- The Washington Times
Sunday, December 2, 2012

The battle for Middle-earth comes to blocky life in the third-person adventure Lego The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Traveler’s Tales, reviewed for Xbox 360, rated E +10, $49.99).

Just as developers Traveler’s Tales has so masterfully done in the past with such pop-culture franchises as Batman, Star Wars and Harry Potter, J.R.R. Tolkien’s fabulous fantasy universe becomes part of a virtual, and highly-interactive, Lego-land to mesmerize younger players and their eagerly supportive parents.

More specifically, it’s a game that adapts Peter Jackson’s Academy Award-winning trilogy of movies and offers the potential use of roughly 85 legendary characters within open-world exploration of fantastical lands.

Action, as in past Lego video games, requires one or up to two players in a cooperative mode (with drop-in and drop-in options), each controlling mini block figures through dozens of missions.

They often destroy and rebuild the flora, fauna and numerous parts of Middle-earth and liberally beat up orcs, trolls, Ringwraiths and Uruk-Hai until the enemies literally explode into pieces — all in the pursuit of multicolored studs and precious metal bricks, used to unlock more characters, replay levels and build items.

It’s a marvelous amount of time-consuming fun that offers all of the crucial plot points from “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King” and incorporates dialogue from the films throughout the game.

That means, for example, a blocky plastic-bearded Gandalf (actually voiced by Sir Ian McKellen) screams, “you shall not pass” to the impressive Balrog in the mines of Moria.

Although the Lord of the Rings is often serious fare, developers add plenty of clever humor to the cartoony mix and epic lines.

In fact, I defy even the most jaded gaming grinches to not appreciate moments such as tossing a dwarf at targets Lego-style, hanging out in the Shire with the kiddie Hobbits and stepping on goofy orcs as the massive Ent Treebeard.

Or, worth a chuckle, listening to Gandalf declare “the Fellowship awaits the ring bearer” and waiting through extended silence only to hear a loud toilet flush and hand sanitizer run as Frodo sheepishly steps back on screen.

The level of cute matches the intense game play that mixes conquering platforming obstacle courses, solving environmental puzzles and relieving moments such as the battle of Helm’s Deep or taking part in an extended fight between the wizards Gandalf the Grey and Saruman the White.

The spot on Lego-ized mini-figures — including a feisty Gollum, terrifying Witch King, serious Boromir with the deafening horn of Gondor and large sword, and dangerous Arwen upon a horse — will cause builders to twitch wanting to create their own representations from their real-life Lego stock while the loads of animated cut scenes are enough to fill out a full-length movie.

Characters each have access to a collection of special weapons and magical items stored and easily accessed through to a navigation wheel and can be indispensable on levels.

Take Samwise Gamgee and his use of a spade to grow plants, or a frying pan to cook up fish, tomatoes and kippers. Gandalf uses a staff that acts as a shield, can shoot bolts, emit light, and lift and throw enemies. Legolas has access to duel blades and a bow.

Added features include asking characters to take on side-quests, forging new costumes and items (a methodical process using found blueprints, Mithril bricks and a blacksmith), use the Palantir or seeing stone (to quickly jump between storylines) and the ability to freely roam around such spectacular locales as Rivendell, Fangorn Forest and the Dead Marshes.

Throughout the roughly 10-hour campaign to help Frodo reach Mount Doom and destroy the Ring, Howard Shore’s sweeping orchestral score keeps the adventure as exciting as nostalgic for the movie fans and music lovers.

The overall experience will provide further educational opportunities for parents to introduce their 10-year-olds to the original novels, the latest movies and preparing the family for the new film “The Hobbit.”

It also teaches teamwork through some of the simple puzzles. Early on, while the entire Fellowship is walking around the wintry pass of Caradhras, taller characters must carry smaller ones through snow mounds.

And, don’t forget the importance of teaching junior to not beat the tar out of another brethren, no matter how much fun it is watching him break apart into studs.

The inspirational Lego Lord of the Rings may stand the epoch as Traveler’s Tales’ shining moment and really is, pardon the obvious Rings cliché, the Tolkien-inpired video game that rules them all.

Except, of course, until Lego The Hobbit hits store shelves. By the way, I’m still dreaming about Lego Aliens vs. Predator; hurry up Traveler’s Tales.

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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