You won’t find bigger fans of Lord of the Rings than here at The Smartphone App Review. From the recent movies all the way back to the original books and the Hobbit, we have, over the years, gobbled up just about anything Middle Earth related that has come our way.
So, it is with some excitement that we review The Lord of the Rings game for the Apple iPad, our excitement only increasing upon the discovery that this would be a tower defense game, one of the team’s favourite genres, and reaching fever pitch when we learned that Glu Mobile are the developers. Glu have been responsible for some excellent mobile games recently, such as Transformers and Jump O’ Clock, so the fact that they are developing this game can only be good news for iPad and iPhone owning fans of Frodo and company. Our excitement was short lived.
The game follows the story of the films, and each of the 18 stages in the main story mode relates to an action scene from the movies, so expect Helms Deep and The Black Gate. The game does use some artistic license with these scenes, however, and with little success, as I will explain later. Each stage is viewed from an over head perspective, and you can use your fingers to scroll around the map. Monsters appear from set points on the edges of the map and will follow a predetermined path to reach another point of the map, and it’s your job to place units strategically to attempt to stop the enemies reaching their destination. If too many enemies reach the exit, it’s game over.
When you select a unit you can place it at certain points around the map, and when an enemy gets within range your unit will begin to attack, only stopping when the monster has walked out of range or has been destroyed. When an enemy dies, you receive a certain amount of gold, which you can either spend on new units, or upgrading units already on the field. There are also blockades that you can set up to funnel the enemy in the direction you want, and most of your characters have special attacks that can be purchased.
So far, so the usual tower defense game, but the point at which Middle Earth Defense distinguishes itself from the crowd is, well, hmmm, let me see…
The truth is, it doesn’t. It offers nothing you couldn’t get from a thousand other, cheaper tower defense games in the App Store. Take away the Tolkien setting and the graphics and what you have left is a very ordinary, uninspiring game. Aside from the funneling, there is precious little strategy, other than upgrading everything as fast as possible, and the game quickly becomes a chore. You will find yourself wishing that you could speed it all up faster than the 2X option offered, if only to trudge through it all quicker. A big gripe I have here is also the fact that, you can’t scroll around with a unit selected. You should be able to drag the unit near the edge of the screen to make the screen scroll, but instead you must deselect the unit, scroll to where you want it placed, and select the unit all over again. Frustrating.
The game does have the feel of the films in its favour, but any atmosphere is ruined by the awful story telling. Quotes from the movies, all in the wrong places, are mixed with pointless, inane new material in text along the bottom. The writers are obviously trying to do two things at once; please fans of the films with quotes, and let people who have never seen the movies have an idea of what the story is all about. They achieved neither. A simple text overview of where the story is, before each stage would have been a far better, more coherent solution than ham fisted attempts at cut scenes.
I mentioned the artistic license the developers used earlier, and while i understand the intention of doing something new with the material, creating fights and battles where there were none before just doesn’t make sense. An example is an early stage where Arwen is protecting the stricken Frodo from the Nine Riders. In the movie, she summons the ‘power of her people’ and washes them away in the river. In this game, the Nine Riders are joined by an army of Orcs, Arwen can shoot magic bolts, and Aragorn magically appears at her side. Surely there is enough battle and fighting material across the three films that there is little need to create conflicts that make no sense?
Despite all of this, the game is basically solid, and with achievements, a nice challenge mode, and the ability to post scores to Facebook, there are a few hours of entertainment here, so at least some effort has gone into increasing the games life span. The graphics are excellent, with great looking environments and characters packed with detail.
Overall, a deeply average tower defence game hidden behind a great license and pretty graphics. Solid, but uninspiring.