Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest bills itself as a “kid-friendly” game. That’s certainly not a bad thing, but it could indicate more than one approach to gameplay. One direction would be that it eschews some of the more violent tendencies of games within its genre, and here that is largely the case. Although you’re still taking out Orcs and Trolls, they don’t meet a bloody end. You’re more just knocking them down and they either fade away or run off. It’s certainly less violent than other options, but that’s more relative than absolute.
The other direction that “kid-friendly” could go, and where I think the game ultimately falters, is that it instead becomes “kid-easy.” Through the years there have been scores of kid-friendly games that people of all ages loved. Super Mario Bros. comes to mind, as it wasn’t a violent game, but it did have really concentrated game play that anyone could enjoy. In other words, it didn’t aim too low by only shooting for a young audience. Aragorn’s Quest would have done well to keep this in mind, as ultimately it could really only be enjoyed by an audience just being introduced to games. Its graphics are clunky, as are its controls, and most of its challenges are far too easy to hold an audience past a few minutes. It seems they were shooting for the “My First RPG” crowd, and even here I don’t think they give their audience much credit.
The game largely focuses on the character of Aragorn, where he travels with his Hobbit companions through a modified storyline of Lord of the Rings. The game play is that of a third person RPG world that you can roam around, although there is a set path you must follow to progress along the game (and often countdown timers dictating how much you can otherwise explore). Your interaction is made up of picking up items, trying to break open hidden items for extra points and health, and slashing away at enemies that pop up. Along the way your journey is broken up by missions that culminate in a standard boss fight. Rinse, repeat.
To help keep the trauma level down for children, you also don’t die. The plot is delivered in storybook form, told by Samwise Gamgee. His narration segues the missions, and when you “die” in a spot, he pipes up and says something like “Aragorn was overwhelmed by (insert current enemy here). But wait, that’s not really how the story goes is it? I think it actually went something like this…” and you begin that portion of the game again. Another more youthful touch that is added is the Feast at the Shire. This serves as a carnival booth training ground. For this section you play as Samwise’s son, and you visit different stalls as mini-games that help you get used to the controls. The mini-games also err on the side of being too easy, but this section is a little more open-ended so that you can do some further exploration.
It’s a typical formula, and while it’s not very creative that’s not the biggest problem with the game. The gameplay is just hindered by being overly simplistic. Most of the enemies you meet are much too easy to kill, with you hitting them once or twice and they fall over, and then you go on your merry way to the next group. Once a boss fight comes up, things get a good bit more difficult. But even this is largely due to very clunky controls. The biggest problem is that you don’t have any control over the camera angle unless you run around. Good luck trying to strategically take down a baddie. You’ll find yourself running in circles trying to keep the camera visibly locked on your opponent. What should be an easy kill ends up taking at least twice as long while you continually adjust for lousy controls.
The bad camera angles would be a little more forgivable if your combat controls could actually keep up. In general the Wii Remote acts as your sword or primary weapon, as does an almost-decent job of letting your swings slice and dice through opponents. The nunchuk handles directional movement with its joystick nub, while its motion capability is reserved for controlling your ancillary weaponry (a shield or a torch are two common ones) as well as the buttons aiding in movement options. Both work fine sometimes and are just laggy in others. Reactions to your movements often feel arbitrary, and you’ll frequently end up just waving things around and letting the game pick which will stick. Again, you learn to compensate for molasses-like response, but you shouldn’t have to.
Two-player option is also included, where a friend can jump in and help you out as Gandalf, but again that doesn’t necessarily help out the camera problems. However it can open up some new areas within the game (such as within the Shire training section). The adventure will likely take up most of the day, or more likely a weekend if played in spurts. This of course can be lengthened if you decide go back and explore sections of the world in more detail (which for some might be as interesting as the game itself).
All around Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest feels underdeveloped. Although the game is intended for a younger audience, there are far better choices for kid-friendly gameplay, especially on the Wii platform. If you’re an addict of the franchise, this one could be worth a weekend rental, but it’s difficult to recommend a purchase for anyone but franchise collectors.
Lord of the Rings – Aragorn’s Quest is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Fantasy Violence. This game can also be found on: Nintendo DS, PS2, PS3, and PSP.