The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King GBA Hands-On Impressions

We check out the portable version of EA's upcoming action game based on the movie trilogy.

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When Electronic Arts ships the console versions of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King this fall, the developer will also release a Game Boy Advance version of the game at the same time. The GBA game is being codeveloped by EA and Griptonite Games, which worked on last year's The Two Towers game. The GBA game will follow the events from the upcoming film, and it will have enhanced graphics and gameplay, as well as GameCube connectivity features.

The game will feature the same roster as its predecessor, with the addition of Gimli, and it will also offer two unlockable characters who should make fans of the motion pictures happy. The graphics have been improved with the addition of more animation for the characters' attacks, reflections in water, and bit maps to simulate broad vistas. The game's presentation has also been tweaked to included character portraits in the chat window and new menus. The only feature that some players may miss is full-motion video, which was used in the The Two Towers but will not be featured in the new game. Fortunately, Griptonite has made good use of the memory that's been freed up as a result of this omission.

The core gameplay of The Two Towers seems to have been retained in The Return of the King, although the new game does have some modified mechanics. The combat is basically the same, although the skill system has changed considerably. In addition to the new active and passive skills you'll earn as you gain levels, you'll be able to use auras that temporarily increase your character's attributes. To compensate for these enhancements, the enemy AI has been made a bit tougher and will now group together to form shield walls or try to ambush you. The forges where you'll spend your crystals will be joined by Ent trees who will provide you with life-restoring potions. The number of bosses will be increased to six (as opposed to the three in the original game), and a meter will also appear during fights with boss characters to let you know how much health they have left. Finally, the game will offer two bonuses that you'll unlock when you connect the game to the GameCube. By linking to the GameCube game, you'll be able to unlock a new playable character and bonus levels, like the mines of Moria.

The enhanced graphics and solid gameplay mechanics in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King seem to make for an engaging game. The extras unlocked by linking the game to its GameCube cousin will be a nice bonus as well. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is currently scheduled to ship this fall for the Game Boy Advance.

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