"The sheer size of The Two Towers, the number of levels and the fact that there are five different characters make this an extremely impressive title for a portable system. Yet at the same time, the levels often seem empty and needlessly long."
While the fantasy world of J.R.R. Tokien’s , Lord of the Rings, books may seem like a perfect setting for a role-playing game, anyone who’s read the second instalment of the trilogy, The Two Towers, or has seen Peter Jackson’s film interpretation of it knows just how much outright fighting and violence is actually present in the work – something neither the first book or its movie counterpart, the , Fellowship of the Ring, put a whole lot of emphasis on. The developers chose to exploit this purely militaristic side of Lord of the Rings and produce an exploratory hack n’ slash action-adventure for both the console version of , The Two Towers and its handheld counterpart, with very successful results.
First of all, it should be made clear that The Two Towers for the Game Boy Advance is not simply a ported and scaled down version of the console game. While it can’t help but contain many of the same plot elements, the adventure has been totally reconceived for the GBA. The player can follow the quest from the perspective of one of five different characters: Aragorn, the human ranger and swordsman; Legolas the elf, who is skilled with the bow; Gandalf the wizard; Eowyn the shield-maiden; and Frodo the small Hobbit and the bearer of the One Ring. (Gimli the dwarf also becomes available in the 2-player mode).
Given the way that the story unfolds, there is some overlap in terms of levels since various characters travel together at certain points in the story. For example, Aragorn and Legolas experience more or less the same adventure beginning at the Mines of Moria through into Fangorn Forest and on to the battle at Helm’s Deep. The only real difference between them is that Aragorn is a close-range fighter, while Legolas uses ranged weapons. Gandalf’s quest, however, detours from the others to include his fight with the Balrog in Moria and his departure from Helm’s Deep to search for Eomer. Similarly, Frodo leaves the party after Boromir’s death and begins the journey to Mordor with Samwise. Of all the characters, Eowyn’s quest is the most unique. Seeing as she doesn’t do much in the books prior to Helm’s Deep, a set of fictional scenarios have been invented for her, which mainly involve rescuing villagers, escorting them to safety, and eventually meeting up with the others at Helm’s Deep.
The Two Towers uses an experience-based system of levelling up, and gives players control over which character stats and skills they wish to improve. There are the usual weapons, clothing and armor upgrades that can be found in barrels or chests, taken from slain enemies, or bought at “stores.” These “stores” are places where items can be bought or sold using gems as currency. I have to admit that this idea seemed a little forced in the Tolkien universe, since it is of course completely foreign to it. I suppose, however, that certain allowances must be made in the interests of making a workable game.
I’ll make one more observation about the item generation process, which is rather vintage in its approach. Aside from certain rare items that have recognizable names from the book (such as the swords Orcrist, Glamdring and Sting), most of the wieldable and wearable objects are randomly generated items that are obviously formed by combining [adjective] [noun] of [noun, or verb ending in “–ing”]. Sometimes some unintentionally funny or strange combinations are encountered, like the Cheap Sword of Honor, or the Peasant’s Axe of Slaying.
Each character comes with an impressive number of spells and skills that can be learned and improved upon as the characters gains levels. Gandalf gets a vast arsenal of magic missiles and fireballs; again I can’t say that I’m comfortable with this liberty that was taken with the Tolkien universe. Middle Earth isn’t, afterall, Dungeons & Dragons. Frodo has assorted stealth skills, and each character comes with some sort of healing ability. While obviously a lot of effort was put into the spells, I’m sorry to say that I didn’t use them very much because I found them to be rather superfluous. The game can be beaten quiet comfortably by simply hacking away at everything that moves while occasionally drawing back to heal.
Thankfully, the hack n’ slash in the game is a great deal of fun and is made easy by intuitive and logical controls. There is a “quick-load” slot for storing one spell or skill that can be changed on the fly using one of the shoulder buttons. The action buttons are used to attack and to execute whatever skill is active. It’s a great system that cleverly maximizes the GBA’s admittedly limited button range without needing to resort to cumbersome sub-menus.
This is a good thing, because the player will encounter relentless swarms of monsters from start to finish. Every type of orc, goblin and uruk-hai is represented here, and even a few other orc-like variations that I think the developers just made up. The cave troll of Moria, the Balrog, and the uruk-hai leader Lurtz all put in appearances as mini-bosses of sorts; after which more cave trolls start to pop up all over the places as seemingly just another enemy. By far the most annoying enemies are the crows that infest the outdoors areas and fly up as soon as they are approached to warn the Dark Lord Sauron of your presence.
Sauron actually plays a rather significant part in the game. His eye is always present and will grow bigger (in other words, he becomes ''more aware'') if the character's corruption level increases. Mostly the level increases if crows are allowed to fly away without being killed, or if Frodo uses the One Ring. When the eye becomes big enough, Sauron will dispatch a Black Rider to hunt down the character, who proves to be quite a fearsome enemy.
Both the playable characters and the enemies are extremely well-represented graphically. Each status screen contains a head-shot of the character that is actually recognizable. On the main battle screen, the character’s movements are fluid and easy to make out. The music is also above average, and includes many passable arrangements of Howard Shore’s film music.
The in-game dialogue (texted, of course - no voice-acting here) does a passable job of not butchering either the books or the movies. Unfortunately, the characters themselves often do bone-headed things that constantly remind the player that they’re in a videogame populated by stupid NPCs, and nothing more. For example, often the player’s “comrades” will simply dash on ahead of him without waiting. This includes Aragorn and Samwise around Frodo, the vulnerable ring-bearer upon whom the entire fate of Middle Earth rests. You’d think that they would be more protective and wouldn’t leave him to fend for himself against legions of orcs and uruk-hai. Although it isn’t really fair to compare the game to the console version of The Two Towers, I must say that the companion-aided fighting was something that I missed in the GBA version.
The sheer size of The Two Towers, the number of levels and the fact that there are five different characters make this an extremely impressive title for a portable system. Yet at the same time, the levels often seem empty and needlessly long. The Two Towers is a game that I believe could have actually benefited from being shorter than it is. Often the levels are extremely repetitious, consisting of seemingly endless forests and wilderness, or rock caves that quickly start to all look the same. There is very little to break up the monotony of the levels, save for a few switch-triggering puzzles. The game has a little helper-arrow that flashes in the direction that the character should go next, which at least keeps the player from getting lost in the maze of similar-looking scenery.
The two-player mode may extend the longevity of the game slightly; it offers a unique approach in that the players don’t have to be on-screen together and are free to wander through the level totally independent of each other if they wish. Although this basically defeats the purpose of a multi-player…it’s still there for those who want it.
It’s really the repetitiveness of the levels that brings The Two Towers down in the end. While there are five different quests, the truth is that they are all basically the same with a few minor tweaks here and there. Fangorn Forest, Lothlorien, the Riddermark…they may as well be the same grassy forest. While the game is no doubt fun if you like mindlessly killing stuff – and there is certainly a whole lot of that – you may find that on the third of fourth character you start to feel like you’ve seen it all before. Perhaps this is a good thing afterall, since the cartridge only has four save slots. In other words, you can only save the progress of four out of the five characters. Still, The Two Towers is a respectable game that is accessible to both Tolkien fans and gamers at large.
Staff review by Erin Bell (April 15, 2003)
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