WHY I LOVE LEGO HARRY POTTER

The appeal of the “Lego Star Wars” games is obvious. They retell the “Star Wars” saga in a cartoonish, Lego-brick style, mixing the gameplay with animated clips, wordless but witty, that move the story along. There are plenty of puzzles and a frequent need to build things out of scattered Lego bricks (scenes that, for some reason, did not appear in the films). And wielding a lightsaber, even a tiny Lego one, is curiously satisfying.

Finishing each level is easy enough, but what gives the games staying power is the quest to discover all the hidden pieces in each level, by combining the abilities of the characters in clever ways. This winning formula of Lego, storytelling, puzzles and treasure-hunting has also been applied to the “Indiana Jones” and “Batman” franchises, but it works best in the rich and complex “Star Wars” universe. And the new “Lego Harry Potter” game, due later this month, should be just as successful.

That’s partly because “Harry Potter”, like “Star Wars”, has its own rules and lore, and presents an inviting world to explore. But it is also because the greatest thing about “Lego Star Wars” is not the Lego, or the puzzles, or even the lightsabers, but the fact that the games are designed to be played co-operatively. The Lego games are, for my money, the best games for parents and children to play together.
 
Players must often collude, with one holding off waves of baddies while the other assembles bricks, or both activating switches to open a door. The games are rated “3+”, which defuses worries about violence (trust me, “Tom and Jerry” is far more gruesome). Players can drop in and out at any time. The games are neither too dull for adults nor too hard for children, and there’s plenty of scope for silliness. You can hit the other player and make them fall to bits, hop around as a one-legged C-3PO, and combine characters’ costumes in daft ways. My son Miles, who is four, loves all this. He likes competitive multiplayer games, too, such as swordfighting on the Wii, but he can get upset if he doesn’t win. (Mind you, so can I.) The Lego games do away with such concerns, rewarding co-operation rather than competition.
 
The “Star Wars”, “Indiana Jones” and “Batman” games allow parents to revisit the pop culture of their youth and introduce their children to it. But “Harry Potter” has even greater cross-generational appeal. The new game covers the action in the first four books. On rainy afternoons, I say to Miles in my best Darth Vader voice: “Join me, and together we will play ‘Lego Star Wars’, as father and son.” From May, I expect to be doing dodgy Dumbledore impressions instead.