zavvi’s latest exclusive preview is Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 the newest release in the ever expanding Harry Potter franchise – so how does it stack up?

The Ironmonger’s Hall is the base of one of the City Of London’s most historic guilds; a grand, Tudor-style building near London’s Barbican that is steeped in the rich and charitable history of one of England’s twelve great livery companies. Today though, the venue is appearing as a slightly down-sized approximation of Hogwarts, replete with intrepid, costumed thespians demanding orderly queues and silence, an entrance emblazoned with large naked torches, and a grand dining hall embellished with silver goblets and quills. The resemblance is uncanny despite the obvious contrast is scale, and the site is actually an entirely appropriate location for today’s event; as scenes from the fourth Potter film were filmed on these very grounds back in 2004.

All of this time and effort is far from misplaced, as it is here that Warner Bros. Interactive have chosen to grant a first look at the concoction of two interminable, blockbusting franchises that appears to represent an act of utterly perfect synergy. Warner’s very own Harry Potter cash-cow and Traveller’s Tales’ stellar LEGO brand truly seem like a match made in heaven, and the game’s production head Jonathan Smith and his team clearly tackled it with all the verve of children placed at the helm of a gigantic train set.

Smith’s presentation is infused with a boundless enthusiasm for the Harry Potter series, and his gameplay demonstration – of an incomplete game that couldn’t look any less like something unfinished – is littered with references and gags that attest to a genuine love of everything Potter. The cinematics, according to Smith, try to comfortably encapsulate 45-minute stretches of film into 2 minute chunks of in-game cutscene, and the few that we were shown were as absurdly charming as you’d expect. Smith’s proud description of his art team as a collective who are obsessively dedicated to achieving perfect character models, was also hilariously evident throughout.

Previous LEGO titles have always encouraged players to toy with the narrative of the source material, but here the game’s story unfolds chronologically. This structure allows the action stuff to be back-loaded into the later portions of the game, with the majority of the opening act being taken up by some very satisfying skill-learning and exploration.

The game boasts 100 playable characters, drop in/drop out co-op, and that same dynamic split-screen system that first emerged in LEGO Indiana Jones 2. Our brief hands-on, in which we controlled Harry and Hagrid in turn as they bounded around the Leaky Cauldron pub, featured that patented silk-smooth control system, lush visuals, and puzzles that continue to toe a completely unique line between simple and taxing. Also promised is an extremely intriguing magic system, with different characters excelling at some spells and floundering at others – which is another ingenious tool that will inevitably be used to gently encourage player co-operation.

Though unequivocally aimed at pre-teens, Traveller’s Tales’ LEGO games have endured precisely because they transcend that target audience. They continue to engage with older gamers because they function as retro throwbacks, chilled-out changes of pace from almost every other videogame on the market, and shining examples of genuinely co-operative multiplayer gaming.

And from our brief playtest, the only conclusion to be drawn is that this is very, very likely to be the finest LEGO game yet made. It is polished, deeply humorous and effortlessly engaging, and Traveller’s Tales have also guaranteed that this will be easily the biggest LEGO game ever created, in terms of scope as well as sheer content.

Hopefully you’re going to be as impressed by the LEGO Harry Potter 1-4  game as us, what’s your favourite LEGO game been so far – have they lived up to your expectations? Which franchise would you like to see get the LEGO treatment?

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