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It seems that these days almost every property you can think of has its own Lego game: Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Harry Potter... the list goes on. And whilst none of the games have been terrible, some have proved more suited to a Lego adaptation than others. Sadly, Lord of the Rings is one of the less suitable ones and is easily the weakest of the Lego games I have played to date
Much of the problem lies in the source material. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a massive work and trying to cram the entire saga into a single game was always going to be tough. The treatment of the books feels very superficial, with only a small number of levels for each. This is a real shame because the Lego Star Wars game showed how effectively a multi-strand, multi-part saga could be adapted to the Lego world.
What's almost unforgiveable is the bland and unimaginative level design and artificial way that scenes from the book have been adapted for the game. Some of the tasks that you are set are dull and repetitive and really slow the game down. They feel contrived and out of place in Tolkien's World. It's odd; because there are so many exciting ways the book could have been used but these are ignored in favour of bland "find this object and take it over there" type puzzles. For the first time ever, I found myself grinding my way through the game, rather than enjoying it.
In fairness, as with other Lego titles, things do improve once you have completed Story Mode and unlocked Free Play. This allows you to choose from a greater range of characters and explore areas that were previously unavailable. Even then, having to play the same levels again and again to find all the secrets becomes something of a chore.
The game also has a curious difficulty level. The basic elements (smash Lego blocks and collect stuff) are simple to understand and accessible to adults and younger children alike. The usual Lego concept of having infinite lives also puts the game on the easier side of the gaming spectrum. However, there are some levels which are incredibly frustrating (the boss fight with Shelob), where you spend large amounts of time wondering what on earth you are meant to be doing (and dying a lot). Even when you work it out, executing it can sometimes be tough. This oddly varying difficulty curve really does the game no favours.
Graphics are OK but again demonstrate that perhaps Lord of the Rings is not a game suited to the Lego treatment (at least not on the DS). You don't get any real sense of the scale and grandeur of Tolkien's world and the graphics are not particularly impressive. Indeed, large parts of the game actually look rather dull, full of greys and browns that don't do justice to either Tolkien's descriptions or Peter Jackson's cinematic versions.
Character design also varies wildly. It's fun to see some LOTR denizens rendered in Lego, but there are others that just look strange and bear little resemblance to their celluloid counterparts (or are so small that you can't really tell). Cut-scenes are too numerous (and can't be skipped) and again bland and annoying. They are also poorly rendered - once again looking as though they were created for bigger/more powerful consoles and then compressed to within an inch of their lives to fit onto a DS game cart.
Sound has been similarly mangled. Some of the dialogue is lifted straight from the film. Other lines have been recorded specially for the game, but using replacement voice actors. So (for example) you get some lines with Ian McKellan voicing Gandalf and others voiced by someone doing a bad impression of him. It's distracting and more than a little sloppy.
Elsewhere much of the (non-dialogue) sound is uninspired and some (the grunts of the Orcs in particular) is just downright annoying. On the plus side, you do get treated to excerpts from the trilogy's excellent musical score. Even so, this is a game I tend to play with the sound down.
Controls are not going to win the game any credit either, often appearing unresponsive. There were countless times when I died repeatedly because my character got stuck in a corner or behind an object and refused to respond to my attempts to move it; or fell off ledges because the finicky controls don't give you sufficient control. It all adds up to one annoying package.
I've enjoyed most of the other games in the Lego series, but this is a game too far. The adaptation of the source material is superficial and unimaginative, the graphics uninspired and the sound and controls are downright annoying. All of this adds to the evidence that the Lego series has come to the end of its natural lifespan.
The game can be picked up for around £6.50, but I'd recommend that you buy the excellent Lego Harry Potter Years 1-4 instead. It's far more fun and, even though I'm not a fan of the Harry Potter books, a far better interpretation of its source material.
This is one game that deserves to be cast into Mount Doom. Any volunteers to go on an unexpected journey?
© Copyright SWSt 2013