Nukezilla Review: LEGO Lord of the Rings (Xbox 360)
All LEGO releases from Traveler’s Tales Games are built with the same core mechanics. At their center the LEGO brand titles are about sending up the license, mindless bashing of blocks, rebuilding the odd pile into new structures, jumping around through some very tedious timing puzzles strewn about and obsessively collecting studs that equate to points. Why then is the series so successful with both video game and LEGO fans alike? I have no idea, but I keep buying them and so, here’s my review of LEGO Lord of the Rings.
LEGO Batman 2 featured the first voiced script in a TT game and L:LOTR follows, but as this is an adaptation of the film trilogy, the voices are pulled whole hog from the movies. Yes, LEGO Gandalf yells his infamous, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” line at an awful Bionicle-esque Balrog of Moria which breaks nearly all laws of dramatic cohesion. It works if you’ve been playing for hours as the levels share very few of the scenes from Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth, but if you see footage from the game out of context it falls flat and generally makes you want to punch the nearest person in the face.
Content in any licensed LEGO game loosely follows the structure of the source material and thankfully here TT have used the films for inspiration, not trying to slavishly recreate each scene. There are some truly inspired sequences that indulge the humor of a situation from a different character’s perspective, such as the level where you play as Sam, Pippin and Merry scrounging for ingredients on Weathertop that ends up in the hobbits lighting a fire to make soup and alerting the Black Riders. One new innovation that has been introduced in L:LOTR is the asynchronous co-op story sequences. At key points in the game the screen splits and has one player engaged in a furious battle, while the other player is making progress on the road to Mt. Doom with the One Ring. It’s a fantastic idea and works very well (while not always entirely accurate on the plot’s timing) in conveying simultaneous events that are critical to the story, such as Gandalf’s battles, separated from the fellowship.
As a game to play with kids who are (in my home at least) too young for the films, but who have an interest in the story, characters, and a love for all things LEGO this is another treat. Looking at it from an adult gamer’s perspective, there are many sections where the game feels stretched out with very few clever decisions made in the layout and battle design. There really feels like a split of 60:40 where a majority of the game is firing on all cylinders until a new sequence or level is introduced then we’re dragging our hairy little hobbit feet through the mud waiting to soar with the eagles once more.
With all of the cash that is spent on these LEGO franchise titles, I would love to see them get more creative with boss encounters, building sequences, user generated content (how is that not a major feature by now?), online co-op play, etc. They did incorporate a massive open world map, which allows for gameplay outside of the traditional linear levels, but like all LEGO games to get 100% means you’d have to invest 50+ hours and multiple replays of each level. Replaying levels is encouraged on account of there being many block types that can’t be interacted with (see destroyed) unless you’re playing through a second time with an unlocked character who possesses the special ability required.
I’m nearly always nervous and skeptical about new LEGO licensed games each time they’re announced as it means I’ll be likely shelling out more cash on new sets and investing weeks of game time in a retread of the last experience, but they typically improve the formula just enough each time that it keeps the mindless gameplay loops fresh enough to keep me wanting…well, maybe not more of the same, but more refinements and subtle enhancements. It doesn’t hurt that you get to play as LEGO Hugo Weaving/Lord Elrond (Algabraic!).
This review is day twenty of the December 2012 Nukestravaganza