The first thing we scribbled down after beginning LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 was 'GTA'., It's a strange comparison to make but LEGO Harry Potter's game world gives you a similar sense of freedom to do what you want, when you want, albeit in bite-sized episodes. The result is a game that is both familiar and very different in structure to any LEGO game that has gone before.
You move through a series of scenarios populated with characters offering jobs, side quests and pointers. You take your time, gathering up LEGO studs if you want, before heading to the chap with the giant yellow flash above his head for the story mission.
This way you don't find yourself wandering around looking for the next thing to do. This was always a double edged sword in previous games - you'd have this enormous playground, but the flipside would be not knowing where to go next, which for the series' younger fans would be a real turn-off. Now, there's a marker on your map showing where to go, and there's much less aimless wandering.
Moving on from Hogwarts' Room Of Requirement hub, you'll get stuck into the main game where you learn to explode barrels with your wand and levitate perplexed pets. Your magic abilities and several other problem-solving functions are handled by moving the stylus in a set pattern around the screen. Initially it's a pain getting the knack of this as you must follow a marker round the screen at just the right pace, but it's good to see a tangible attempt at touch screen spell casting.
When you draw the Transfiguration shape, a mini-game appears which has you arranging floating shapes into a pattern; a strangely entertaining diversion. This spell proves to be the most fun to cast. Incendio simply requires you to draw a flame shape, Levitation an even more basic curved line.
You learn to broom ride, which provides plenty of chase sections as well as access to secret areas for more studs and pickups. The touch screen seems too small to keep track of nippy targets but as one of a variety of gear changes it's welcome, along with the sneaking sections, the puzzle solving bits and even the boss fights.
Lots to do; great presentation; familiar, satisfying gameplay. What more could you ask for? The only problem is Harry Potter himself. Do the films based on the Potter books have the same iconic moments of a Star Wars or an Indiana Jones? Not quite. They're mighty popular, but until they start doing the rounds on telly more regularly, many of the cute, witty cut scenes here might miss the mark with some gamers. Still, Harry Potter: Years 1-4 is an enjoyable slice of adventuring, packing an impressive amount into that DS cart..