I couldn't help but feel more than a little trepidation at the announcement of a new Lego game for the iOS, particularly after the huge disappointment that was Lego: Batman. Still, two years is a long time in development land, and of late we've seen developers make leaps and bounds in what can be squeezed from the Apple devices. Fortunately, the Warner Bros. Mobile dev team haven't rested on their laurels in all this time, having really stepped up to make amends with the release of Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 [$4.99], a universal app for the iPhone and iPad.

Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is in actual fact a port of the PSP and DS version of the game released earlier this year. Though I haven't had the opportunity to play either, from screenshot comparisons you can immediately tell that the game has-- contrary to many ports-- benefited dramatically from its translation to the more capable iPhone and iPad hardware. This is no lazy carbon-copy, good readers-- graphics look crisp and vibrant (particularly on the Retina display, but even so on the 3GS we primarily tested it on) and the frame rate is consistently good; controls have been tastefully re-modelled for the iOS with mini-games that make great use of the touch-screen; and the musical score is authentic and second-to-none. In fact, I am certain that what we have is now the premier handheld version.

But first thing's first – for the benefit of those who have never seen a Lego game in action (other than getting you from out of your cave), Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is a re-imagination of J.K. Rowling's ludicrously popular fiction in all the childlike splendor of Lego. Everything in the game is made up of Lego pieces, from the well-known heroes such as Harry, Ron and Hermoine, to table decorations, quidditch broomsticks and even the different colored coins littered positively everywhere that act as a form of currency in the game.

And in true Lego style, the entire world is over-the-top. Cut-scenes between levels tell the Harry Potter story in an exaggerated, tongue-in-cheek way that can be more than a little hilarious at times, especially as Lego men can't talk (of course)-- having to mime out and gesture through all their conversations. In fact, I was pleased to see that these clips are actually the same as those in the PS3/X360 version of the game (which I have played) which re-tell each of the first four chapters (Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban and the Goblet of Fire) brilliantly.

That's a word I constantly came back to when playing Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4, as there is just so much to explore and such a variety of rich experiences to play through that more than once I forgot I had an iPhone in my hands. Whether it was taking magic classes in the enormous Hogwarts, visiting stores at Diagon Alley, or chasing after Draco on a broomstick as he he makes off with Neville's Remembrall, Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is jam-packed with memorable events that have been craftily converted into engaging gameplay sequences.

You start off controlling Harry, moving him around the screen by either tapping or dragging your finger across the screen. There's no virtual joystick option here which may disappoint some, but I can't really say I had difficulty migrating to the new controls. Spell casting has also been carefully implemented for the touch screen. Very early on, you learn the Reducto spell which is a simple hooting spell that requires a quick flick towards the object you want to hit (which I resort to spamming to explode anything in sight to coin pieces), and Stupefy, which is an area stun attack that requires a quick circular gesture around your character.

Soon you'll accumulate a wealth of spells as you take classes at Hogwarts and explore the game world. Reparo for instance is needed to piece together important objects, whilst Wingardium Leviosa is used to levitate objects and reach otherwise inaccessible areas. These spells are performed by tracing on-screen gestures that appear after tapping a context-sensitive object in the game world. Other spells still, such as Transfiguration, result in short mini-games that have to be completed before they take effect, most of which are actually engaging and not merely annoying distractions.

If you've played a Lego title before on any other system, you'll be glad to know that all the unlockable characters and abilities normally expected of these games feature here too. In each of the 40+ levels in Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4, you'll usually take control of just a few of 100 characters available, some of which have special abilities that have to be utilised to progress through the level. Hagrid, for instance, can use his strength to interact with pulley mechanisms and pull and push heavy objects that the others cannot. Exploring each area thoroughly and working through some clever puzzles will reveal red bricks, golden witches hats and character cards that make available additional spells (of the ridiculously variety, such as Engorgio Skullus, which can swell any NPC's head to giant proportions) and unlock playable characters.

To go through every facet of Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 would be nigh on impossible in a review. Case in point-- just as I thought I'd seen much of what the game had to offer, I was thrown into a stealth sequence, where you have to rely on your map to avoid detection. Later still, I had my first real boss encounter, which requires a lot more dexterity and thinking than the usual puzzles. Suffice to say, this is one game that will put your money to work in a big way, as it is seriously bursting at the seams with content. If I had to put my finger on the average play time, judging by my current game, you're looking at somewhere between 12-15 hours over all four chapters. Then there's Free Play mode, where completionists can access all the levels of Story Mode to find hidden secrets (using later acquired abilities) and drastically explode their game time.

Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is without a doubt a must-buy for any real iOS gamer, barring any prejudices you may have against our scar-faced hero, of course. This is the game to show your doubting friends as I don't believe a game of this depth or breadth presently exists on the App Store, and certainly not one with the care and attention that the Warner Bros. team have expended on it. Yes, it does benefit from being a port of an existing game on a more developed system, but when the quality of the finished product is this good, who really cares? I simply cannot overstate just how high the bar has been raised for these types of games-- a shout out to other developers with similar opportunities to take note of what our beloved Apple devices are really capable of.

iPad Owners: Please note that although the game is listed as Universal and can be purchased without any problems, the game will not be able to be synched to iPad devices until the release of OS 4.2 (purportedly next week). You must have the new OS 4.2 update before the game can be played on the iPad.

  • Nick

    Thanks for the mention about the iPad update required to play, I was going crazy trying to get it to work! Great game all around

  • Josh

    How can you be "certain that what we have is now the premier handheld version." when you admit that you've only looked at screenshots of the DS and PSP versions?

    • http://twitter.com/NoSuperMan ImNoSuperMan

      A lot of forum members have played both versions and have confirmed that it IS in fact the same game as the DS/PSP version. Here's the thread link if you have time to go through all those posts to confirm what peter has already confirmed for you :)

      http://forums.toucharcade.com/showthread.php?t=73517

  • Noah

    I have a jailbroken iPhone back on 4.0.1... it should also be noted that in order to download the app from the App Store, you need iOS 4.1.

    Thankfully, that's easy enough to spoof using a Jailbroken iPhone. I won't give out details, but a quick Google Search should return the file you have to edit.

    Looking forward to playing the game! :)

    • Anonymous

      Give me a hint here dude, no need to be secretive, jailbreakings not illegal you know! I'm in the same boat, but I must be googling the wrong thing cos I can't find anything.

      • Noah

        If you have access to your root file system, the file you want to edit is this:

        /System/Library/CoreServices/SystemVersion.plist

        It's just a text file that says near the bottom what iOS version you're running, 4.0, 4.0.1, etc. Just change it to 4.1, save the file, and reboot your device.

        Now the App Store will allow you to download Lego HP!!

      • Iphone3G|Only

        How about iphone 3g? how to make it to 3gs?

      • Noah

        Even if I did tell you how to spoof your hardware, the game wouldn't run on the 3G because it requires OpenGL technology, which the 3G simply doesn't have.

  • Songbird

    This game is easily one of the best on the app store. Retina is amazing, can't wait to see it on the iPad.

  • MicroByte

    The developers did a slam dunk on this game, no shortcuts here! The game is everybit as in depth as all of the other Lego type games and looks/sounds/plays great on the iOS devices (I've played both on the iPod Touch 4G and iPad).

    Word of warning, the controls start off frustrating, but get better with more play. I remember I kept thinking that this needed a virtual stick. A few hours in and it's intuitive and flows perfectly between the spell casting and the manipulation of objects.

    This is an amazing game that you will spend A LOT of time on if you get into it - an absolute steal at this price!

  • V.V.

    this is not universal. i cant find it in Singapore store. the link says its not available in your store... i think only in US

    • Carl

      Universal means iPhone/iPad, nothing to do with locations in the world.

  • DotComCTO

    Bought this at 11PM last night. My iPad *is* running 4.2 GM2 (I have a paid Apple Developer account). While I couldn't download the game via my iPad, I was able to get it via iTunes without an issue and the game runs great on my iPad. Warner Bros and TellTale did a *fantastic* job on the game. The graphics on the iPad for exceed the version on my son's PSP. This is a must buy!

  • http://twitter.com/gabrieldrt Gabriel Duarte

    Oh boy... Not avaliable on Latin America...
    I hope they release it over here!!!

  • Guest

    Meanwhile, it's November and Lego Batman still doesn't work with iOS 4, even though an update has long been announced. And they didn't even pull it from the store. They're still trying to sell it.

    I'm not likely giving money to such an unreliable company...

  • Brian

    I was really, really looking forward to playing this. Sadly it won't work on my iPod Touch; says it need OpenGL ES 2.0. I am totally disappointed that I would need a whole new device to play this. Apple has a serious problem if developers put apps that aren't truly "universal" out there; why can't the game just not look as great on older devices? This feels like PC gaming; where you always have to have the latest possible PC to play anything!! Really annoying and Apple will never get ahead of Nintendo and Sony if they can't provide an equally simple mobile gaming experience.

    • Josh

      For this version of the game to run smoothly and look great they've limited support to 3rd and 4th gen devices only. There are now many games on the appstore that only work on devices with OpenGL ES 2.0, surely you've come across this before.

      • Brian

        I haven't run across it before. I've seen lots of games that are "designed for Retina" but they still work on my iPod. This is the first one I've tried to load that just flat out won't load. Guess I am lucky.

        I do really think that the worst thing that can happen at this point in the iOS lifecycle is platform fragmentation. When you have blockbuster apps in the app store that won't load on devices still widely in circulation, that's a big risk for Apple. The main thing people complain about with Android is platform fragmentation (because no two devices are exactly the same); if Apple can't claim a better experience I think this is a big risk for them.

      • GnarKill

        It's actually no a risk to Apple, it's a risk to the company who developed the game. Apple has given all the developers the tools to support every device they have released, so it's up to the developer to drop support for certain devices they believe are now outdated.

        As for getting retina games to work iOS knows how to down scale the higher res graphics designed for the retina display. But for OpenGL you have to develop 2 completely different rendering engine since OpenGL 1.1 and 2.0 handle graphics in a very different manner. Anymore with the install base OpenGL 2.0 devices, I could imagine you will see more and more studios choose to not support 1.1 anymore (unless 2.0s advanced graphics are not needed and 1.1 would be the smarter choice)

    • Ryanosity

      The DS and PSP are handheld gaming consoles. The iPod/ iPhone are mobile computing devices/ smartphones that happens to play games. In that respect, your comparison to PC gaming is accurate, and people WILL upgrade to get the latest bells and whistles. I know that doesn't make you feel any better, but your assumption that developers need to support every evolution of the device with equal performance and quality is not realistic. At some point your hardware is obsolete and you need to upgrade, end of story. With consoles and gaming handhelds, you have 3 or more years. With PCs and mobile phones you start to fall behind the curve after 6 months.

      I'm not defending it, but that is the reality.

  • Anonymous

    What about multiplayer? I can't imagine playing a Lego X game without coop. Is it really missing? I can't believe there was no mention one way or the other in the review.

  • yourtax

    assuming it doesn't run on the iphone 3g

    • Iphone3G|Only

      yeah. damn it. anyone can help?

  • oldman what

    The 'huge disappointment' Batman review link sends me to a Babo Crash review.

  • Max

    Not available in NZ, and the official site is in Flash. So funny.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Federico-Astica/1003533711 Federico Astica

    Yet another AAA application I cannot buy on the Argentina Store... first Rage and now this... way to go Apple...

  • Paulmoore1969

    It's available in Ireland either. Why has it not been released world wide

    • Anonymous

      I'm in Ireland too, and what's worrying is that it is available in the UK... Is it only coming out in certain locations?

  • splinters75

    Should the game be automatically saving? I quit and then have to start all over - do you have to make it past a certain point to save.

    (A little help here - just trying to plan my day.)

    • Noah

      Yeah, it saves at the end of every level... which can take 5-15 minutes to complete.

      Big oversight not saving automatically on quit.

      • splinters75

        Thanks, Noah. Man. That bites. I guess I'll just "pause" instead of quit from here on.

  • http://twitter.com/johnhood John Hood

    Downloading now.

  • Bryan

    I had originally thought it was not available in Canada, either. Turns out I can only find it through iTunes, not on my device. Don't know why, but at least I can get it!

  • Brementer

    Damn!!!! I can't get this to work on my ipad. Even changing /System/Library/CoreServices/SystemVersion.plist 4.1 does nothing, I have it installed, just doesn't fire up. Anyone else have any luck?

    • Bryan

      No issues for me, though I'm running the first GM of 4.2. Runs like a dream.

    • tsj5j

      OS requirements are there for a reason, not simply for fun.
      Perhaps they put a 4.x requirement... because it needs 4.x?

      There were many APIs introduced in iOS4, and I'm guessing they're in use by the game and hence it refuses to load.

    • Ben

      There's not a 4.1 on iPad, so I'm guessing even if doing that should work, it won't work unless you put 4.2

  • E_Domina

    Well you can get the beta firmware for ipad. well anyway, once i free a bit of space, ill get this

  • Anonymous

    I bought this, and it's not compatible with my OS4 iPhone 3G or my iPad. How exactly do I play this?
    Some free ipad games:
    http://aneesoft.com/tutorials/ipad/best-ipad-games-must-have.html

  • EastsideStompers

    Pros - Very good looking. Love the little videos clips, and knocking other lego characters of their feet with my magic stomp: )
    Cons - They really needed to include one of those floating analogue sticks that work wherever you touch on the screen. The swiping/tapping method is really putting me off playing. All I see is my hand: (
    Does this game get harder? I really hope so. No challenge whatsoever. Just following the motions.

    • EastsideStompers

      Or maybe instead of a floating analogue stick, a swipe (without holding) to move, and tap to stop him. Anything to get the screen free of hands!

  • JT

    I've never read a Harry Potter book or seen one of the movies so I don't plan on installing this unless there is some sort of "free" day or $0.99 sale or something to that effect. However, I'm very intrigued by this review because it gives me hope that maybe the upcoming Lego Star Wars: Clone Wars might make it to iOS devices. I would love it if they'd go ahead and release the original Lego Star Wars (complete saga of course) and Batman games as well. I'd gladly pay $4.99 for those. I just know nothing about Harry Potter so for now I'm skipping this one.

  • Daniel

    This seems like the perfect game for the iPad too bad i don't have one, it uses the same controls as Zelda on the DS wich works great!. Also I can think of another AAA appstore game chinatown wars, I hated it on the DS but loved it on the iPhone.

  • Andy

    I've just reached to hour mark on this game and struggled to put the game down as it is that amazing, the only other game that I found this amazing is when I first got Angry Birds. Don't worry about the price as it is well worth the cost.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cat-Astrophy/100000838113704 Cat Astrophy

    Huge minus for not having a control stick option. Some of us like to keep our fingers in the same area while playing.

  • ThePixelMan

    Well, I'm ecstatic that it is available on the New Zealand AppStore!
    The Game is awesome, the graphics look astounding on iPod 4G and 2G, and the controls are very easy to get used to!

  • Kimosabi

    Argh! I'm dying to play this game. Why isn't it available in the Hong Kong AppStore? Can somebody please explain to me why game publishers don't just aim for a worldwide release for all their games? Like somebody said above, first Rage and now this. Is it because Apple takes a bigger cut the more AppStores you release your game in? I really hope this comes out here. Annoying not being able to play Rage and Doom II RPG and now Lego Harry Potter.

  • Zeldafanboy23ify

    I have it jailbroken and imma download it does it work on a 2g itouch (Plase dont awnser if you havent jailbreaked or have a 3g or 4g)

    • Ben

      I have a 3rd Gen iPod touch, so I shouldn't be answering, but I know for certain that it doesn't work on 2nd Gen, because it says so on iTunes

  • sou

    Completed all levels and have 2 characters missing. Anyone know where they can be found?