reviews\ Dec 23, 2002 at 7:00 pm

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - GBA - Review

Fans of Middle Earth will find much to rejoice about in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers for the GBA. Unlike an unfortunate previous release from a different company, this game from EA is free from bugs, and features most of what makes RPGs so much fun: collecting cool weapon upgrades and whacking unlimited supplies of enemies. Although lacking in side quests and characters to interact with, the excellent action and exploration aspects make up for this slight oversight in the overall game design.

Players can choose to play as either Eowyn, Gandalf, Frodo, Aragorn and Legolas. After defeating the game a few times playing as different characters, supposedly Gimli is unlocked for use in the multiplayer mode, although our family hasn't gotten quite that far yet. Each character has their own peculiar strengths, such as Aragorn's general toughness in battle, especially with his two-handed swordplay; Eowyn's brave heart which reduces the corruption level and her clever use of her shield; Legolas's renowned skill with a bow for ranged attacks; Frodo's expertise in sneaking around with the Ring; and Gandalf's many spells.

Although this is basically a slightly repetitive hack-n-slash game, the gameplay is surprisingly engaging; it's fun to wipe out an area, collect all the goodies and check out the character's stats while upgrading the weapons. Stores are scattered about for handy trading, but players will have to choose wisely, as the inventory only allows for eight items to be carried at any one time that are not in active use. Items to collect include tons of weapons, health powerups and gems. All of these items are found by attacking either enemies or inanimate objects. Cauldrons are sometimes available that will power up either the character's spirit or hit points.

While there are plenty of health powerups to be earned by fighting, plus cauldrons of elixir here and there, these items can't be stockpiled for later use. However, spirit points can be traded for hit (health) points, so when a player's character gets low on attack points, he/she can just hang around while the player replenishes them. The spirit points automatically refresh, so there's no real penalty for this.

The characters' skill levels are built up as the game progresses, depending on successful fighting and weapon upgrades. Points are earned, which can be assigned to skills such as healing, spells, different types of fighting techniques and defensive moves. Points can also be assigned to attributes such as accuracy, courage (spirit), defense, strength and others. Weapons each have specific abilities assigned such as points added or subtracted from the character's attributes as payment for use, melee, critical or missile armor strengths, and range of attack. I never did figure out the difference in melee, critical and missile strengths, as the somewhat deficient manual (more on that later) didn't give a description of these terms. I suspect they're a type of RPG terminology that most RPG players would be familiar with, and as I'm more of an adventure gamer than a RPG enthusiast, I haven't run across them before. I just picked the weapons with the most overall points, which seemed to work for me. Some weapons are character specific and cannot be used by all, like Gimli's axe.

The manual, while explaining some things, left many others to be discovered by the players. For instance, all the button functions aren't detailed, like the use of the "R" button for picking up items. Weapons aren't described, nor are many of the statistical menus described adequately. There are artifacts which can be collected and which will garner a bonus for players when all eight are found, but as there is no description of these artifacts and where they can be found or picked up, some players may never find them. I haven't found any, yet, but who knows, I may have walked right by them as I don't have a clue as to what they look like. In short, for the most part, players will be figuring out the menus on their own. But once learned, the menus are actually very nicely designed and contain a huge amount of information that is easily accessible.

There are three difficulty levels: normal, hard and most difficult. The normal level isn't very hard, most seasoned players will probably prefer to play on the harder levels. Dying is only frequent at first; once players get their stats and weapons built up, plus learn to keep an eye on their hit points and to replenish at need, dying won't be an issue. However, if a character does die, he/she just gets sent back to a designated spot and begins again. Enemies abound, and come either singly or in mass attacks. Orcs are the most numerous, with wolves and uruk-hai running close seconds. Crebain also are plentiful, and need to be killed quickly, or they'll carry tales back to Sauron. Sauron's eye will grow bigger or smaller as a character's corruption level rises; once at a certain level, watch out - Sauron will begin to send special forces after you, like the ringwraiths.

The graphics are superb, especially the short cut scenes. Each character is very nicely detailed, as are all the enemies. The backgrounds are rather dark, though, and may require some standing by windows and doors to shed some light on them. The inventory items are clearly drawn, and fun to look at.

Musically speaking, the sound effects and music are quite nice and are taken directly from the movie, very enjoyable!

There is an added cooperative multiplayer mode for two players, each with a game cartridge. Characters' points and skill levels can be earned back and forth from multi-player to single-player mode, which makes for handy character upgrades. Items can also be traded back and forth from characters while in multi-player mode.

This game reminded me of several different games, namely Gauntlet and Quest for Glory (it's supposedly very similar to Diablo, but I haven't played Diablo). There aren't as many enemies streaming in mass attacks like Gauntlet, nor are there quests as in Quest for Glory, but the spirit of these two games seems present at times. While the fighting can get tiring at times, the overall game is entirely engaging, with the character points system and weapons upgrades; plus it's quite fun to be actually successful at killing enemies, which I'm usually not that good at. As fighting is a weak skill of mine, I naturally chose Aragorn as my first character to get a good feel of the game before trying out the other characters. Aragorn is quite handy and will pretty much advance quickly through the game, whacking enemies along the way. Legolas is more fun, with his ranged bow attacks. Eowyn is a little more tricky, with more emphasis on defensive play. Gandalf and Frodo are for the more subtle players, as they depend on other skills rather than sheer brawn.

I'm really enjoying playing! As I'm not all that fond of fighting games normally, this speaks volumes for the game design itself, which draws in players to the adventure. The fighting is frequent, but is so well-paced that it's never overwhelming. And of course, gaining all kinds of neat weapons is the best part. Too bad there aren't any side quests or character interaction, that would have elevated this good RPG to an outstanding one. Fans of The Lord of the Rings can feel confident purchasing this game; with the scads of levels, plus the varying approaches to the game with different playable characters, there's plenty of gameplay involved and most players will be pleased.

Gameplay: 8.5
It's fun to clear out all the enemies and search their bodies for cool upgrades!

Graphics: 8 
Very nice graphics, albeit a bit dark at times.

Sound: 8
The music is taken directly from the movie.

Difficulty: Medium
Three difficulty levels are available.

Concept: 7 
Not much new here, but tried and true elements are well-presented.

Multiplayer: Yes
There is a multi-player mode for two players, each with a game cartridge. This is a cooperative play format, and definitely adds to the longevity of the game.

Overall: 8.2
A really fun hack-n-slash RPG, with lots of items to collect and stats to earn. However, it would have benefited from side quests and character interaction. Still, a pleasant romp through Middle Earth!


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