The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers | Retro Review | GameCube - Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Friday, June 12, 2020

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers | Retro Review | GameCube

by Danny Bivens

Don't throw this one in Mt. Doom just yet. 
It can sometimes be pretty easy to crap over licensed games, especially some from the early 2000s. To top that off during the same period, EA was often criticized for their yearly cash grabs with sports titles, however it was around that time when the company started diving further into developing games based on existing (and usually popular) franchises. Enter the Lord of the Rings franchise. EA had a deal with Peter Jackson and crew to develop a game based on the blockbuster movies. But, is the Two Towers on the GameCube worth adding to your collection all these years later?

The Two Towers was a multi-platform title that first saw a release on the Playstation 2 in October 2002, with Xbox and GameCube versions coming in December of the same year. For Japan (and also Europe), the game didn’t see a release until the following year on February 14, 2003 (March 13, 2003 for Europe), which makes sense seeing as the film premiered in Japan a day after the release of the game. A Game Boy Advance version was also released but is more tailored to the system and quite different from the home console version - a review for another time.
The hack-and-slash nature of The Two Towers feels pretty good, even now. You have three characters to choose from - Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses. Gimli is a bit slow and his weapon has a short reach but his attacks are powerful and he can take a beating. Legolas is quick and can hold more projectiles, but takes more damage. Aragorn is the well rounded one here, somewhere in between the elf and dwarf. Having played this game to completion with all characters back in the day (and most recently doing a full play-through with Aragorn), the general consensus and my opinion is that Gimli is kind of awful. If you want a challenge, that would definitely be a way to get one. Legolas may be fast, but his his close range attacks aren’t so great. Aragorn is the best character in the game, especially for first timers or gamers coming back to the game.

It doesn’t matter which character you choose here either - the story will progress in the same way maybe with a few different lines from your chosen character being the only difference. While the game does a good job at recreating the movie and then some, it should be noted that levels are fairly linear. With around a dozen stages on offer, that game can be completed rather quickly, but EA wanted gamers to keep coming back to the game with ALL of the characters so they can access the extras - interviews with the actors, art galleries and even a battle tower in Orthanc. Pretty cool additions, particularly the interviews as they were (and still are to this day) a rarity when it comes to being included in games.
Controls here feel pretty well overall, however there are some issues. Basics attacks are done with A, strong attacks with Y, kicks with X and projectiles by holding the right should button in combination and pressing A. The block move has been assigned to the B button. While this is pretty much a cut and paste kind of job from the Playstation 2, the B button on the Cube is just a little bit too uncomfortable here, especially with the frequency in which you’ll be using it. Also, unlike modern games, you are unable to adjust the camera. It’s honesty not a huge deal, though, as it’s generally where it needs to be, with a few exceptions here and there.

The Two Towers does offer an upgrade/leveling system. After each level, you receive a rank based on how you performed - fair, good, excellent or perfect. These are all determined by how you do in battle. While playing, you will get higher marks for killing enemies and avoiding damage. If this gets interrupted, it will result in getter lower ranks per kill. These translate to skill points that can be used to upgrade your characters after battles. Upgrades range from more complicated combo moves for your characters to permanent upgrades, like more strength or power. It’s not super deep, but it’s enough to make you want to do well in the levels so you can get the additional moves or power-ups.
Visuals in Two Towers are actually pretty good. the game runs pretty smoothly and the in game models look pretty close to their real-life counter parts. Gimli is probably the only exception here as his model, particularly in close up scenes of his face, looks a little bit strange. The main character model from afar seems okay, though. Locations are also well crafted and look pretty spot on. Of course, with this being a game, some liberties were taken when it came to the story and some of these locations. You’ll see some things that definitely weren’t in the movies, but make for interesting additions to a game-ified version of it. The transitions between in game visuals to movie clips were really well done here. I honestly can’t think of another game (at least from the time of release) that did anything similar to this or as well as EA did with The Two Towers. The visual and audio quality might not quite be there, but the techniques of implementing the films into the game were fantastic.
Speaking of visual and audio quality, the GameCube version of this game falls short is in this area. Now just for the record, I’ve played the game on all three consoles - the Playstation 2, Xbox and GameCube. I even owned the Playstation 2 version back in the day (I rented the Xbox version). While memories of the Xbox version are a bit hazy, the GCN version definitely was lacking when it came to both video and audio quality compared to the PS2 version. Videos are less detailed, and the sound, particularly some of the recordings of the NPCs, are kind of distorted with the audio sometimes popping at inopportune times or just not sounding as clear as you would expect. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but you will notice it. Still, it was cool seeing clips of the movie on my GameCube well before the movie was on DVD.

Despite what you might think of the quality of the game, it sold pretty well across all platforms. Of course, with the Playstation 2 being at the top during that console generation, over 4.5 million copies were sold on the platform. The Xbox version sold over 700,000 units while the GCN version sold through a respectable 500,000 units. The GBA version of the game also sold really well, coming in at 740,000 units sold.
In terms of regional differences here, there really are none aside from the addition of Japanese voice overs. As far as I know, the Japanese voice actors who voiced their respective characters in the films reprise their roles for the game. Of course, all of the cast did this for the English version as well, so it was cool to see that solidarity. One other difference I noticed didn’t have to do with the game per se, but rather the manual. The North American version comes with a black and white manual that uses screenshots from the Playstation 2 version of the game - an understandable, but disappointing way for EA to cut costs. The Japanese version, however, features a full color manual that features color screenshots from the GameCube version of the game. Japan also received a special edition of the game…exclusive to the Playstation 2. I’ve thought about picking this up for my collection, but it’s usually anywhere from five to ten times more than the standard GCN version. As cool as that is, I’ll have to wait it out or just forget about it.

I think that in this era of gaming, you have to remember that typically the GameCube version of any multi-platform game was a bit of an afterthought. The team behind the GCN port, Hypnos Entertainment, did a fantastic job here. So much so in fact that they were the ones to develop the sequel (Return of the King) on ALL platforms and go on to develop tons of popular games with EA. Good for them! Is the Two Towers a perfect game? No, it isn’t. However, production values are high, the game runs super smoothly and aside from my annoyance with the B button for blocking, it’s fun to play - even now. It’s not easy, and playing as Gimli might make you want to throw your controller through the television screen. But if you have any affinity for LOTR, you should pick The Two Towers up on any platform.

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