Retroplayer here. Can you feel it? The anticipation for The Hobbit is at fever pitch. Personally, the Lord of the Rings trilogy meant a lot to me, both upon release and since, so the sheer idea of stepping back into Middle-Earth after a decade is heart warming. But what better way to celebrate it than to review one of the latest offerings of a Middle-Earth related videogame- Lego The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game.
Developed by Traveller’s Tales and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Lego LotR reminds of a gaming age since passed, an age where my primary concern for a game was that if it was fun or not. Sure, “fun” isn’t exactly the most descriptive word, but it’s true. Much like classics such as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon, I found immense fun within Lego LotR, something that more games need to evoke within me. The story of Lego LotR follows the Lord of the Rings trilogy pretty much exactly, albeit trimmed down. The dark lord Sauron is searching for the One Ring of power, a ring he had in his possession once before, but if regained will spell certain doom for the races of Middle-Earth. However, something happened that the ring did not intend- it came into the possession of Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit of the Shire. The ring can only be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom from whence it came, and that responsibility has been put on the shoulders of Frodo Baggins, Bilbo’s nephew.
The game, much like the film, follows many different characters, so while the story of Frodo and the ring is key, it’s the centre piece of a much larger tale. With a story that (almost) replicates the films perfectly, Lego LotR is a rather epic tale despite that it’s aimed at a rather young audience. Apart from the fact that, you know, everyone in the game is made of Lego, there are a few deviations in plot and its portrayal of violence though, to cater for its young audience. For instance, during the death scene of one of the main members of the fellowship (no spoilers, just in case), a banana and sweeping brush are fired at him instead of arrows. Also, the Uruk-Hai now rejoice when a peperoni pizza is delivered to the Black Gate with “Looks like meat’s back on the menu, boys!”, rather than at the sight of a beheaded Orc. There’s plenty of little changes like this thrown in, but they’re all charming and completely understandable.
Like the rest of the Lego series by Traveller’s Tales, Lego LotR is a third person action adventure. Throughout the course of the game you can play as many, many different characters each with their own unique abilities. However, you start off the game primarily as Frodo. Game-play remains quite similar throughout, and usually revolves around destroying Lego structures, objects and enemies, creating/fixing things with Lego bricks, finding collectibles, solving simple puzzles, and the occasional boss fight. I found the Lego creation parts to be rather underwhelming which, despite some key areas in the game, purely relied on button bashing, rather than actually clicking together Lego pieces yourself. It took away something from the game, something that you’d almost expect it to have at the very least considering it has the name “Lego” on the box. Right? As mentioned before, each character has their own unique abilities which are often paramount to advancing through a level. For instance, Sam Gamgee has the ability to planet flowers, which when grown can help you reach areas previously unreachable, while Gimli can smash otherwise unbreakable Lego bricks to pieces using his axe. You’ll find yourself cutting between characters quite often, which is a breeze as it’s fun, instant and a real joy to play around with the many different characters.
Collectables mainly come in the form of new characters, which can be unlocked by buying them using collected Lego pieces. However, the more your character dies, the more of these pieces you loose. By the way, I use the term “die” quite loosely. Once you die in Lego LotR you simply respawn indefinitely. While some gamers might feel this could sap the challenge out of the game, I found that it kept game-play moving along nicely, and cemented a wonderful sense of playful ease and charm into the game. You’re not focused on not dying, but rather on just having a laugh.
Visually, Lego LotR jumps between looking rather nice to rushed and a little rough. The world, key LotR locations and characters are nicely represented, yet there are entire sections that just feel a little messy and lacking any kind of direction. In some ways this suits the very carefree approach to game play, but there are times when it’s very noticeable. Then again, despite its drawbacks it’s rather evident that the developers have a lot of love for Peter Jacksons take on Middle-Earth. From exploring locations such as Hobbiton, Bree and the excellent Mines of Moria, it all feels right. That could be partly attributed to the fact that the voices and music have been directly lifted from the films, but in short; Travellers Tales have done the films justice. They’ve nailed it.
Despite all of this there is the distinct feeling that the core game mechanic could be from any one of Travellers Tales’ Lego games, merely transplanted from Lego Indiana Jones or something. Lego LotR is running on old ground here. Technically this makes the game quite run-of-the-mill, and it loses part of its uniqueness, but that’s OK. If you’re looking for a unique gaming experience and something that will give you a hard challenge, stay well away. However, if you’re up for a laugh, and fun times in the world of Middle-Earth, this is for you. You know, this Christmas there will be plenty of kids waking up to the likes of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, a game that, while I’m sure it’s fun, won’t give them that sense of gaming carefree fun and wonder. Lego Lord of the Rings will. It’s not a perfect game by any means, nor does it do anything new, but what it does it does quite nicely indeed. Give it a bash.