Next up is Lego The Lord of the Rings from TT Games, a studio that has been pumping out Lego games at a rate of roughly two per year. It makes a certain amount of sense, what with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hitting theaters in December 2012. Not to mention the fact that few understand how to navigate a saturated market better than TT Games, which continues to find success with its family-friendly Lego adventures.
Lego The Lord of the Rings appears to take very few chances, based on what we saw during a recent hands-on preview session. All of the familiar bits and bobs work just the way they always have. The backpack-equipped Fellowship can now store an inventory of useful items, but you're still busting up Lego objects, collecting tons of Lego studs, and rolling your eyes at goofy Lego humor.
This particular demo focused on the Weathertop scene from The Fellowship of the Ring, in which Frodo and his hobbit pals are confronted by Sauron's Ringwraiths. TT Games' adherence to Jackson's vision is immediately apparent, with familiar scenes from the movie playing out like shot-for-shot machinima re-creations. You'll still feel a chill when you see an overhead shot of the Nazgul slowly converging on the hilltop campsite and you'll still let out a quiet cheer when Strider comes to the rescue as the score swells behind him.
That's not to say TT Games doesn't take some creative liberties. During the Weathertop sequence, the bits that diverge from the movie are most effective when they tie into what we know. Sam, Pippin, and Merry's efforts to cook up a second breakfast while Frodo sleeps play out in the game as a mini-challenge that requires you to track down ingredients along with wood for the campfire. It's simple stuff, but it serves to fill in bits of the story that never played out on the big screen.
The hobbits' subsequent flight to the summit of Weathertop, on the other hand, feels like an overstep. It may make sense to give Sam the ability to grow oversized flower "platforms" from a gameplay perspective, but it sure doesn't fit with the lore. The youthful target audience for Lego LotR probably won't mind, but it looks like nitpicking Rings geeks will have plenty of opportunity to get their nitpick on.
To drive back Sauron's minions from the Weathertop summit, Frodo and Sam must light five campfires. The catch is that the woodpiles for each fire must be located – some are hidden inside breakable objects – and assembled, Lego-style. Some of the piles can be found and assembled by Sam in the real world, but some are only visible to the ring-wearing Frodo until they're put together.
Whenever you switch over to take command of the invisible hobbit, the camera pulls in and locks itself to a over-the-shoulder perspective. Frodo creeps along slowly when he's in this state; he can still attack and he can perform combat rolls, but the zoomed-in field of view makes it difficult to tell where you are or where you're headed. That may well be the point, but the tight framing and movement-resistant camera make it difficult even to complete some puzzles once you've solved them.
This became most apparent during the demo when one puzzle required Frodo to break a wall-mounted object with a thrown rock. Holding down the X button (on an Xbox 360 controller) brings up an aiming reticle, but the stubborn camera needed to be coaxed with the right analog stick in order to bring the target into view. Have you ever tried to manipulate the right analog stick while holding down a face button? It's... awkward. Challenging too, and not at all in a fun way.
Look for Lego The Lord of the Rings on virtually every platform released since 2005 sometime later this fall.