Saturday, May 11, 2013

Overlooked Gems: The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King on Gameboy Advance

Back in the days when the movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings were going strong there were also a lot of video games produced to cash in on the hype. To be honest, they were not bad compared to other movie-based software. They were nothing special either, so we don´t hear much about Lord of the Rings games nowadays. However, a few of these games really stood out in terms of quality and gameplay. We will look at one of this overlooked gems, namely The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King on Gameboy Advance and point out what made it so special.

Choose your destiny!

1. Overview

In this game you can choose between 7 heroes from the movie and follow their individual storylines. On your way you will battle countless foes in good old-fashioned hack-and-slay style. This will earn you experience points to level up your hero and raise his attributes as well as an assortment of character-specific skills. Slain enemies will also drop new equipment for you to use. Sounds familiar? Yes, it is a Diablo 2 clone, and it is a good one. For gameplay footage, you can watch this video by SavingPrivateBob. Unlike other attempts, this one catches the essence of Diablo 2 very well. For example, the random item attributes are implemented well with different quality levels and more powerful affixes and suffixes depending on diffculty setting and progress. As an added bonus, they are named after places and heroes from the lore. Calling an item Isildur´s armour just makes it feel 100 % more epic. It even has shared stash between your characters, which was not a widespread concept at that time.

It was good enough to beat Sauron. So it will be certainly good enough for me.

2. Be a hero!

 The playable heroes differ in equipment and available skills, making them different enough that you want to play more than one of them. Or maybe you will stick to your favourite one and conquer all 3 available difficulties (mine is Gimli!). Besides the conventional level up you can also improve your abilities by killing loads of enemies or spending currency. Sounds weird, but it gives you an incentive for loot collecting and raising your kill count to obscene levels, adding a few more things to do.

How many enemies did he kill? Hint: it´s over nine thousand!!

3. Capturing the Lord of the Rings feeling

 The single player mode offers a lot of replay value because every hero has his own campaign with different maps, storyline and enemies. For example, as Frodo, you will spend most of your time in Mordor with Sam and Gollum while Eowyn defends Minas Tirith and fights the Witch King as a final boss. The designers did an outstanding job in recreating the atmosphere from the movies. Characters and enemies are fairly recognizable as well as the music, which is a very good port considering the technical limitations of the Gameboy Advance. They managed to hit all the key battle scenes, giving you the chance to take part in the tale you experienced in cinemas.

Aragorn and Gandalf are approaching the Orthanc, Saruman´s lair.

4. The bad things

Unfortunately, there are a few glaring issues with the game: it is fairly short and the multiplayer mode is not implemented well because you can only play on a handful of multiplayer maps. I suspect time constraints to be the culprit here and that it had to be thrown on the market on time with the movie. With a more attractive multiplayer mode and a bit more of the good stuff already in the game, this would have been an alltime-classic game...

5. Conclusion

The true beauty of this game lies in the fact that it is able to capture the good old Diablo feeling of always wanting to push your character a level further and the joy of loot collecting. To the mix it adds a solid atmosphere that reminds you immediately of the movies, adding a fresh touch to the formula. I recommend it to everyone who likes Diablo 2 and The Lord of the Rings.

I just wish EA Games would have used the hype around the movies to establish a long-lasting video game series instead of producing quick cash-ins that noone wants to play anymore. The Lord of the Rings offered enough material...

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