Playing through the latest Lord of the Rings video game is about as difficult as turning pages to read the Lord of the Rings books. That's bad new if you seek a challenge; not-bad news if you enjoy touring Middle Earth.
From one of the best Wii developers of games you've sadly probably not played (House of the Dead: Overkill, Battalion Wars II) comes another re-telling of the J.R.R. Tolkien Lord of The Rings saga, that tells the Frodo story mostly with a focus on Aragorn, the man who will be king by the time the evil Sauron is defeated and the books are closed.
This is a game that flirts with being a Zelda, a brawler and something fascinatingly unusual: an interactive journey through the not necessarily accurate version of a remembered tale. Would you settle for a solid, easy co-op Lord of the Rings adventure primarily for kids?
That Terrific Adventure Again: Do you never tire of the tale of Frodo and eight of his best human, dwarf, elf and Hobbit friends journeying through the Mines of Moria toward Mt. Doom? You can re-experience the highlights, Ents and riders of Rohan included.
But You're Aragorn: You play as Aragorn, using sword, shield and bow against the orcs, cave trolls and other Tolkien bad guys the fiction demands. The kingly hero is the more conventional video game lead. Player two can be Gandalf, lucky player two.
Or Sometimes You're Frodo... Gamgee?: Between levels, you explore the Shire as Samwise Gamgee's son Frodo, who can participate in simple, delightful co-op missions in which his friends act out semi-accurate scenes from Tolkien's fiction (Imagine racing up a hill as if it's Mt. Doom.)
The Co-Op Is Easy To Handle:At any time during a playthrough of Aragorn levels or those Frodo Gamgee diversions a second player can press plus on a second Wii Remote and Nunchuk, joining as Gandalf to play the role of magical support. Minus extracts them.
It Usually Looks Quite Nice: As with Headstrong's Battalion Wars, colorful art direction, chunky cartoonish character design and a boldness to flood the screen with lighting effects and enemies compensates for old hardware and makes for an attractive storybook of a game.
And It Sounds Like Those Movies: Be it through use of soundalikes, new Sean Astin, or audio from the film, you'll hear plenty of lines from the Peter Jackson films, making this feel like an interactive boxed set, this time with Aragon as the lead character.
The Level Design Is A Slow Burn: The game, clearly targeted at kids, initially seems insultingly linear. But each level is packed with lore collectibles, upgrades, simple sidequests and other diversions which eventually make maxing a level a satisfying feat.
You Fight With A Fellowship: While it can also be a negative, having as many as eight computer-controlled characters fighting alongside you in, say, the Mines of Moria, makes the adventure feel properly, um, fellowshippy.
(Video: Kotaku playing in the Mines of Moria with a fully-upgraded game-complete version of Aragorn, on hard difficulty, not breaking a sweat.)
But It Is Soooo Easy: Unfortunately, many of the above positives are countered by the fact that it is hard to die even when you are playing the game on hard. Your allies kill lots of enemies. You will not stress.
Semi-Mandatory Co-Op: It'll become clear as you play that you should be playing co-op to access those good Frodo Shire sidequests or collect all Aragorn-mission upgrades. The game's so easy, solo gamers (like me!) can dual-wield both controller pairs and be fine.
The Lord of the Rings Aragorn's Quest is a simple game that's so tough a breeze could knock it over. It's a pleasant re-visiting of the Tolkien fiction set up in a manner that feels like an interactive walkthrough of the Peter Jackson films. Bad gamers will find it tough. Decent gamers of any age need only ponder whether they'd like this simple, attractive, nostalgic tour.
The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest was developed by Headstrong Games (Wii version only) and TT Fusion and published by Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment for the Wii (version reviewed), PS2, PSP and DS [UPDATE: and PS3 with Move support] on September 14. Retails for $49.99 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the single-player campaign and played co-op single-handedly by juggling two Wii Remotes and two Nunchuks without Aragorn dying, because the game's not that hard.
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