The Lord of the Rings was once a book that changed the very realm of fantasy and fiction, and like all great books it made its way to the realm of film. While the initial films weren't a success, Peter Jackson's were and The Lord of the Rings became a cultural phenomenon, sparking a sort of pseudo-nerd society that everyone and anyone attempted to capitalize on. Flash forward a few years, and Lord of the Rings videogames have become almost as numerous as World War II games once were. So where does Aragorn's Quest come in? It's a unique take at a story we've heard a dozen times over, and a thankful break from Frodo, but does it deviate enough to provide a fresh Lord of the Rings experience?
The game takes place in The Shire and Aragorn, who has been King for a while, has decided to visit the hobbits for no particular reason. To celebrate the arrival of the King, Samwise sits down his son and son's friends to tell the tale of the Fellowship's trials. This time though, it's from Aragorn's perspective. And this really is Aragorn's Quest's single bragging right - it's a game that can be picked up to play virtually anytime, anywhere. Almost everyone already knows the storyline, so it's really impossible to spoil anything.
The storyline helps with accessibility, but the controls also have a big part to play. Slashing a sword and blocking with a shield is pretty easy and self explanatory, and anyone familiar with the Zelda games should be right at home. Thrusting the Wii Remote forward will cause a forward thrust, slashing to the left will cause a left slash. Waving the Wii Remote wildly will cause Aragorn to do some pretty sweet moves, which can be unlocked throughout the course of the game. These moves all have specific motions to active them, but wildly waving in a general direction is just as effective and far easier.
In fact, that's another reason why Aragorn's Quest is so open to players of all ages; the game has virtually no challenge to it. Players may occasionally get hit by attacks, and perhaps lose every now and then if they're really not paying attention, but for the most part the entire game can be mastered through some random arm flailing. Some fights will require a little more strategy and finesse, but all of that is easily overcome by just flailing some more. The best part about Aragorn's Quest is that, just in case there wasn't little enough challenge the developers were kind enough to implement a contingency plan. Its name is Gandalf, and it appears whenever a friend decides to enter the game for some co-op.
Co-op in Aragorn's Quest is hilarious, fun, and almost a guilty pleasure. Not much can stand up to the combined might of a fireball-throwing wizard and a master swordsman, and it's nice to see the two of them have a wide enough variety of moves to make playing both characters separately worth it. Unfortunately where Aragorn's Quest goes wrong is easy to define and explain, there's just nothing new here. The storyline doesn't really change and once players master the very basic elements of the game things don't become any more impressive from there. It's a very cute take on a storyline that everyone knows and for the few people out there on this Earth who are lucky enough to have avoided all other Lord of the Rings material this game may be perfect. For everyone else, it falls flat.
This isn't to say that Aragorn's Quest doesn't have its moments, there are a few little tidbits in there that will make the experience at least worth a chuckle or two. There aren't too many technical issues in the game either. Horseback riding is a little strange, particularly since the game isn't nearly as violent as the films may be. Enemies will just get hit and occasionally you'll watch their models drag along the edge of your lance as they try and find a place to pan out a death animation. The game literally boils down to the same sort of combat experience over and over again, with very few changes from battle to battle. Smooth controls and amusing aim-flailing gameplay do nothing to stop dry repetitive combat that players will experience over and over again, and anyone who happens to know what the storyline is will just suffer more.
Graphics wise Aragorn's Quest doesn't exactly inspire, which is really just another hit against the game. Epic fight sequences normally involving thousands (if not hundreds) are brought down to about twenty on each side. It's nice to see a game at least try to give the Wii an epic war experience, but it falls short when the system is unable to process more than a dozen enemies on screen at a time. Poor processing ability turns an epic battle into a semi-entertaining skirmish, and through the soundtrack is enjoyable in its own right it simply isn't enough.
Overall Aragorn's Quest falls prey to all the typical pitfalls of a Lord of the Rings game, and all the pitfalls of a generic Wii game. Repetitive levels, uninspiring combat system, repetitive motion controls, and poor graphics all form a Fellowship in this game, pulled together with a single purpose: to tell the story of a book told dozens of times before. The game isn't the worst out there, but it simply doesn't challenge the player enough. Without that challenge, all of the other game's disappointing points become all the more noticeable. It's a shame, because Aragorn's Quest could of really been something special. Instead all anyone will really take away from it is the memory of a lot of flailing, and maybe even the hope that someone will stop making Lord of the Rings games.