The Lego games have a strong following, and with a very good reason. They take beloved franchises and boil them down to their core; they get right to what it is about these adapted properties that we love and then add a layer of charming gameplay and humor, mixed with simple—yet effective—mechanics. They are just fun to play, and they manage to tell a well-known story in a way that feels fresh, and yet familiar.
Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 is a known commodity to Lego fans, having originally been released for PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii, plus modified versions on the PSP and 3DS, back in November. It was a great game and a fitting companion to the earlier Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4. And even without the built in audience that was already willing to love the franchise because of the subject, the game stood on its own merits. You can read our full review here.
The Vita version, however, is a different animal. It isn’t quite a port of the console version as it is a remake. A remake that seemed to feel that it needed to remove major chunks of the original game, and cut corners in the oddest ways. The core gameplay is still there, and the essential feel of the Lego games remains, but it feels truncated and stunted, and in ways that just don’t make sense.
After playing the game and preparing my review, I was shown the PSP version of this game and I realized what happened. The Vita version is the PSP game…but with touch commands. And not very useful touch commands at that. I never played the PSP version, so the problems inherent with it weren’t known to me. I wish they had been.
The Boy That Lived Again and Again
If you are a Harry Potter fan you know the plot. The Boy That Lived runs head first through puberty, fighting off zits and Voldemort in equal measures. The game begins during The Order of the Phoenix, jumps into The Half Blood Prince, and then follows the movies by splitting the original book into The Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2.
With the Lego games a definite level of familiarity in regards to the stories is a must. If you don’t already know the plot then not only will you miss most of the in-jokes, you simply won’t be able to follow the story because there isn’t a distinct narrative. It is a series of skits that parodies the material, but lovingly. This game goes beyond that though, and only offers the briefest glimpse of the story as it rushes by.
It isn’t that the narrative it fails, it just isn’t there. Entire levels from the original are missing, which would be fine, except the game just barely touches on the heart of the stories. Cut scenes are shortened and fly by. Each of the four sections of the game can be completed in under two hours at the most, and the episodic nature makes it feel even shorter.
It feels like the game wants to get sections out of the way to get to something else, but there is no payoff. If the story isn’t an issue though, then the game does have a lot to offer. It is still top notch and fun–albeit brief. It was never especially deep, but it does what it sets out to, and is enjoyable throughout. The lack of any form of multiplayer is a shame though.
The Gameplay that Lived
For those that have never played a Lego game, they all follow a similar pattern. You show up, you wreck stuff, and you collect bolts and other various items. Although you primarily play as Harry, you also switch between various characters as the situation arises. You can also return to earlier levels with unlocked characters, which is vital if you are all about collecting hard to get items, as certain characters have certain abilities that are needed to reach areas, open doors, unlock gates, etc., etc.
The Vita’s touchscreen is incorporated, but not in a meaningful way. You can touch targets that you want to attack or interact with, but it is actually more of a pain than just using the d-pad. It doesn’t take anything away though, so it is a non-issue, just another example of under-utilizing the Vita’s capabilities.
As for the graphics, there is a division. The gameplay graphics are smooth and look good. They don’t quite reach the original console version, but they are respectable. The cut scenes, however, are not.
There is a bizarre downgrade in the graphics here. It looks as if the cut scenes were recorded off of a DVD onto a VHS tape, then copied a few times. There is a grainy, diluted look to them that is equal parts inexcusable and baffling. It just doesn’t make any sense. Sure, the Vita is not as powerful as the PS3 or 360, but the graphics looked below the 3DS’ standards. For hardware as powerful as the Vita, the cut scenes are inexcusably bad. The sound is also underwhelming given the Vita’s capabilities, but that is something you’ll only notice if you are checking for it.
Lego Harry Potter Years 5-7 is a great game and the best Harry Potter video game around. On the consoles. The Vita version is a direct port of the PSP version, which was itself severely edited, with entire levels removed and major sections reworked to be shorter and simpler. If you have played the full console version, this will feel like a demo, and an odd one with bad graphics at that. The gameplay is good though, and what there is, is fun.
But even with some fun moments and solid gameplay, it is hard to overlook all the issues, especially on the Vita. On another piece of portable hardware it may make sense to offer a deliberately nerfed version of the game, but on the Vita it just feels like a hastily ported version of the PSP version. It doesn’t make any sense. If they were going to hastily port a game, it wouldn’t have been that difficult to just port (and slightly downgrade) the console version—the Vita could handle it. There is some fun here, but it is a pale reflection of the far superior console version that is difficult to justify.
Score 6.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita on a copy provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment)