The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

First Hour Review
Lord Of The Rings Two Towers Cover

This is the start of a marathon of Lord of the Rings gaming, in which I play the first hour of three games based on the Lord of the Rings movies. Strangely enough the three games are not one for each movie; there was in fact no game made for the Fellowship of the Ring movie. Instead, I'll be playing Lord of the Rings: The Third Age as the third game.

The Lord of the Rings is one of the most beloved series of books ever written, and the movies based on them are some of the best-selling of all time. What I want to find out is if the IP was able to make the jump to video games with the same fidelity.

I read these books some years back, before the movies came out, and they are some of my favorite books. Because of this, I may throw around a few terms that are unfamiliar if you have not read the books or watched the movies. If this is the case I strongly urge you to read the books.

Electronic Arts had the video game rights to the Lord of the Rings films (Sierra had the rights to the books; I'm not really sure how that works), but since the first film came out around the time the console cycle entered the next generation, EA decided to skip Fellowship of the Ring and instead focus on releasing a game that coincided with the premier of The Two Towers. Because of this, the game starts with several scenes from The Fellowship of the Ring.

Which stigma will this game live up to: Lord of the Rings, or movie game? Find out. Here's the first hour of The Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers for the Nintendo GameCube.


First Hour Review
Wheelman Cover

Wheelman is one of those games I always thought looked interesting, but it got luke-warm reviews and slowly faded into obscurity as more popular AAA franchises consumed the markets (as well as my) interest. That is until one fateful day at Target when I saw it on the clearance shelf. Reviewers Note: Just in case you aren’t aware, Target stores generally have a clearance shelf near the electronics department. It’s usually an end-cap and that’s where they put the unpopular games out to pasture, along with poorly selling MP3 players, Barbie-themed boomboxes and other retail failures. Whenever I’m at Target, I make it a point to check that shelf. When I saw Wheelman for $14.99, I had to pick it up. Was it a mistake? Did the game hook me? Read on to find out.

Okay, so here’s what I knew going into Wheelman. I knew it was a pet project for Vin Diesel, an action star whose movies I’ve more often enjoyed than disliked (although Babylon A.D. was a particular stinker). I had read that Vin was an avid gamer and always wanted to be involved in the production of an action game. That sounded interesting enough, but then I found out it was going to be an all-out, over-the-top, in-your-face driving game and that there might even be a movie attached. Okay, so the movie didn’t pan out, but the heavily hyphenated Game got made and was even published by TWO major players, Midway and Ubisoft. The game was developed by Tigon Studios and Midway Newcastle. So, let’s see what the first hour of Wheelman looks like.

Editor's Note: Tigon Studios was founded by Vin Diesel and their first game was The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, a game I started to play once and I will admit, has a pretty amazing first hour.

Jet Set Radio Future

First Hour Review
Jet Set Radio Future Cover

Cel-shaded graphics, fast action gameplay, and a rocking soundtrack? Sounds like the perfect game for me, and maybe a few of you readers too. That game would be Jet Set Radio Future, a 2002 inline skating action game released just for the Xbox. With the Dreamcast done, Sega was looking to branch out and become just a third-party publisher and I suppose the original Jet Set Radio must have been popular enough to warrant a sequel. I found it a bit surprising that Sega chose the Xbox, as that pretty much threw out the Japanese audience for a game that feels very... Japanese. Microsoft must have made a deal though, as the game was eventually bundled with Sega GT 2002 and thrown in free with an Xbox.

This was definitely a big time for cel-shaded games, with The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, XIII, Dark Cloud 2, and Viewtiful Joe all released within the next year. When executed well, I believe the game's can rise far above in terms of style than any realistic looking video game. Jet Set Radio Future definitely has style, but does it actually play well? Well, let's find out; and no, I won't be splitting time with Sega GT 2002, I hate realistic racers.

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within

Guest First Hour Review
Prince Of Persia Warrior Within Cover

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within is the sequel to Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which was itself a relaunch of a popular 2D platformer from the early 1990s. The relaunch, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, eventually became a trilogy, released on PlayStation 2, XBox, GameCube, PC, and even a version for the GameBoy Advance. The series has since been relaunched again on the current generation of systems.

Sands of Time was very well received for many reasons, including beautiful art direction, spot-on controls, fluid animations, clever mechanics and a wonderful intangible quality. It had two main downfalls: the combat was repetitive and the game was short.

Warrior Within sets out to correct both of these follies, boasting a longer story and a much-improved combat engine that takes the acrobatic attacks of the first game and expands them to a move list that takes up several pages in the instruction manual.

With these improvements, the game has also "matured" in the video game sense, which as usual means blood and scantily-clad women. Oh, and heavy metal. I'm not really sure why Ubisoft felt this was necessary; I'm assuming it was based on customer feedback.

I played through Prince of Persia: The Sands of time a while back and enjoyed it very much. When it was over I wished it wasn't, and that's what sequels are for. Will Warrior Within satisfy my craving for more acrobatic platforming/adventuring featuring the Prince of Persia?

Note: If I say "the first game" I'm referring to Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, not the original Prince of Persia game.

Golden Axe: Beast Rider

Guest Full Review
Golden Axe Beast Rider Cover

Golden Axe: Beast Rider is the long anticipated entry in the classic Sega-developed series; Golden Axe. The franchise began life in 1989 as an arcade game but was later successfully ported to both the Master System and Genesis with multiple sequels and spin-offs to follow over the years. This installment doesn't play so much as a sequel, but rather as a re-imagining of the first game in which the evil Death Adder must be vanquished. It was developed by a relatively unknown developer; Secret Level Games.

Editor's Note: Mike B. is a brand new guest writer here at the First Hour, you may also see him around here as Mike in Omaha. He's enthusiastic about game writing and has even been to E3! I haven't even been west of Wyoming. In all seriousness though, great to have him on board and keep an eye out for more from him in the future. And like always, if you'd like to write for the First Hour, just shoot me an email and we'll talk. Back to Mike's review.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

First Hour Review
Knights Of The Old Republic Cover

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is an action RPG released for the Xbox and Windows in 2003. Before KotOR, Star Wars games had plenty of success in the action genre, but had never ventured far beyond the standard platformer, space sim, or shooter. BioWare changed all that with Knights, and in the process kicked off their own line of very successful console-first RPGs. Many fans would call this an incredible amalgamation of LucasArts and BioWare, of Star Wars and Western RPGs. I'll save my judgement for after I save (or destroy?) the galaxy.

I played the game a bit during college when it first came out, but never got into the "series" until Jade Empire and then later Mass Effect. Since I'm experienced with their newer games, it will be very interesting to see how they evolved since Star Wars. Let's get into the first hour of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.

Hitman: Blood Money

Full Review
Hitman Blood Money Cover

Hitman: Blood Money is a stealth action game for the Xbox 360, Xbox, PlayStation 2, and Windows. It's the fourth game in the Hitman series and the last to come out. I will admit, I was influenced in playing this game after seeing the movie. I think that is probably the first time a film adaptation has done that, pretty special considering that's one of their main reasons for existence. I had never played a Hitman game before, and I will admit, I really enjoyed it. It's almost a sandbox game considering everything you can do, and no two gamers will play it the same way. What's nice about Blood Money is that someone without any experience with the series can come in and enjoy it. So maybe this review will convince you to check out the game like the movie did for me.

I wrote up a first hour review of the game a few weeks ago, check it out if you're interested.

Battalion Wars

Guest First Hour Review
Battalion Wars Cover

Battalion Wars is a GameCube exclusive real time strategy/action hybrid developed by the British second-party team Kuju and published by Nintendo. Real time strategy is a popular genre but has been mostly unsuccessful on consoles, due primarily to the lack of a mouse. Battalion Wars tries to solve this problem by introducing a new control scheme, as well as allowing the player direct control over any unit on the field at any time.

Battalion Wars was initially announced as the console entry into the Advance Wars series, billed "Advance Wars: Under Fire," and later was spun into a new series. Did the new control scheme and 3rd person shooter mechanics bring the long-hoped-for innovation to console RTS games, or will this be a massive mess of mangled controls and muddled objectives? Only I know, and I'm going to tell you.

Paul Eastwood returns with another action oriented game, if you like his style, check out his first hour reviews of Freedom Fighters and Enter the Matrix!

Mister Mosquito

First Hour Review
Mister Mosquito Cover

Mister Mosquito is a 2002 PS2 action game where you play as a mosquito. I've played a couple of weird games at the First Hour, including The Haunting where you play as a poltergeist, Psychonauts starring a kid psychic, and Night Trap, where you play as... a security camera operator. But Mister Mosquito may take the cake. He may be the smallest hero ever to appear in a video game, and in a really weird way, gives off the aura of a creepy voyeur.

The objective of Mister Mosquito is to fly around a Japanese family's house and suck their blood. As most people have had experience with mosquitoes sometime in their life, they know just how annoying these little buggers can be. Well, now's your chance to turn the table and be the annoying one. There's three family members and plenty of (exposed) skin to feast on, so let's get into the first hour of Mister Mosquito.

Hitman: Blood Money

First Hour Review
Hitman Blood Money Cover

Hitman: Blood Money is a stealth, action game for the Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, and Windows. It was released in 2006 and is the fourth game in the Hitman series. I was actually convinced to buy this game after watching the Hitman movie a few months ago. Yes, video game movies are good for something, I guess. While the movie was okay, the concept of playing an open-ended assassination game more focused than something like Assassin's Creed seemed incredibly intriguing. By a recommendation from a friend, I decided to jump to the latest game in the series. Might as well exercise my Xbox 360.

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