It appears that I'm the go-to guy around TheFish for Lego video games. It's not a title I've actively campaigned for, but I suppose there are worse things, right? When my editors requested that I take a look at Lego Lord of the Rings as a tie-in to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey's release on December 14th, I wasn't really turning cartwheels. I mean, I just reviewed a Lego game back in June and I figured that would be it for a while. As I mentioned previously, I felt like I've kinda seen what the Lego games held for gamers and, aside from a few tweaks to the time-tested formula found in Lego Batman 2, I wasn't too surprised with what I found.

However, while Lego LotR doesn't really plow any new ground, it's definitely the best implementation of the Lego formula that I've seen. It keeps all the good new stuff from Lego Batman 2, refines some of the things that I found to be lacking, and is just generally a better game. If you've got a young gamer in the house, this game is tailor-made for inclusion in his or her stocking.

After bringing an original story to Lego Batman 2, Lego LotR goes back to having the player control characters through movie/book plotlines. However, as opposed to prior implementations of the formula (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, etc.), in Lego LotR there's voice acting. That means that the Lego minifigs spout lines of dialog cut directly from the movies. Little Lego Legolas (never thought I'd type that) is voiced by Orlando Bloom, Aragorn is Viggo Mortensen, and all the rest. This allows for folks like me who've seen the movies more times than I can count to view them again in a way that keeps me on my toes. It also allows publisher Warner Brothers Interactive to have some fun with the story and occasionally splice lines out of order for comedic effect. Lego Gimli is a total cry baby.

The open world aspect from Lego Batman 2 is back, as well. However, I feel that this time it's better implemented. There are interesting sights to see and bricks to break as your group wanders from story hook to story hook, but I never found myself lost in the wilderness trying to find where to go next like I did with Lego Batman 2 in Gotham City. I think the urban aspect of Lego Batman 2 hindered me finding the story hooks (or maybe I'm just really bad at it), but I didn't have that problem roaming through Lego Middle Earth.

Much like every other Lego game, individual characters have special skills that need to be used to solve puzzles and progress through levels. And, honestly, the single most exciting thing to me about this game was the fact that Samwise Gamgee wasn't a worthless lump. In the stories by Tolkein and the movies by Jackson, I've never been able to figure out what good Sam is. I mean, he's kind of encouraging to Frodo, maybe? And he brings some rope?

Anyway, Sam's particular abilities in this game were fun to use and made him find a place where he brought something to the table. Ticky-tack on my part, I'm sure, but this game actually made me appreciate the character more than I ever have in the past. And that's something.

Lego LotR is the finest implementation of the brick-busting genre that I've seen. The voice acting is top-notch (obviously) and the puzzles are challenging without being frustrating to younger players. My six year old wouldn't be able to solve some of them on his own, but an eight or nine year old should be. Even though I'm probably not in the target gamer demographic for these games, Warner Brothers Interactive have refined the formula to a point where even I can appreciate the games and enjoy them more with every new release.

Lego Lord of the Rings is rated E for Everyone by the ESRB. I noted the following things that may be of concern to some of our readers:

Language: Nothing

Sexuality: None

Violence: If breaking apart minifigs is a problem, then you might have an issue. No blood or gore, obviously.

*This Review First Published 12/12/12