Browsing through my PlayStation Plus backlog on the Vita some time ago I cam across a game that promised several hours of platforming fun and good humor. I had only played one LEGO game before and that was LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean on the PS3 and I had no problems with the game, although it definitely was an easier, simpler title than what I usually play. Based on my experience with Jack Sparrow and the company, as well as having heard that every LEGO game is very similar to the next one, I though I would give LEGO Lord of the Rings a try on the handheld console.
I launched the game, created a new save file and… I didn’t play through the first ‘tutorial’ battle. I can’t really put my finger on it but something was wrong. I didn’t like the combat, everything seemed poorer and of lower quality than what I remembered from the Pirated LEGO game. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise, since the LOTR game is a port of the 3DS title and was not developed with the Vita in mind. Still, I wasn’t enjoying it and I decided to play something else instead. Some weeks later, however, I talked about the game with other players on The Vita Lounge forum and I got encouraged to give the game another chance, especially since it offered an easy and relatively quick platinum trophy. This sounded more like something that would convince me so I clenched my teeth, played through the first battle again and I mostly enjoyed the rest of the game.
LEGO Lord of the Rings follows the same patterns I knew from LEGO Pirates and which are pretty standard for the series. The game tells the story of the book/movie sticking to its main plot points but changing the particular events in the story to accommodate for some LEGO gameplay. This involves solving simple puzzles, using different characters to perform different actions, fighting enemies, looking for collectibles and, most of all, picking up LEGO studs. We accompany and control the hobbits as well as other characters from the books on their journey through the Shire, Rivendell, Rohan, Gondor, etc. all the way to Mount Doom. All the major location and events are covered in the game through gameplay as well as cutscenes, which invariably include some element of humor, trying to make the game more appealing to a younger audience.
Most of the characters in the game can perform actions specific to them or to their ‘class’ of characters. All the hobbits are able to fit through small passageways in order to reach certain locations, Legolas can shoot arrows, Gimli has a powerful axe which can be used to destroy certain objects, Sam can plant flowers, Gandalf can interact with magical objects. Those abilities fit the theme pretty well and don’t seem out of place. It takes some time to get used to who can do what but the game always brings up helpful tips on the bottom of the screen to indicate which character to choose for a particular task. Most of the game, in story mode at least, there aren’t be many characters to choose from, so the probability of getting stuck is pretty low.
Throughout the main campaign, the player comes across certain objects that can’t be dealt with by the specific group of characters he or she controls at that moment. This encourages the player to go back to those locations in Free Play mode, which unlocks for every chapter separately, upon completing it in Story Mode. In Free Play, all the unlocked are available and their abilities have to be used to find even more character tokens, character profiles, as well as treasures. The treasures are part of side fetch quests and can be returned to NPCs waiting for them in many hubs in the world and exchanged for red LEGO bricks. The red bricks enable ‘cheats’ in the game, such as multiplying the value of the collected studs or enabling character token and treasure detectors. They can also serve less useful purposes like enabling big head mode or helium voice mode. The ability to go back and revisit all the locations in the game and explore them using all the abilities is what makes the game the most fun. It’s partially the completionist in me speaking but I really enjoyed looking for all the tokens and treasures, which are also necessary to unlock all the trophies in the game.
Unfortunately, the game isn’t as good from the technical and mechanical point of view. I hated the combat, which I thought was too long and unnecessary. There’s basically no penalty for dying so there’s also no incentive to be good at fighting. On the other hand, there’s not too many ways to become better as the game is limited to hitting, pushing and shooting, for characters with ranged attacks. In Free Play mode, I used Sauron as often as possible, since he defeats the enemies with a single hit, progressing the game much faster. Too bad I only figured this out more than half into the second walkthrough.
What is more, the camera angles are often broken and it doesn’t control that well with the right analog stick. Sometimes the view is fixed only to change at the worst possible moment, when trying to land a relatively difficult jump over a pool of lava. This doesn’t make the experience much worse, since the difficulty of the platforming sections is rather low, but it can be frustrating at times. What does make the experience worse are the not so rare crashes, which occur mostly when trying to access the stores or character creation tents in the game hubs. I had to restart the game several times due to that problem. I’ve had other issues such as not being able to throw an item at a target, although I already highlighted it, or characters getting stuck in the environment (this happened to me during the tutorial battle the first time I approached the game). I was partially expecting that the game wouldn’t run smoothly, having heard complaints about the 3DS ports, but it’s so rare that Vita games crash on me, it always comes as a shock. This could be especially frustrating for the younger players, who might easily get discouraged by this kind of behavior.
Overall, the game looks and sounds fine. It’s by no means beautiful and there are occasional texture problems and sound glitches. Some of the spoken lines in the game seem to have been taken from the movies but I didn’t particularly like them as they felt out of place. LEGO LOTR is one of the games I play listening to podcasts or my own music as it doesn’t have much to offer in this respect. It is a fairly average title that would appeal mostly to fans of the LOTR franchise and younger players who love the funny little LEGO characters. The platforming elements in LEGO LOTR are very easy as are the puzzles that require the player to use the abilities of the characters. It is very accessible on the handheld and can be played in short bursts, since each chapter can be beaten in up to ten minutes. The game can be fun but serious gamers should not come looking here for serious challenges.
LEGO LOTR is of interest to all the trophy hunters out there. It requires around 12 hours to beat in its entirety and to get the platinum trophy so the trophies don’t just earn themselves, although none of them are particularly difficult. A lot are unlocked by simply progressing through the story, others by finding all the collectibles. Fortunately, the game shows how many of each kinds of items are hidden in each of the stages so it’s hard to miss any of them. Finding them usually involves using abilities of characters that had not been available in the Story Mode. As always, the good people at playstationtrophies.com came up with an easy to follow Collectibles Guide for the game, which can be consulted during the Free Play playthrough.
Most of the trophies deal with the game progress and the collectibles. However, some of them pay homage to some of the better known phrases or scenes from the movie so let’s go through a very short list of the most interesting ones.
| That still only counts as one!
|Defeat an Oliphaunt as Legolas.|
One of the famous lines from the movie. It’s pretty cool that while playing the battle chapter with Legolas and Gimli, a counter appears next to their character icon indicating how many enemies each of them defeated. The developers just had to include the elf/dwarf love/hate relationship in the game.
| One does not simply walk into Mordor…
|Simply walk into Mordor. (Single Player Only)|
Yes, I lol’d. Turns out one does indeed simply walk into Mordor. Not as hard as people think it is, too.
| The last laugh.
|Use Tom Bombadil’s laugh to destroy Sauron in Free play.|
| And away he goes, Precious!
|Use Smeagol to defeat Gollum when Gollum is the buddy.|
This is another trick that other LEGO games, or at least the LEGO Pirates game I played, use. Playing off two characters in the franchise, the trophies force the player to use both of them and smash one of the with the other. While I would imagine trophies like this being present in the game, I would not have guessed to use the Tom Bombadil/Sauron duo to unlock the hidden one. Obviously, it’s possible to use all the pairings and smash the little LEGO characters for hours on end but that doesn’t seem really enjoyable…. or does it?
| One ring to build them all.
|Obtain all other Trophies|
An OK game, an easy Platinum, not really much to write home about. I would love to hear from you about your experience with the LEGO games, especially the ones on the Vita. I’ve heard good things about the LEGO Marvel Superheroes game as well as the new LEGO Movie title, which is not a 3DS port this time. Is it worth checking it out? Should it be one of the candidates for Platinum #40, which is right around the corner? Please let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!