Before I make any mention of the game at hand, I’d like to preface this piece by briefly touching upon my outlook on games based on movie licenses in general.
Licensed games, I feel, are something that I’ve outgrown as I’ve gotten older. As a kid, playing through movie games was always a joy. The Star Wars spin-offs, the Batman games…even the True Lies game. As one gets older, however, it becomes harder to achieve the required suspension of disbelief that one would need to enjoy such an experience.
Sure, a lot of licensed games aren’t very well-designed, but I have to admit, I tend to approach them from the get-go with a wary mind because, a lot of the time, they don’t need to exist. To me, The Dark Knight is a good example of a movie which would in no way benefit from a videogame.
That said, it’s always nice to see a licensed game where the developers are allowed to put in the effort to try and create something akin to a decent product because it almost allows the experience to draw upon your nostalgia from when you were younger and could enjoy a movie-based game as much as an original title.
The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest on the Wii caught me by surprise because the opening text-driven intro to the game does a great job of recapping the events of the first movie and setting up the scene you’re going to be playing through.
This surprise eventually turned into mild interest about 10 minutes later when it dawned upon me that Aragorn’s Quest was taking leaves straight out of one Nintendo’s own franchises: The Legend of Zelda.
The Shire of the future, which is where the game really begins, felt like it was drawing inspiration directly from Ocarina of Time in the way that the game uses the opportunity to let you familiarize yourself with your abilities, never straying from being within the context of the story. And unlike the needlessly drawn-out introduction to Twilight Princess, the Shire actually feels alive enough for the brief time you spend there at the start of the game to not make you dislike it.
This is important because it sets up the rest of the game, and a good intro — even if it isn’t great — is never a bad thing. It allows the game that much more time to try and keep your interest.
Once you step into Aragorn’s shoes, you’ll start to come across inspiration drawn from all sorts of games, including Twilight Princess in the way the game’s combat works. You’ll find yourself using the same basic controls as TP, complete with swinging the Wii remote to perform sword swings and using the Z-targeting to lock onto enemies and dodge.
The difference here, though, is that swinging the remote in different directions results in different kinds of attacks. Side-to-side, down-to-up, up-to-down — different swings have different animations and, provided you don’t dislike the concept of motion-controls, it has potential. The problem is, while your abilities work just fine, the enemies in Aragorn’s Quest don’t give you much of an opportunity to explore them.
Plenty of times, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a small group of trolls or hungry wolves or what-have-you, and as much as you might want to try comboing different kinds of attacks together, you’ll be able to tell right away that the quickest path to victory involves flailing the Wii remote. Flailing might not work for Feebas, but it does wonders for Aragorn, at least early on.1
This problem is eventually rectified later in the game, starting with the Ringwraiths. You know, the creepy hooded guys. Every Ringwraith encounter gives you an opportunity to employ the different abilities at your disposal, including dodging and thrusting and other things you would want from a Wii game with a sword in it, and the more you play Aragorn’s Quest, the more you find that the combat actually feels pretty good when everything connected to it comes together.
But again, while the actual mechanics for fine, the overall experience — the surrounding elements that could have made the game feel more complete, such as the music and the pacing — feels lacking. For example; while the music in Aragorn’s Quest works well for the game, it also decides to ease off just when it shouldn’t — like when you’re in heated battle. It also doesn’t feel like there’s much of an impact to your quest. It doesn’t feel like “Lord of the Rings.”
Ultimately, Aragorn’s Quest’s shortcomings can be attributed to its budget, not due to a lack of vision. The game itself is well thought out. Environment art is gorgeous, the voice-acting works, the music (when it’s good) fits right in and the kind of abilities you’d want in a game such as this are all there. In fact, the art style even switches between two different styles depending on whether you’re presently playing through the Aragorn portions of the game or not.
There’s even a proper, drop-in-drop-out co-op mode where a second player gets to control Gandalf. There was certainly no lack of ideas on the part of the creative team.
The bits of the game that would help its strengths stand out more, though, had to be skimped on, and it’s what keeps Aragorn’s Quest from ever feeling like you should to give it more of your time when there are other games on your to-play list. Someone new to games would probably enjoy it a lot more than I did.