Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - Kill, Loot, Repeat.
I love, love, love looter games. I don’t know if it’s my weird little neurodivergent games, but these kinds of incremental experiences, slowly progressing via gear, skill points, or unlocking new levels, I really just can’t get enough of them. Yes, I’m one of those idiots who play crap like Cookie Clicker, but that’s neither here nor there. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is special to me in many ways - the movie was what opened my eyes to fantasy cinema; the PS2 game was one of the most exciting titles of the game; and The Two Towers for the Game Boy Advance showed me that games just like my one of my favorites, Diablo 2, could exist on such a cute little piece of hardware like the Game Boy Advance.
As I said, I love Diablo 2. If I was put on the spot and asked what my ten favorite games are, there’d be a good chance that Diablo 2 would be somewhere on that list. Since I’ve played that masterpiece of a game, I’ve always been on the lookout for solid, satisfying games of that variety. And whilst I’ve played a lot of them - Borderlands, Outriders, Warhammer 40,000 Martyr - I’d never expected to find one on the Game Boy Advance of all places. I first played it over ten years ago,
Being a GBA game, this game’s characters aren’t particularly complex. They’ve each got a handful of moves, along with a number of passive skills. Like every other game with RPG exp bars, you’ll get skill points each time you level up, though you can also buy some from vendors, or from hitting certain milestones, like killing 1000 enemies. You’ll also be hunting down gear that randomly drops from enemies that can range from a crappy cloth shirt, to the legendary equipment wielded by the characters in the very movies themselves.
Now, I’ll be blunt - even more so than Diablo, this game suffers from the ‘auto-attack for x amount of hours, win game’ syndrome. It isn’t bad, and it remains engaging enough because it’s simply so satisfying to cut through the almost endless hordes, but the fact is, you’ll mostly be auto-attacking. It’s not bad, but it’s just what it is. Though, thankfully, the game does give you the tools to… you know, press more then one button.
From what I’ve worked out, each character usually has two different playstyles to invest in, via the skill points you can choose; for example, Aragorn could fight with the classic ‘sword’n’shield’, or dual-wielding swords. Because I am a Very Cool Person who likes Very Cool Playstyles, I obviously went with the latter, and whilst that probably led to more deaths then I would’ve liked, when I was on a roll, I just cut through enemies like butter. Frodo, on the other hand, has a playstyle based around using the One Ring, which makes you invisible and stronger, yet overusing it summons the Nazgul, which most of the time will oneshot, forcing you to play around such a danger. There isn’t a huge amount of variety, but the game doles out enough skill points to encourage you to try out a little bit of everything. On the other hand, though, the attribute stats were a little more frustrating; I was never quite sure which stats I should be pumping into each character, and it was a little frustrating to see just how important accuracy and defense were to your stats - seriously, having your chance to hit tied to that stat, and having it start so low drove me insane. Early on, you’ll barely be hitting people, and you’ll really need to pump up those stats to actually bring down enemies before they slaughter you. Arguably, this is the game’s biggest weak point, at least personally.
Visually, this game looks kind of hilarious. It doesn’t look bad, far from it, but there’s just something genuinely hysterical about Aragorn, the future king of Gondor, greatest warrior of the age… looking like this.
But seriously though, the game looks fine. I wouldn’t say it steps onto either side of ‘great’ or ‘bad’, but it’s just fine. The models are funny as hell, and there were a few times I felt the game couldn’t properly convey what terrain I was able to navigate and what I wasn’t, but yeah, it’s a perfectly serviceable look for a game that probably wasn’t expected to be as surprisingly good as it was.
But it’s the audio department where this game shines. Now, I know that this isn’t some wondrous recreation of Lord of the Rings' absolutely incredible soundtrack, but I’m a huge fan of the chiptune, slightly strange-sounding sound chip present in the GBA, and I think there are few games that sound this fantastic. Hearing the main overture to the franchise, or this game’s rendition of ‘The Ring Goes South’ put the biggest smile on my face, especially coupled with the somewhat goofy look of the combat. Seriously, this game sounds fantastic, I can’t overstate that fact enough, it’s just so much fun to hear.
Also, I just want to shout out the game having, as brief as it was, clips from the Two Towers in this game, I just found that kind of crazy overall, considering this was the early 2000s, and the vast majority of games that were film tie-ins usually just had awful-looking screenshots from their parent movie, coupled with awkward looking subtitles.
Back on the gameplay track, one of the most pleasant surprises of this game is the fact that there are notably different campaigns for most of the characters. Whilst there is some overlap, most of the characters have distinctly different levels, dialogue, and occasionally, enemies to deal with. For this review, I did three runs; Aragorn, Frodo, and Eowyn, mostly because I felt they would be the least similar - and because they’re also my favorites from the selection. No shade towards Gandalf or Legolas, though - I would’ve played them, but I’d honestly just gotten a little burnt out on the game at that point - for reasons we’ll get to - but I wouldn’t be surprised if Gandalf has a bit of a unique playthrough, too.
Aragorn is obviously the ‘main playthrough’, covering the latter half of the Fellowship of the Ring and all of Two Towers, and his run has the most distinctive and varied set of foes to fight.
Also, crazily enough, Eowyn is playable in this game! Eowyn was always one of my favorite characters from the movie trilogy, but it’s nothing short of awesome to see her, truly, as the warrior the books and films make her out to be. Her campaign also rather significantly diverges from the others, being a bit shorter, but following different storybeats related to her role in The Two Towers as a whole, seeing things we’re only told of in the film, like her defending the caves during Helm’s Deep, or helping Eomer in rescuing Theodred. Unfortunately, she is somewhat the least interesting of the five to play, since her kit is just a mash-up of the others, but I think the fact she’s in the game at all is fantastic. I don’t really know why I wrote a whole paragraph on just her, but I dunno. I just think she’s neat.
Which does, somewhat, lead me into my main criticism of the game. Whilst it was, and is, fun through my entire time with the game, it does get rather repetitive. And I know, I know, repetition is basically the name of the genre; Diablo is a game where you right and left click a million times for twenty hours and then you’ve killed Diablo. But in Two Towers, being a GBA game, this design philosophy has been stripped back to its very core. There are no side quests, no backtracking, none of that; it is simply a stage-based affair, where on each level you, for the most part, fight your way through hordes of enemies, level up a few times, and then reach the exit to enter a new ‘stage’ and do it all again. And that’s not a bad thing all in it’s self;
Also, I don’t know if it’s just me, but I found this game hard as all hell. And not in a ‘oh, I need to think up a strategy to overcome this difficulty’ kind of hard. This game was hard. It felt no matter what I did, certain kinds of enemies just chunked down most of my health in one or two hits, especially when it came to foes like the Uruk-Hai or the Berserkers. In Aragorn and Frodo’s campaigns, I was able to mitigate this somewhat; in the former, I found some pretty good armor, whilst in Frodo’s, I could use the One Ring and backstab combo, making me invisible long enough to bring them down. But in Eowyn’s run, not only did I just not get any armor drops, but her kit just didn’t feel capable of taking down such hard hitting foes like the Uruk-Hai - which, with her campaign taking place entirely in Rohan, were the bulk of the enemies she was fighting. Most Diablo-style games like this could circumvent this problem with some form of a grinding area, or being able to revisit all areas, but The Two Towers has none of this - unless you make a save earlier on, you are locked into whatever ‘room’ you last entered, and I need to learn some pretty tricky ‘hit-and-run’ tactics to avoid getting two-shot by some of the endgame foes. It’s nothing short of frustrating, honestly; there were a few times I really considered dropping the game mid-run, because I just wasn’t having fun, and it ultimately was the main reason I decided to wrap up my time with this game after completion of my three campaign runs, and not moving onto the higher difficulties. It might have just been my stats or something, but also, I’m just kind of a stupid person. So, uh, yeah.
Now, it sounds like I’m going to keep being negative, but bear with me - I do still rather enjoy this game, don’t worry!
The game is rather short, when you look at it from the perspective of a single character’s run. I beat Aragorn's first playthrough in just under four hours, and that was with me getting stuck on the Lurtz boss fight for way, way too long. I was trying to whittle down the Uruk-hai guarding him, when I realized the strat was to just rush him down and then cheese it. But, uh, anyway, the game did seem short on the first go around, but that’s when I realized that the other characters were distinctively different in their campaigns, and that this game has the classic ‘the game gets harder but the loot gets better’ kind of gameplay loop once you finish a character’s campaign. I didn’t do any repeats with the characters, but I could imagine Little Baby Mitch spending many, many hours grinding away, trying to get Aragorn the very best weapons he could find. I, uh, really liked Aragorn as a kid. But, uh, anyway, this game’s structure is perfect for a GBA game; It’s got a ton of replay value, both in the multiple characters and multiple runs with the same character, and you really could spend a long time with this, if you wanted, and it pretty much excuses most of the issues of length that I mentioned.
One of my favorite parts of undertaking the Game Boy Abyss project was to play a lot of those games I played over a decade ago. Even better, at least in the case of The Two Towers, I enjoyed them even more than my original playthrough. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is likely the premier Diablo-style game on the GBA - it might be short and sweet, and perhaps a little repetitive, but it’s also infinitely playable, and a great showcase of what the audio chip built into the GBA can do. For Lord of the Rings fans, and fans of the looting genre Diablo popularized, this game is a must-play. For everyone else, I still highly recommend this game - it’s short, sweet, and just simply a ton of fun. And, to make things even better, I’ve heard Return of the King is just as, if not even better, then this one, so I’ll certainly playing that in the near future!
Thank you so much for reading my review of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers! This was a particularly special one for me to tackle, since I’ve always had such fond memories of it. I’m not quite sure what my next game is going to be - I’ve been behind on finishing GBA games, because Elden Ring has pretty much taken up all of my free time, bahahaha.
As always, you can find me @lemmy7003 on twitter, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have any questions, concerns, or recommendations of games for me to play! Thank you again for reading, and I’ll see you next time!