The last three story years of the Harry Potter saga are some of the most complex and emotionally fraught in the series of novels and films. So it has to be a real challenge for developer Traveller’s Tales to distill all of that down into a LEGO-ized version of death and misery of Harry’s fifth through seventh years at Hogwarts, right? Well, as is their habit, the people behind LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Indiana Jones are able to smooth over the darker elements for these games skewed towards younger players, but there’s a weird sort of compression to the story and connected gameplay that makes LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 feel a little jumbled, losing some of the magic of the original stories.
LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 covers the novels/movies Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If you haven’t read the books/seen the movies, these three books comprise the whole gathering of forces arc for the series, as Harry and his allies prepare for the final conflict with series baddie Voldemort. Lots of Harry’s friends and loved ones die (badly) as “The Boy Who Lived” heads towards his destiny.
The gameplay involves swapping out Harry (and his allies’) spells and abilities to solve environmental puzzles (usually requiring you to find one or more objects in the nearby space, or combining materials to temporarily power you up to open a door or otherwise exit a level). Harry’s spell attacks can be a little finicky and unresponsive at times—there’s something like a half second or slightly less delay when tapping or holding down the circle button on the Vita to execute an attack on a incoming Death Eater, which can occasionally cost you valuable hearts.
This is still the same block collection gameplay that you know and are familiar with from previous LEGO games, with the Harry Potter twist that you’ll have to use your wand and a spell to move objects, shrink them, etc. Now this translates to a lot of collection and fetch quests in LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7, blending some of what worked in previous LEGO titles with a somewhat disjointed presentation that doesn’t serve the narrative super well.
For instance, in an early level, you’ll have to convince some of the fellow Hogwarts students to join Harry in his quest while in the super-tight confines of a tavern level. There’s a stuffed boars’ head on one of the walls that you have to place an object in, but at no point is there really any indication that the object and the boar’s head are supposed to interact—just that the boar’s head is the only thing you can get to interact with the object you have in your character’s hand. After completing the level, you’re treated to a cutscene that relays some plot points from the movies, but like many of the cutscenes in the game, they go by so quickly and communicate so little, that you’d have to be really familiar with the story to know what’s going on.
Very solid in-game graphics and sound
The LEGO aesthetic is as pleasing as ever and you get the John Williams score from the films to go along with it. Spells and ambient sound effects are all very strong as well.
Diverse spell and character selection
There are loads of characters throughout the Harry Potter canon to pick up and have join your party throughout the game, which is a pleasant reward to fans of the series.
Not particularly accessible to anyone else
Let’s be honest: unless you’re a fan of Harry Potter, you’re not going to be picking up this game. Still, even as someone who has a decent knowledge of the stories, I was occasionally left confused and every once and a while outright lost about what was going on in the story thanks to the action in the cuscenes and the rather opaque way that they linked up to the ensuing level.
Plus, while the LEGO aesthetic is cool, sometimes, it’s not completely clear who certain characters rushing on and off the screen were.
Spell attacks could be a little more responsive
That delay I mentioned isn’t fatal, although sometimes it could be an annoyance when enemies are very close, requiring you to retreat a bit. Many of the spells require a healthy charge-up time, but even getting the charging notification takes a (half)second or so.
Weak puzzle logic
The game assumes (rightly) that you’re going to smash, grab, pull up, and cast spells on everything in the nearby area, meaning it’s likely that you’ll simply stumble onto the solution of a nearby lock or puzzle by happenstance. Still, this can prove a little frustrating for those of us without the compulsive collecting spirit who simply want to ride along with the narrative and see what’s next.
It’s neither broken nor an obvious licensed cash-in in any way, but LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 does lack the polish of earlier Traveller’s Tales games, and isn’t the most auspicious debut of the developer on the PS Vita.