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Game Profile
Game Boy
EA Games
Griptonite Games
GENRE: Action
PLAYERS:   1-2
November 12, 2002
Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Lord of the Rings: War in the North

Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest

Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest

More in this Series
 Written by Ilan Mejer  on January 28, 2003

Review: After many years of absence, the Lord of the Rings returns in a new videogame incarnation.

Electronic Art and Griptonite Games' Gameboy Advance take of Lord of the Rings ? The Two Towers (TTT) is surprising, and completely welcome. The developers used EA's movie license rights in order to craft an action/RPG that is not only relatively faithful to Peter Jackson's movie of the same name, but also cleverly incorporates many of the gameplay elements that made both of Blizzard's Diablo games so insanely popular. The game melds a top-down perspective and hack and slash gameplay with an inventory, experience, and level up system similar to Diablo's. Finally they wrapped it all with a heavy dose of ?Middle Earth'.

The game attempts to establish itself as a companion to and an extension of the movie experience with its stylish and artistically accurate title screen and splash pages. Furthermore, every time you begin a new quest (of which you can have up to four simultaneously saved onto the game's onboard battery backup) you will be treated to a lovely though silent hi resolution FMV sequence made up of a montage of footage from the second movie. It borrows additional materials from the movie including still shots selected from the more interesting parts of the movies help to further the game's story. All in all, though it does serve a story purpose to include such space-draining technology in the game, it also serves to remind us that the GBA's strengths and potential are woefully under-utilized in all too many games these days.

Continuing on this subject, the game's graphics are a mixed bag. On the positive end of the spectrum, the sprites for both enemies and the heroes are all well designed and animated with surprising detail. There are problems, in that sprites were not redrawn when facing left as opposed to right, so every time you switch directions, it looks like your characters invisibly swap their weapons and shields from one hand to the other. Given the general high attention to detail and animation, this can be jarring and disappointing. The backgrounds though inspired by and vaguely resembling those of the movies are actually drab, lifeless, and lacking in both detail and color. In fact, the stages look like they were put together using generic fantasy tile sets and often do not even mesh well with each other, particularly the repetitive indoor and underground levels. At least the Orc blood and various enemy death routines look fine!

Developer Griptonite Games did their utmost to continue the feel of the movies by compressing Howard Shore's magnificent soundtrack into a more GBA-friendly format. They wisely opted to use Factor 5's impressive MusyX audio toolset. The end result is that Shore's highly memorable orchestrations have been successfully adapted into appropriately somber, moody, and intense MIDI tracks that form a perfect companion to the in-game goings-on. Adding to the soundscape is a strong collection of realistic and believable sound effects that encompass the clashing and clanging of weapons, as well as the grunts, yells, and death gurgles of the various Goblins, Orcs, and fighting Uruk-Hai you will be facing, amongst many others. Unfortunately, the game occasionally emits a hiss or spit interrupting the music, with or without headphones, which is probably just a programming glitch.

Much like the Diablo series, TTT's gameplay is composed mainly of two key components, the action-based hack and slash, and the RPG component. The action gameplay is quite straightforward. You wander around a variety of locales, exterminating hordes of bad guys, collecting equipment, and occasionally solving minor and simple puzzles in order to proceed into the next section of the current stage. Then the cycle repeats. It sounds rather mundane, but the locations are varied enough to remain interesting, and the RPG elements (discussed below) add an addictive quality that helps to keep the game in line and drive the experience forward. It does not hurt that the game's quest is a rather lengthy one. Factor in that there are five major characters to choose from (Aragorn, Legolas, Frodo, Gandalf, and Eowyn) each with dramatically different equipment, stats, and skills, and moderately different quests, and you have a game that is as lengthy and rewarding as it is re-playable.

The RPG element is comprised mainly of character leveling up and item drop hunting. As your kills rise to the thousands, you will acquire buckets of experience that will cause your chosen character to gain experience levels. Aside from increasing your hit and spirit (magic) points, you will gain stat points that you must distribute amongst your various attributes, such as strength, intelligence, etc. Additionally, for every level you earn, you are awarded a skill point. with which you may either learn a new skill from your character's specific skill tree, or enhance an existing skill. Helping to keep the game balanced, your character must attain certain levels before they can learn specific skills. As an interesting addition, some of these skills (and certain magical weapons) have a corruption factor (such as Frodo's skill with the Ruling Ring) that when used, cause the Eye of Sauron to focus on you. If the Eye's awareness rises to a certain point, Nazgul (the Nine Ringwraiths) will be dispatched to hunt you, usually ending in your death! This forces you to balance your equipment and skills very carefully, and always think ahead before unleashing ?evil? attacks against the hordes.

The Two Towers features a rather comprehensive inventory system that is extremely satisfying to utilize. First of all, each of the six characters utilizes completely different equipment sets. Sure, some of the armors are interchangeable and Aragorn, Gandalf, and Eowyn can use most of the swords, but for the most part each character will be collecting completely different sets of items to equip. Secondly, TTT takes provides not only a relatively large collection of base weapons (melee and ranged), helmets, boots, shields, and armors to equip, but also plenty of enhancing ?adjectives? that when attached to an item name, empower that item with a variety of magical bonuses or even curses. The only weak spot of this inventory system is that you characters can only carry eight items at once, meaning you constantly have to be dropping and/or selling your old equipment, which makes it difficult to carry around two or three powerful weapons suited to different situations, like in Diablo.

Rounding out this deep and none-too-short little adventure is a well-implemented multiplayer mode that allows up to two players too hook up, via link cable, and quest through a variety of different stages together. Not only is it intensely fun, but also it even allows the two players to quest separately, off each other's screens. This also serves the purpose of allowing two characters to meet and swap items, particularly the rare and potent magical equipment. It was also rather well implemented, since even with dozens of enemies charging quickly to their collective demise, the game retains a relatively smooth (though sometimes slightly inconsistent) pace, with little to no slowdown. The only drawback to this mode of play is that the game fails to show you where your partner may be in the stage.

Bottom Line
Lord of the Rings ? The Two Towers for the Nintendo Gameboy Advance, for all intents and purposes, is ?Diablo 2 Lite? with a thick infusion of Middle Earth for good measure, and this is not a bad that in the least. Griptonite's title not only succeeds in capturing most of the feel of the movie experience, but also provides handheld gamers with a surprising deep, tight, and well-rounded experience that until now has been available only to the PC crowd. Their excellent implementation of a multiplayer mode is also quite encouraging. This is a very unusual example of a movie license turned videogame done right!

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