It has been seven long years since Frodo took the one ring into the fiery depths of Mordor and destroyed the evil Lord Sauron. The blockbuster films became instant fan favourites and hold a high place in many hearts, including my own. Unfortunately the videogame adaptations have been a real mixed bag. The licensed games had the looks but not the gameplay to match. The last game of note being Lord of the Rings Battlefront, which was in a nutshell, pants. Now we have a new game for the Wii which is aimed at younger gamers, but is it a successful mix or is it more of a case of being bored of the rings?
To describe how Aragorn’s Quest plays, is quite simple, it’s Zelda for kiddies. The games opening level sees you playing as Frodo Baggins Jnr, who is the son of Samwise Gamgee. Actor Sean Astin reprises his role as Sam and is the narrator through the game, which adds a level of authenticity and polish. The early stages give you the basics on how to control your character, use your sword, defend using a shield and then how to shoot a bow. The controls work very well, especially the motion controls for controlling your sword. Unfortunately the WiiMotionPlus is not used, but is understandable given the target audience. It is highly unlikely that children will want to fight orcs and goblins using 1:1 swordplay. However, an option to have this for older gamers may have been nice. The bow and arrow controls work well too, especially the fact you can move your character and shoot and the same time, something Zelda did not offer. Once these skills are learnt, the narrative then begins to tell the story of Aragorn the King of Gondor.
The action then switches to the controlling Aragorn himself. The first level focuses on his travels to Bree to meet the Hobbits, from the Fellowship of the Ring movie. The game plays like a traditional RPG/Zelda hybrid. The quests involve speaking to villagers, killing goblins and other enemies, whilst protecting the Halflings. You really do have a sense that the quest is about to about to kick off big time, and it does. As you near the famous Weathertop section, with the scream of the Nazgul coming from all angles, killing wolves and wildmen, there is a great feeling of nostalgia and it drives you to play on. The next level is Rivendell, which deters slightly from the films. Here you are involved in various skirmishes fighting goblins and assisting wood elves to defend the elven sanctuary. At one stage you even venture out to protect a traveller who is attacked, this turns out to be a familiar face, which then cues lines from the films which raise a smile to any fan boys. At this stage you are also introduced to side quests, which unlock various upgrades and abilities. These are optional and are usually seek and destroy or protect an area missions. This is where some of the strengths and weaknesses of the game start to show.
The levels are very large, and are mostly fun to explore, often hiding special tokens and collectables. Some are beneficial, others are for pure LOTR fans, offering snippets of information about the Aragorn character and locations. The Rivendell level is very pretty, with sunlight streaming through the trees and leaves and insects flying around to add to the authentic look of the films. The indoor levels such as the Mines of Moria are obviously not as pretty but the scale is very true to the films and does show what the Wii can do. After a while though, trekking through large levels fighting the same enemies does start to grate the nerves.
As the game is aimed at kids, the game is seriously easy. Enemies’ usually only take two sword hits before they die, some block attacks with their shields, but largely there is no challenge. One sword swipe can take out five orcs at once. Even fighting three cave trolls attacking together was a walk in the park. The upgrades found in the levels only increase your swords abilities and defence, so the game never gets to a difficult point from the off. But remembering this is for children, there is a fantastic 2 player mode, where a friend or parent can play as Gandalf, using magic skills to aid Aragorn. This is a great way to get less experienced gamers together and certain secrets can only be unlocked here.
Graphically, the game is largely a triumph. There are some really great special effects such as when Aragorn uses fire arrows or finds a power up. On the flip side to the good looks, some of the character models are a bit of a letdown. The game seems to get confused on its style. Some characters such as Gandalf and Gimli are very over exaggerated in stature, whereas Boromir and Legloas almost look photorealistic. The mix is sometimes a little odd, but when your frantically trying to shoot a Balrog in a huge fire filled cavern, it’s of little importance. The voices in general are excellent, most often using snippets of sound from the films, which is nice to hear. The music is an original score, which largely is fine, but lacks the impact of the music in other LOTR games. A nice touch however is that the music changes as you are attacked, which is handy when you scout ahead and the hobbits are set upon by orcs. Sean Astin is great as the narrator, which allows the story to be told in flashbacks as he reads the famous book to his children. Sound effects such as arrows flying past your head sound great as do the Nazgul and orc cries.
Aragorn’s Quest is a great little game for younger gamers. There is a genuine grand scale adventure here, which unfortunately offers little challenge to experienced gamers. I found exploring the familiar locations a joy and seeking all of the power ups and fan boy collectables. As long as you are not expecting a Zelda beater, this is a decent title to spend some time with.
Fun at first, large levels to explore, but overly simple combat
Levels are huge, great special effects, some poor character model decisions
Excellent voiceovers & sound effects, music is not from the films.