IGN Review of Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest
When Warner Bros. released The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest this month, it did so across five different gaming platforms. The Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable and, surprisingly, the PlayStation 2 share a design that's much different than the action adventure that headlines the franchise on Wii and PlayStation 3. This version doesn't fare nearly as creative – this is much more mindless button-mashing action that feels more in line with a game like Gauntlet, but with only one character to control, no multiplayer, and incredibly shallow action mechanics, this one wears itself thin way too early.
Just like the Wii/PS3 version, this game is broken up into movie-referenced chapters with Samwise Gamgee recalling the tales of Aragorn to his children. But there's no hobbit shire to explore in this rendition, so it's a very straightforward affair of working your way through the quests one after the other.
TT Fusion, a sub-studio of Traveler's Tales, take point as the development team for what can be considered the "handheld" version of Aragorn's Quest – the fact that it's on the PlayStation 2 simply tells us that the team's tech could easily (and cheaply) be ported over to the previous generation of console. The studio is best known for its handheld versions of the past LEGO games such as Harry Potter and Star Wars, and that influence is felt in Aragorn's Quest – unfortunately, all the "adventuring" of the LEGO games has been stripped and you're now just slashing your sword through a dozen-plus environments that are based on scenes from the movie. Occasionally you'll have to find X number of pick-ups before you can move onto the next part of the level, but these "quests" don't do anything to make the action any more fun.
The team tries to give the action some technique with different attacks – and long-range ones with a bow and arrow -- but fail to implement game mechanics that would get players to mix it up. When simply hammering down on the "light attack" button has a success rate of near a hundred percent there's very little encouragement in changing things up with the much slower "strong attack" button, so much of the game is simply running around mashing one single button over and over again. Every so often you'll encounter armored enemies who might need a bit more finesse in attacking them, but this finesse is simply waiting a second or two for an opening before mashing down on the light attack button.
Granted, deeper in the game, with gigantic trolls – both armored and not – stomping around, you'll need to use a few earned special abilities that can be organized and called up in a d-pad controlled menu, but this doesn't make up for the fact that your thumb gets a tremendous workout with the amount of mindless mashing on a single button you'll do in Aragorn's Quest.
All three versions of the games are virtually identical, but it feels the most at home on the Nintendo DS. The game design clearly has the lowest common denominator in mind, forcing the enemy count to three or four on-screen at once and keeping the camera at a fixed overhead perspective. On the low resolution Nintendo DS screen this perspective and character limitation seems to work in favor of the system restrictions, but on the PSP – and its wider screen display – the environments feel far too spacious and empty. The action seems to flow a bit snappier on the Nintendo DS as well, something that's carried over to the PlayStation 2 version – the PSP version isn't much of a far cry here, it just doesn't flow quite as quick.
But being the best version of a very mediocre action game isn't saying much, and even the DS version gets some touch screen additions that do nothing to make it any more fun, like the doors that need to be opened by tracing the rune on the image. It's silly busywork.
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