Andi’s Retro Game Reviews #1: The Lord of the Rings – the Two Towers for GBA

Dear readers and dear friends of retro videogaming!

Now for something totally different and maybe utterly unexpected: Since this blog is supposed about video games as well, yet I keep publishing post after post about cardboard games (tabletops, such as M:tG or my very own Elemental Clash) without a tiny sign of video games at all. This, my dear friends, is about to change…

…as I invite you to read my first in a series of reviews of Retro Video Games, some I would call hidden gems, for various older consoles, mostly handhelds I would say since I prefer handheld gaming over sitting before a big TV screen with a controller in hand. I will call the series, of which I cannot predict how many episodes I will be publishing over the course of time (maybe it will be a neverending journey into retro-gaming-nerdness! ๐Ÿ˜€ ),

ANDI’S RETRO GAMING REVIEWS

or ARGR for short (that does sound like something a pirate would heartily utter).

We will start this off with something I started playing again quite recently and am massively enjoying, which has given the igniting spark pretty much for doing this new series of game reviews on this here my blog:

The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers for GBA (Gameboy Advance):

LotR TT Startup Screen

Startup Screen

When I think back to when the GBA was THE top notch handheld console of the time (man it must be ages since that), some of my fondest memories of a handheld I love to the very present day come from playing the second episode in a trilogy of games, which let you re-enact the adventurous stories and action of the three Lord of the Rings movies, which are, as I hope the better part of you knows, based on the fantastic and epic novels of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Gameboy Advance adaption of the movies/books turned out really great and engaging from what I remembered, and for one reason or another I found the second installment of the series on the GBA most appealing, hence the review of it here, and I have had hours and hours of fun and enjoyment playing the second game “The Two Towers” through several times with several characters, levelling them up, collecting rare items and unravelling the many hidden secrets. So yeah back then I played the original cartridge on the original device… Nowadays I have my “special” PSP that plays pretty much anything out there so I gave LotR – the Two Towers another try quite recently. And it has lost nothing of its appeal, charm and huge replayability value.

But for all of those unfamiliar with the game, let us begin at the beginning:

This game could be classified as an action RPG or hack and slay/slash game and comes closest to the Diablo I + II experience when it comes to the portable GBA. There may be one even closer to that experience, which I have fond memories and nostalgic feelings about, but I am aware of none better than LotR – The Two Towers so correct me if you know more than I do. To some the game will no doubt feel a bit dull because all you do is basically running around slaughering Orcs and other foul beasts with one out of 5 well-known characters of your choosing at the outset of the game:

Character Selection Screen

Character Selection Screen

At the outset, before you dive right into the action of beating down Sauron’s evil hordes one-by-one, you get to choose your character. The 5 are really really very different in how they play and the game is quite faithful to the novels and movies there. I always start out with Aragorn, who is a close-combat warrior and can learn a skill (each character has their very own set of unlockable active and passive skills – more on that later) to wield two mighty blades at once – my favorite play-style in games like that. The others are Legolas, who is a ranged attacker shooting arrows at distant enemies, then we have Gandalf who wields a staff AND a sword (how awesome is that!) and can learn a ton of devastating magical spells, or Frodo, who is kinda a stealthy character who is probably the hardest one to play the game through with since he is very weak physically. Lastly there is Eowyn. I don’t really get what her benefits in the game are… she just seems like a weaker version of Aragorn, a genuine warrior type of character. Maybe I should give her a real try some time and find out about her qualities! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Right after you selected your character, you are treated to something nobody would give a shit about but which blew my mind back then when the game was freshly released and I played it for the first time: An about 10 second long, highly pixelated video sequence of footage taken right out of the movie!!

Still from the Movie Sequence

Still from the Movie Sequence

Back in the days, that WAS something totally kickass and yeah, again, it really blew my mind seeing this on my tiny GBA screen.

Depending on which character you chose, you will start at different locations in the game and furthermore, each of the 5 characters has their very own storyline which is a huge plus for the game all in all as you pretty much get 5 quite different adventures packed into one cartridge. Oh did I say 5 characters?? I know for a fact that some secret stuff is going on in the game (and a quick google search would tell me all about it…) and that you somehow can unlock Gimlie as a 6th playable character. It must be true since on ocassion, you find axes which nobody but Gimlie could wield (equip). I figure it must have to do with finding all of the 8 different, iconic artifacts like the broken sword Narsil or Bilbo’s Map which are hidden throughout the game, and hidden very well I must say…

OK on to the graphics and gameplay:

As Aragorn, whom I choose when I started to play the game again recently, you start out upon leaving Rivendell and you’ll find yourself in a snowy landscape depicted in an isometric persepective, again quite faithful to the Diablo-style hack’n’slay gameplay I mentioned earlier.

The Journey Begins...

The Journey Begins…

Soon, that is after some paces into the wilderness, you will encoutner the first opponents, which are somewhat varied – at the beginning you only get pitchwork wielding Orcs as well as some Archer kind Orcs but as the game progresses you will encounter many more different enemies such as smaller Moria Orcs or Goblins and later on the much stronger Uruk-Hai Orc-Human crossbreeds as well as wolves and other non-Orc Creatures.

Pitchfork Orcs Attack

Pitchfork Orcs Attack

I said above that the game consists mainly of killing Orcs… which is true to some extent, however the rest of the gameplay makes for an engaging gaming experience (at least for fans of the Action Adventure genre) and offers a lot of replay value. Before Iย  got into what fleshes the simple Orc slaughterfest out to make for a greatly enjoyable game, I should mention that the graphics and especially the movement animations in LoTR – The Two Towers are really well done for a GBA game, confined to SUCH a small screen.

So yeah, you walk around, run into ugly Orcs and kill them. You have a Life Points meter (the red orb in the lower left corner) as well as a Magic Point meter in the lower right corner of the screen (MP will be consumed as you use Active Skills, such as Aragorns healing power, with which he starts the game). In between the two orbs you got another indicator, a green experience point meter. With every slain enemy, the experience meter will go up and once it reached its far end you will level up. And this is where the fun comes in. You can fully customize your character by means of distributing stat points upon level up as well as learn or improve active and/or passive skills by allocating skill points. Each character has their very own, very unique skills such as Aragorns Life Stealing Skill that regenerates some of his health when he damages or kills a foe. Frodo on the other hand can use the ring to sneak past enemies or improve his skills in finding more and more precious items and gems.

Active Skills on the left, Passive Skills on the right

Active Skills on the left, Passive Skills on the right

Gems are the currency in the game. Oh and speaking of items: There are tons and tonsย  of different items of all kinds such as weapons or protective gear or even amulets etc which are found in treasure chests or dropped by slain enemies. This way you can really customize and power up your hero to your heart’s content and this is what makes this game a gem for me!

Your inventory on the left and your current stats on the right

Your inventory on the left and your current stats on the right

Oh and about halfway into the game, when the mighty Uruk-Hai appear, you will start finding “rare” or “enchanted” or “premium” items or however you can call it. Their name will be written in green letters instead of white as per normal and they usually have some additional powers or effects such as weapons inflicting plus X fire damage or whatnot. You will need these once the Uruks appear, believe me. Oh and then there are the ultra rare items written in red letters. These are really hard to come by but have amazing powers as a matter of course and what is really cool, you can find and recognize items from the books and movies… I remember when one time my character found and wieleded Orcrist, the Orc Slayer which Gandalf finds in a dirty cave in “The Hobbit”!

One tiny detail I shan’t forget to mention: There is an “Orc-Kills” stat on your Status Screen (see above… I killed two when that screenshot was taken… how lame…) and you can actually check how many Orc lives you have taken on you adventure… In the end the number will be in the thousands if I remember correctly haha!!


Well folks that is it for my review of The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers for Gameboy Advance.

I hope you enjoyed my rather brief look into one of my old GBA favorites and hopefully you appreciate my effort to diversify the topics on here a wee bit. You can be looking forward to Episode 2 of Andi’s Retro Game Reviews already as I am playing and massively enjoying SHINING FORCE from the Game Gear, playing on my Nintendo 3DS (yes they sell old classics for cheap on their E-Shop) at the moment. So guess which game will be up next!

Until them I wish you happy gaming as always – be it analog or digital!! ๐Ÿ˜€

Yours,

Andi

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