If you're familiar with developer Traveller's Tales' previous Lego games, you might think you know what Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is like even before you've played it--and you'd be partially right. In this game, just as in Lego Star Wars and its ilk, you (perhaps along with a friend on the same console) experience a witty and wordless rendition of a famed tale, with your favorite characters replaced by blocky Lego re-creations. Yet central elements of the previous games, such as simplistic combat and floaty platforming, have been given a secondary role in Harry's story. Now, the focus is squarely on collecting all those countless Lego bits that go flying everywhere with almost every spell you cast. You're constantly showered with currency as you solve light puzzles and manipulate practically every object you see with your versatile wand. You still need to contend with a few of the series' lingering issues (unhelpful AI, slippery platforms) and a couple of minor new ones (iffy targeting, random bugs). But the scattered flaws aren't likely to dampen the joy of playing Lego Harry Potter, particularly if you're a fan of the source material.
Of course, you'll get the most out of Lego Harry Potter if you can tell Dobby from the Dursleys. And if you're one such fan, the game will frequently have you in stitches. As you can tell from the title, this adventure covers the first four novels of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, and it does so with the same humorous bent that characterizes all of the developer's Lego games. Whether it's a Lego Hagrid screeching into Little Whinging on his motorcycle or the lovely young ladies of Beauxbatons prancing into Hogwarts, exaggerated sound effects and adorable animations make every cutscene a total delight. Lego Harry Potter takes most of its cues from the movies rather than the books, using the films' evocative musical soundtracks to great effect. The game takes certain liberties with the story for comedic effect, but these charming tweaks are in the spirit of the series and likely to elicit constant giggles. The only liberty that doesn't work out so well is a final action sequence bolted to the ending of Prisoner of Azkaban, which is super fun to play, but makes no sense within the context of the original story.
Such action sequences are rare in Lego Harry Potter, though there are still light combat sections and boss fights. You defeat Dementors by casting the Patronus Charm, fight Aragog by throwing spiders at him using Wingardium Leviosa, and even take on He Who Must Not Be Named. Most of the time, however, you're scouring the environment looking for ways to use your ever-increasing repertoire of spells. You can switch between spells easily and cast the one you prefer, and in certain cases, such as using Lumos to make vines wither away, you need to select the spell manually. However, most spells are contextual and can be cast by holding a button and hovering the spell cursor over the object you want to manipulate. The targeting can be a little iffy; sometimes the halo indicating an interactive object won't appear when it seems it should, and it's really easy to target something you don't intend to--such as an unsuspecting student. But this is a mostly insignificant inconvenience. For the most part, you'll be smashing everything that's smashable and reconstructing everything that's reconstructible, reaping the bits that scatter as a reward for charms well cast.