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LEGO Harry Potter Review: Magical

I wasn’t sure what to expect from LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 for iOS. Traveller’s Tales has been able to get a lot of mileage out of their LEGO franchise, but everything that I know about the games suggested that translating the winning formula to iOS would be difficult. I should have had more faith in Traveller’s Tales, however, because they pulled it off.  They have effectively simplified the LEGO experience for iOS while still maintaining the elements that make LEGO games so much fun. The result is not just a great LEGO game, but a great  game in general, and one any iOS fan should check out.

The game follows, in broad strokes, the plot of the first four Harry Potter films (not the novels — this is strictly a movie license), just like the console game. But instead of trying to cram the the larger boards with multiple objectives that the console version featured, LEGO Harry Potter for iOS presents its gameplay in smaller, bite-sized packages. This makes it good for quick play on a casual device like the iOS. On the consoles, a good LEGO board could take a half hour or more to play through; here, you’ll get through the story mode of most boards in about ten minutes. Because of these changes, the iOS game follows the plot of the movies even less than the console game did. But this is still Harry Potter in spirit, even if it isn’t in the details. This also means that Traveller’s Tales didn’t go the lazy route with development of this game; they actually crafted all new content.

The first couple of levels are pure learning levels: running around Privet Drive, meeting people at the Leaky Cauldron, withdrawing from the Gringott’s vault. They’re low impact, easy-complete quests with no damaging elements. You’ll begin to wonder why you have a life meter at all. Once you get your wand, however, things pick up and the real LEGO experience kicks in.

The building and breaking element of the LEGO games is a signature one, and thankfully, it’s still here. In terms of breaking, you don’t get the sheer variety of things to break and build that you did on the console, but there’s still barrels, boxes, chairs, books, and various other objects to shatter for precious pips.

As for building, you generally do this through the wand mechanic, a touch-based element that the devs have really implemented well. Tapping piles of bricks or manipulatable objects brings up a shimmering sigil on the screen, like a circle, or an arrow, or a flame. To cast a spell, you must trace the sigil (thankfully not too accurately). This either triggers an action, like building or moving an object, or sometimes triggers a quick minigame puzzle, which then triggers the manipulation. I really liked this element of the game; it’s novel to the iOS and it works well for the most part.

Yup, Harry even gets to open his Invisibility Cloak at Christmas.

Most of the other fun features of the console LEGO games have survived here intact. Replayable “free play” mode, unlockable characters, red brick special abilities, collections to complete (in this case, golden wizard hats), pip collecting for “True Wizard” status, and even customizable characters all feature into the game. Also present are the great cinematic cutscenes, here carried over directly from the console game; they look great and pack the same wry humor as they did before.  Traveler’s Tales has done an incredible job of delivering the LEGO experience to iOS.

The game does have one really annoying technical issue: the movement controls are awkward and annoying. Instead of using a virtual d-pad, you must touch the screen in the direction you want to go. That means that you’re either playing with both thumbs, swapping out when you want to go left or right, or your thumb is halfway across the screen, obscuring your view.  Please, devs, give us a d-pad!

And on the iPad … well, on the iPad I imagine that this control scheme is even more annoying. But right now, the game won’t work on iPad, since it’s looking for iOS 4.2.  So I can’t really blame the game for this one. Come on, Apple, gimme Harry on my iPad!  But I can’t imagine this movement system being any better on that big screen.

I will forgive the movement issue, though, because it’s fixable in an update. In terms of the most important things, game design and play, it’s a great translation of the LEGO flavor, scaled down and reconfigured to play well on the iPhone. After playing LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4, I cannot wait for the iOS version of Years 5-7, or any other LEGO game Traveler’s Tales chooses to port into the palm of my hand (Batman, I’m looking at you).

Our Score: 5/5

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