Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Video game number one hundred and eighty eight: Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4

Video game review number one hundred and eighty eight in my 365 Games in 365 Days project is "Lego Harry Potter, Years 1-4".

This game was released yesterday and you can't go into a game store without seeing a giant display for it. It's out on every console (including the handhelds), so like all multi-console games...I'll be playing it on the 360 (for the gamerscore of course!)

Speaking of gamerscore, let me kick off this little review by saying that unlike all the other Lego titles, this game is incredibly stingy with it. Perhaps it's because they're covering 4 movies instead of the normal three, but they've decided to hand out achievements only for beating entire "years", or for doing other special things you aren't going to be able to do until later in the game. It took me several hours before I had my first achievement, and that was for collecting 500 "ghost coins" or something.

The next thing I need to disclose? I'm not a Harry Potter fan. I realize that a ton of adults (including many that aren't parents themselves) read this series of books and loved them...but I'm not one of those people. I just don't understand the fascination with reading a book because it's what all the 11 year olds are reading these days. Don't get me wrong, I loved "Green Eggs and Ham" when I was a kid, but these days, when I read....I like reading books written for grown-ups. Or at least a good Tom Clancy book.

I tried to watch the first Harry Potter movie when that came out to see what all the hype was about, but I thought it was silly. After seeing it, I felt like my decision to abstain from the "Harry Potter craze" was justified. Years later, I watched almost all the same people who worshiped Harry Potter turn into Twilight fans, and so in retrospect, I've never felt better about a decision to ignore a pop culture phenomenon.

Before you dismiss my opinion as close-minded, consider this: If you're one of those people who spent eight years wondering how there were enough people in America to keep George Bush president for all those'll have a pretty good idea how I feel about all the adult Twilight and Harry Potter fans. I recognize that over 50% of the population might disagree with me and realize that there must be something worth liking about it...but for the life of me, I just can't see it.

Suffice it to say, after that first movie....I saw nothing that had made me want to watch the sequels, or read the books. I've had many people tell me "If you give it a chance, you'll like it"...but that's the same thing the older kids told me about smoking when I was younger, and we all know how smart it is to cave in to peer pressure. You can all keep your addiction, I'll stay cancer free...thank you very much.

Why spend so much time talking about this? Simple. In order to play this game, you are required to be a Harry Potter fan. I'm sure this game is made specifically for them...and that's not an unreasonable thing. For someone like me? I found it to be incredibly lame.

It's a Lego title, so it's got great gameplay, fun graphics, and you immediately feel comfortable in the universe. The one thing I wasn't counting on was this: If you're not a Harry Potter fan, you're going to spend a portion of this game lost and wondering what to do next. In the first level, you're supposed to walk down this row of shops until you get to a bank....only I didn't know that. See, I saw the first movie many years ago, once....and it's erased from my mind at this point. This means I didn't remember the scene where Harry went to the bank (and I still don't).

I was hopping around in this giant room (which I didn't know was a bank) looking for the exit door for almost 15 minutes before my wife walked into the room and said "You're in the bank, and now you need to ride the cart to Harry's vault". I had seen a cart earlier, and even tried to ride it, but I didn't know where to go. With her help, I noticed a small safe that I hadn't opened yet, which ended up opening the vault. That got me un-stuck, and back on a path to where I could finally beat the level.

At the beginning of the next level, there are moving staircases. Apparently, this is normal in "Hogwarts"...and the first time you encounter one, you're just supposed to know that. I sort of remembered it from the trailers of the movie....and I'm lucky I did, or I would have been stuck for longer than I was, as there's no onscreen indicator that you need to move the staircase to progress (just a line of coins in thin air that you want to follow and have no idea how). If you jump towards the coins, you die automatically, so you have to move those stairs.

The onscreen hints tell you to cast "Wigasium Leviosa" (or something)....and you're supposed to know what that means. It's pretty easy to figure out that it's a spell, but it would be nice if they told you what it does. There's an achievement for killing Muggle characters. You're supposed to know who they are. Sure, it occurs to me that other games do this (a Mario game might ask you to find a picture of Toad or something)....but I've never been more lost in a clearly established universe than I was in this game.

In short...if you're a Harry Potter I'm a Star Wars dork, play this game, you're probably going to love it. If you're not a Harry Potter dork, this is probably going to be the worst Lego game you've ever played...and you're going to feel pretty confused. Because there's no dialog in Lego games, you're just supposed to "know" the story...or be able to decipher what's going on from the cute little mumbling cartoons in the cut scenes. With Star Wars, Batman, Indy...I've always thought these little cut scenes were awesome, and perfect. With Harry Potter...I've realized that if you don't know the movies....they're just a lot of nonsense.

Overall Score? 4/10. Am I kidding with this score? No, I'm not. I love the Lego games, and I never thought I could dislike one...but Harry Potter just proved it was easily possible. Turns out you have to be a fan of the movies to enjoy the game, and I'm sorry...but that's an insurmountable requirement for me. They might as well say that you need to learn to speak French before you can play.

Achievements? I got my one achievement (and it took hours), so I most likely won't be returning to this game anytime soon....

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