As a longtime fan of Harry Potter, it has also saddened me to see so many of his games be so flawed and nearly unplayable. This isn't the case with this game. Being new to the LEGO video game series as a whole, I wasn't too sure what to expect, though I knew that it was a series mostly directed at younger players. Thus, Years 1-4 is a game that doesn't take itself too seriously - and you as the player should keep that in mind. This isn't a hardcore gaming experience for anyone. The game isn't without it's flaws (which I'll get into later), but if you can enjoy a simple collect-a-thon with charm and a bit of good-natured humor, you're in for a treat.
Being a simple game aimed at younger players, graphics are not the main focus of the game. I played the PC version of the game on relatively low settings, so I can't speak for anyone playing on consoles or a more powerful PC. In my case, the game was nice enough to look at, but it doesn't hold a candle to any of the powerhouses like Skyrim. And that's fine, because Years 1-4 isn't trying to compete with Skyrim. The character models, being Legos, are not pretty, but they work. If you are a player who is concerned with having the best of the best in graphical performance, you may want to look for something else.
The soundtrack in Years 1-4 is great, as it utilizes all of the music from the Harry Potter films. It never gets in the way nor makes you want to mute the game to listen to your own music. Keep in mind that this game doesn't have any voice acting, and the story is told through cutscenes and miming. Oddly enough, you would think this would detract from the experience, but it doesn't. The story is easily understood through the methods used in the game, though if you want to know the full details of everything it is necessary to read the books or watch the films.
The gameplay in Years 1-4 is simple and rewarding. Throughout the game, you learn 8 different spells, each used for a separate purpose. The spells are learned throughout levels that take place in classrooms, just like Harry learns in the books and movies. Each of the spells feel different and all are used throughout the game. None of the spells seems unnecessary or tacked-on.
One of the big selling points of this game - and of this series as a whole - is the ability to play co-op. I wasn't able to play co-op on my playthrough, but the AI was competent enough and never got in the way.
A big part of the game is collecting LEGO studs. Many objects in the environment are destructible, and each destroyed object nets you studs, which really add up over the course of the game. It's pretty satisfying watching your total exceed one million.
Another part of the gameplay, which adds tons of replayability, are unlocking all of the Gold Bricks, the Students in Peril, and the House Crests. Gold Bricks are unlocked by completing levels and other miscellaneous challenges. The Students in Peril are students you find in the levels who are in some sort of danger. If you free them, you get a reward. The House Crests are unlocked by completing random challenges in levels. Beating many of these challenges unlocks a character to play as, adding to the replaylability.
This game has tons of lastability. I completed the game without trying to unlock any of the optional things, like the Gold Bricks, Students in Peril, or House Crests, and I only finished with 33% completion. There's a lot of game to be had here. Many of the levels will need to be replayed multiple times if you want to collect everything and get 100%. It's a fun experience to play as a wizard from the Dark side for a change.
While Years 1-4 is a simple, lighthearted, and fun experience, it isn't for everyone. If you judge a game by it's graphics, you'll be disappointed by this one. The game is easy and targeted at younger players, so don't expect much of a challenge if you have any experience in games at all. The sound is great, and the gameplay, while not without it's flaws, is fun and satisfying. Years 1-4 has tons of lasting ability, and should keep you busy for a long while if you are a player who always strives for 100%.
FINAL SCORE: 84%