Video games made to promote Lego products have existed almost since the start of videogames themselves; and for the most part; while being serviceable were not particularly memorable. However, starting in 2005, a truly incredible thought was had. Lego already produced physical sets of its toys that were themed from various franchises; so why couldn’t that licensing be carried across into a game that combined both that franchise and the Lego styling and gameplay systems? The result in 2005 was Lego Star Wars; which over the years was followed by Indiana Jones, Batman, Harry Potter and more. As those showed, a quality game for all ages could be produced that promoted both the franchise and Lego itself; a true win-win situation. It seemed almost inevitable that Lord of the Rings would follow sometime, and it has arrived just in time for this Christmas, along with a simultaneous release of the physical Lego sets.
All Lego games follow a similar format: a hub world links individual levels, which follows the narrative of the series and provides Lego-themed characters each with their own special abilities to complete the levels. The player can control two characters for complex puzzles, or the second character can be player-controlled in a drop-in-drop-out co-op system. In between the levels are cut scenes that humorously depict events recognizable to fans. Once the main campaign is completed, each level can be replayed with whatever characters you so wish in order to collect all of the items previously unattainable.
For its hub world, Lego LOTR has provided the entirety of Middle-Earth as explored in the movies, albeit in a miniaturized form that provides for such amusing moments as Edoras, Helm’s Deep, Isengard and Minas Tirith being visible at the same time. Nevertheless, it is large enough to provide a sense of scale as you travel around the world; and the journey from Hobbiton to Mordor is suitably long. In between these are 26 levels covering all three movies. The narrative is compressed of course, but what made me extremely happy to see is that the game is definitely made by people who know Tolkien. Many of the more humorous scenes are only funny if you understand the relevance to the actual characters from the books and movies. Even when the dialogue is used (and it is the dialogue taken from the movies) it is sometimes employed in ways that shows the game understands the contrast between the grand epic of the series and the blocky plastic characters of the game.
Lego LOTR has hundreds of collectables to obtain, along with secret characters and hidden cheats. Even the achievements and trophies have hidden references to the series that will delight any fan. This game is especially fun with another human to play it with; and at the end of the day; much like in the Lord of the Rings itself; the great lords of gaming can often be shown that the smallest of games can still be the most fun.