The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Headstrong Games
Release Date: Sept. 14, 2010 (US), Oct. 29, 2010 (EU)


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Wii Preview - 'The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 22, 2009 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest is a new third-person action adventure video game where players assume the role of Aragorn and embark on his greatest quests from The Lord of the Rings trilogy as they wield his sword, bow or spear on foot and on horseback through an action-packed gameplay experience.

With the exception of the poorly received The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, every modern LotR title has been based on Peter Jackson's very popular set of movies. This has caused most of the games to have a very similar, distinctive look:  dark, grim, gritty and realistic; featuring the likenesses of the movie actors; and monster and enemy designs similar to those in the film. Lord of the Rings: Aragorn's Quest is still based on the movie, and you'll still see the likenesses of the cast here, but it doesn't mimic the visual style of the movie in any way. Make no mistake: This isn't a Lord of the Rings game for the older set, but one for the kids.

Aragorn's Quest is yet another retelling of the classic story: Frodo Baggins has found himself in possession of the One Ring and must take it to the fires of Mount Doom before the evil Sauron gets his hands on it. However, the premise of Aragorn's Quest is that Samwise Gamgee is explaining the story of King Aragorn to his children long after the events of the films, so it's not quite accurate. Sam isn't about to tell his kids all the gory details, and he's very likely to embellish the heroics of his friends and allies. Aragorn's Quest is simply the adventures of Aragorn as told through Samwise's lens, which is a much sunnier viewpoint than is present in most LotR games.

Aragorn's Quest is very quick and easy to get the hang of, although that may have been my Zelda experience talking. It's going to be basically impossible to write about Aragorn's Quest without drawing comparisons to Twilight Princess, and for very good reason. The two games control almost identically; movement is done with the Nunchuk's analog stick, and swinging your Wiimote slashes Aragorn's sword. It was worth noting that Aragorn had a few different slashes, allowing you to attack horizontally, vertically or even thrust forward. It's certainly no replacement for one-on-one sword fighting, but enough for younger children to feel like they have some control over what's occurring on-screen.  Holding down the B button allowed us to charge up a more powerful attack to do additional damage. There were also special moves available when an enemy was weakened, done by performing a specific Wiimote motion when you're close to a foe.  Like Zelda, you can lock onto an enemy and circle around them to have an easier time in combat. This lets you leap backward and forward or maneuver around enemy attacks.

To stay with the Zelda parallels, Aragorn also has access to a wide variety of additional weapons and equipment, which can be used at any time. He began with a shield, which can be used to block attacks while targeting enemies. You can also swing the Nunchuk to make Aragorn thrust the shield at enemies and knock them off balance. You can replace your shield with a few other tools and weapons once they're acquired. A spear is available, which allows for powerful thrusting attacks and makes it much easier to kill Goblins or Wargs. A torch could be wielded as well. Beyond providing light, the torch is a very effective weapon against certain foes. It could burn through spider webs and make the spiders back off for a moment, at which point they're very easy to strike down. The final weapon was the bow and arrow, which worked identically to the matching weapon in Twilight Princess. Activating it put the game into a first-person view, and you can aim at enemies with the Wiimote pointer. Press a button to fire, and your enemies fall before you with ease. You can also set an arrow on fire in order to hit distant spider webs, and to presumably solve puzzles later in the game. You can also zoom in for greater accuracy, much like the special bow attachment in Twilight Princess

One really neat feature that Aragorn's Quest includes is a kid-friendly co-op mode. A player who picks up the second Wiimote will take control of Gandalf the Wizard, but don't assume that this makes the game a regular co-op experience. It is something more akin to Mario Galaxy's Co-Star mode. Gandalf will appear on-screen with a flourish, but the second player will not directly control him in any fashion. Gandalf will simply follow Aragorn around as an invincible sidekick. The second player controls Gandalf's magic and can do things like throw fireballs at enemies or cast support spells on Aragorn. His only real limit is a recharging magic bar, and when the bar is full, Gandalf can even cast a spell that clears the entire screen of enemies. While this may sound like it makes the game a bit easy, it looks to provide an excellent way for parents to play with kids. The invincible Gandalf will allow parents to guide or help the younger gamers without making it feel like the kids are not in control. It's a very solid idea, and even the limited implementation we saw during the brief demo worked wonderfully.

Our gameplay experience involved a brief trip into Rivendell — or at least the Rivendell that Samwise Gamgee remembers. Aragorn begins in front of Elrond, who informs us that we need to wait for the rest of the Council to arrive before a discussion can be had. We then receive our first quest, to go and find Boromir. Naturally, Boromir is his usual surly self, and you have to fight him. This serves as a tutorial for the combat system, and once Aragorn whoops his rear end, Boromir agrees to join him.

A trip back to Elrond reveals that the incoming dwarves are in trouble from Goblin raids. We wander outside of Rivendell and a short distance away to a grove where the dwarves are fighting. There, we encounter Gimli, who also joins our little party. Boromir and Gimli are AI allies who don't seem controllable in any way and mostly follow Aragorn around, letting him do all the hard work.

Next we're sent to save Legolas, which earns us a bow and a tutorial on how to use it against Sauron's flying Crebian. The last rescue is the Hobbits Merry and Pippin, who had been captured by local spiders. The missions are simple and easy, with a guide on our HUD showing us where we need to go. Fighting off the enemies and monsters doesn't take much effort, especially since we have Gandalf helping us out, but there seems to be a lot of fun here for younger children. The gameplay allows for more complex combat, but you can win fights just as easily by swinging you Wiimote around wildly. There's nothing particularly difficult to stymie a younger child, and the game progresses at a quick pace.

It's impossible to be deny that Aragorn's Quest stands out visually from all the other Lord of the Rings titles. The cute cartoon characters are surprisingly charming. Each represents fairly well what a child's image of the movie characters would be like, and the tiny Samwise or Boromir are adorable when compared to their movie counterparts. The environments are wide open, all the monsters and locations are easily identifiable, and perhaps the only problem is that the game is a bit too bright in places, making it hard to make out details. Unfortunately, the din of the E3 show floor makes it nearly impossible to hear most of the audio. What little we could make out from the voice acting certainly sounds similar to the movie counterparts, but we couldn't get a clear answer about whether they're sound-alikes or the actual actors.

Aragorn's Quest is essentially a modern-day Zelda game for kids. The gameplay is very familiar in many ways, and a veteran of the modern Zelda games would be able to jump right in without having to adapt at all. This isn't a game for those players, but for the younger crowd, and it really shows. Everything in the game looks streamlined and simplified to make it a fun experience for the younger Lord of the Rings fans. Perhaps the most notable step here in the inclusion of the cooperative Gandalf mode, which allows a parent to guide his or her child from behind the scenes. All in all, Aragorn's Quest looks to be a solid game for the kids, though it probably won't hold too much appeal for gamers without children or younger siblings.


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