Review: Lego Lord of the Rings stumbles on its journey to the PS Vita
When I reviewed Lego Lord of the Rings for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, I was in awe at how well Travellers Tales did with the package. They managed to capture the epic feel of Peter Jackson's epic trilogy, while at the same time delivering the kind of humorous Lego-style approach that they've become known for over the years.
But there's something weird about Lego developments – the handheld iterations of the series are always different from the console ones. Take Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, which came out earlier this year. The PS3/360 versions are grand adventures, where you can travel throughout the city and take on various tasks. The handheld versions for PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS, however, are oddly limited, where you fight through small areas and barely have any level of interaction along the lines of the console version. Sadly, this problem also befalls Lego Lord of the Rings, which feels hollow on the go, compared to its big brother.
The story of the PS Vita version tries to follow that of the original game, but it takes a different path, one that leans on simpler level design. You'll still do most of the same stuff you did in that game – fight enemies with Lego-ized fists, solve puzzles, and collect bits and pieces of Lego blocks so you can earn a "True Hero" status – but it goes about it in a rather dull way. Most of the levels just play out blandly, with you forced to do things that just don't make any sense.
For instance, early on in the game, as you're making your way out of the Shire, you're forced to pick up some food for your fellow Hobbits before you can progress. So these guys aren't aware that you have a ring that you need to destroy to save the world – they just want to eat and require you to get the food for them. What's more, in order to do this, you have to put up with a labyrinth-style corn maze while avoiding the wrath of a corny farmer. So not only are the Hobbits working against you, but a farmer as well, who apparently loves his crops more than the fate of the world. This logic runs rampant throughout the game, and it just grows tiring. It's enough to make you want to throw down the ring and say, "Screw it, Sauron wins!"
Along with gameplay that never really picks up anywhere near the level of the original release, Lego Lord of the Rings also suffers from some troubles in the presentation department. The audio is consistently mismatches, with Howard Shore's music stylings constantly interrupted by poor processing and sound samples that barely keep up with what's happening on the screen. The sound effects are also poorly timed, with explosion noises that happen almost a full second after you defeat an enemy. Perhaps they're at a great distance. Yeah, right.
But perhaps the biggest problem is with the graphics. The PS Vita is capable of handling something along the lines of what the PS3 can do – other games like Need For Speed: Most Wanted have proven that – but this just looks like a jumbled replication of a poor PS2 development. The animations are okay, but the settings are dwindled to second-rate fare. And there are some times when you can't even clearly make out what's happening, like when you're running out of a tunnel with spiders in hot pursuit. It's just a mess.
And one other problem – there's no co-op. Sony's pushing to make multiplayer interaction a key ingredient to the PS Vita's success, but WB isn't doing it any favors making Lego Lord of the Rings a solo affair. It's just dull, and motivates you that much more to play the console version instead.
If Gandalf ever had to experience the portable version of Lego Lord of the Rings, he'd probably cast it out of the Shire and let Sauron have his way with it. The gameplay never really feels like it's on the level of other Lego developments, and the presentation is dull by PS Vita standards. Skip this mess and stick with the console versions instead. Frodo will thank you for it.