by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Gaming”

Lessons I Have Learned from Playing Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 (DS)

Posted 7 October 2010 in by Catriona

1. The purchase of Traveller’s Tales by Warner Brothers was not actually for the best.

I’ve been a devotee of the Lego games from the time I played the complete Star Wars game, and this one . . . well, it’s just not doing it for me. I know it’s designed for 10+ players, and I do feel a bit silly complaining about a game for child players. But the other Lego games had a richness to them, without being so insanely difficult that they were only possible for advanced players. And this one? There’s no richness here. No hidden rooms. No complexity or variety to the game play (and, yes, I’m thinking particularly of the Lego Batman here). It seemed to devolve into nothing but opening locked chests for an entire level. Even a ten-year-old would find that boring.

Some levels do hint at a potential for complexity: the Knockturn Alley adventure, the secret passageway to Hogsmead in book three, the Hogsmead level itself. But it’s not enough to make up for level after level where you’re just opening locked chests.

And it’s not only the redundancy of the game play. It’s also the way the game is stuck in its own narrative, so that even though you might have chosen to play as Hermione or Dobby, the NPCs will still call you “Harry.”

And speaking of restrictive narrative . . .

2. It doesn’t matter how fond of Harry Potter you are or how fond of Lego games you are, it’s still boring being forced to repeat the same tutorial levels over and over again.

Look, I honestly do think that the classroom situation is a good way to seed the tutorials levels through the game and to add complexity to the game-playing experience by spacing out the spells you need to complete all the tasks. I don’t even object to only being taught Alohomara to open locked chests in fourth year, even though, as an NPC pointed out in-game, it’s actually a spell from first year.

But there really is no reason why I should have to do these tutorial levels twice. In Story Mode? Fine. Story Mode is restrictive and linear. But in Free Play? No. Definitely no. Free Play has been, in the Lego games, a chance to roam freely around the level and just blow up whatever I want. Why on earth am I trapped in the classroom again, learning spells that you know full well I’ve already learned, or I would never have been able to unlock Free Play in the first place?

I suspect it’s lazy game design, but it reminds me horribly of those anxiety dreams you get where you’re back in high school and they won’t let you leave even though you tell them you’ve actually got a Ph.D. now and then they make you play some sort of team sport and you just know you’re going to score another own goal . . .

Everyone gets those, right?

3. You can still be the most popular boy in school despite spending much of your spare time blowing up all the armchairs in the Gryffindor common room.

(I don’t need to blow up the armchairs. It’s just fun.)

4. There’s something a bit embarrassing about an all-but 34-year-old woman hissing into her Nintendo DS in order to simulate speaking Parseltongue.

(I make Nick leave the room when I get to a Parseltongue doorway.)

5. I never thought that being a practitioner of the Dark Arts was one of my lifelong ambitions. Turns out, I was wrong.

This is back to a comparison with Lego Batman, but, really, they missed a trick here. In both Batman and Lego Star Wars, you had the chance to play villains. In fact, in Batman, it was compulsory: half the levels were villains levels. And they were awesome. In Lego Star Wars, it was more of a moral choice: I suppose you didn’t have to open the Sith doorways if you didn’t want to.

(It wasn’t much of a moral choice. I mean, the Emperor could shoot Force lightning at people. And Darth Vader could Force choke people, so that they split into dozens of constituent parts. What? Why are you looking at me like that?)

But Lego Harry Potter doesn’t give you that choice. No moral complexity in this game, even though you can purchase and play Voldemort (in three forms) and Snape, not to mention various Death Eaters. No, here you don’t have any areas that are only accessible to Voldemort’s supporters, nothing that even hints at any kind of clash of opposed ideologies.

But you do have a great deal of money . . .

6. Cumulative score counters are, surprisingly, not much fun. Perhaps I should have simply not bought all of the x2, x4, x6 etc. score counters, but they haven’t been cumulative in other Lego games (except Lego Indiana Jones, and even then it was only, I think, for the Wii version, not the DS version). So I was a bit surprised when I ended up with 4.2 billion Lego studs. Even this wouldn’t be a big problem, except that the most expensive purchases in the in-game store (such as a playable Voldemort) only cost two million studs: I don’t even notice that, out of my vast riches. I almost miss the days when I had to farm levels in Lego Star Wars in order to afford the Emperor or the Force ghost of Ben Kenobi.

7. Giant spiders suck. Levels where you fight giant spiders non-stop also suck. Giant-spider levels that crash right on the last action and do this every single time you play them? They suck the most.

8. You know what else sucks? Ghosts. Ghosts totally suck. All they can do is slip through bars. And this makes no sense to me. Why can’t ghosts cross water? All right: there are superstitions about the undead and running water. But why, when ghosts accidentally fall off high places, do they hit the ground with an audible thump and moan, only to pop up and start floating off the ground again? That will never, ever make sense to me.

9. Apparently, there aren’t enough villains in the books. Or at least not enough villains to make a Lego game a bit challenging. Luckily, this can be easily remedied with anthropomorphic (and psychotic!) mushrooms and some weird blokes in red hats who bury themselves deep in the ground, waiting to kill anyone who stands on them.

Gits.

10. Okay, it was pretty funny when Cedric Diggory died at the end of Goblet of Fire, and Dumbledore clapped his father sympathetically on the shoulder before handing him a Lego instruction sheet. I’ll give you that.

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