Griffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin – as well as a stupid student who's got himself stuck in a stupid place, who you'll need to rescue from his imminent peril. Finishing each level also unlocks a number of character you can then buy using studs, the game's in-game currency, whilst each level also has a further three characters hidden inside it.
Also hidden around Hogwarts and the surrounding areas are red bricks, which look like red boxes and contain all manner of 'cheats' you can turn on, once you've earnt enough of the studs (the game's currency) to buy them from an upstairs room in the Leaky Cauldron pub. We're not just talking invincibility or extra health here either, as there's plenty of daft ones you can turn on that give your characters a Christmas hat, or a crazy, Groucho disguise. There's also the incredibly useful stud multipliers that come in x2, x4, x6, x8 and x10 flavours, which make every stud you pick up throughout the levels worth more – and turning all five on gives you a whopping x3840 multiplier, making it much easier to get the millions you need to buy a new cheat, character or whatever. If you're a completionist like us, meanwhile, the various collectable detectors are indispensable, giving you handy arrows to point out where a crest piece, character token or brick may be hiding – although you'll have to work out how to get them yourself.
The final thing that's always worth a mention when it comes to the Lego games is how well done the little Lego representations of the characters are, who seem to have oodles of personality and charm, despite being totally mute. Well, we say totally mute, but that's not entirely true, seeing as they do make noises from time to time - they just don't say anything – from Luna Lovegood's annoying-sounding 'hup' as she jumps, to the strange eeeeuuuurrrgh noise Professor Snape makes, but the main events of the stories are all told through animated cut scenes, with the characters pointing, shrugging and pulling faces.
Packed full of stuff to do and oozing with charm, Lego Harry Potter: Years 5 – 7 deserves a place in everyone's game collection, and should keep you smashing, collecting and spell-casting for a good long while. Yes it's more of the same, but when the formula works, why change it? All we know is that we've grown quite attached to the what was the best Lego interpretation of a popular franchise yet over the past couple of years, and we're kind of sad it's over now – hopefully Traveller's Tales have something just as awesome up their sleeves to take its place.
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360