The Hobbit

Posted by Julian Seale.
First posted on 15 June 2007. Last updated on 30 April 2010.
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The Hobbit
No pain, no game!
The Hobbit
Only a Hobbit gets the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!
The Hobbit
Care for a swim, Bilbo?
The Hobbit
Make haste, not waste! Tut-tut!
The Hobbit
Hold still!

At a time when Tolkien fans' gluttonous craving stole all the media's attention with The Lord of the Rings, Fizz Factor and Inevitable Entertainment quietly teamed up with Sierra Entertainment to transmogrify the other Tolkien classic, The Hobbit. What made this game unique was the fact that it was the only adaptation in the making, while other developers had focused their attention on the ring world. As the prequel to the ring trilogy, The Hobbit was intentionally written by J.R.R. Tolkien to be dedicated to his children; as such, the colorful, childlike environment recreated for the game was an effort by the developers to reanimate the world of Tolkien for a similarly younger audience. Gamers who are familiar with The Hobbit will instantly recognize and embrace the game with rekindled enthusiasm. The game's loose and narrow appeal to a hobbit audience, however, may fall short of blessings to those who have little interest in Tolkien mythology. Furthermore, diehard Tolkien fans playing this game will soon discover that major characters and parts of the book have been either snipped or passed along only as simple scene descriptions in the game. Nonetheless, Fizz Factor and Inevitable Entertainment have brewed a retelling of the classic tale that will for sure capture the interest of gamers of all ages.

In The Hobbit, you start off as Bilbo Baggins from the Shire. The story takes place in Hobbiton, a village harmoniously growing in abundance with nature. Bilbo begins as a timid, frightful hobbit unsure of himself and the unknown mysteries surrounding him. As the story begins, Bilbo is suddenly awakened from a strange dream with an abrupt desire for life and adventure. Soon after, he learns that Gandalf the Wizard and the thirteen dwarves are setting to go on a mission that will even satisfy Bilbo's thirst for experience. Gandalf tells Bilbo that Smaug the Dragon has stolen hoards of gold and has hidden it up in the mountains where he slumbers to this very date. Their mission, if Bilbo wishes to join, is to retake the gold and vanquish Smaug along with his insatiable lust for treasure.

As Bilbo leaves the Shire to find Smaug, accompanied by Gandalf and the dwarves, the scenery changes from calm, serene grassy environments to bleak dangerous weather and unfriendly terrains. Along the way, Bilbo acquires a magical Elvin sword which he names Sting. Soon, Bilbo and company delve further into Misty Mountains, then Mirkwood Forest, and finally Lonely Mountain where they confront the malevolent dragon. In between, little Bilbo learns much about himself, receiving a wealth of experience before finally dealing with the likes of Smaug. As the story draws to a climax, Bilbo learns that he is not so small and timid after all.

The Hobbit is a third person 3D platform action adventure game. The game is developed by Fizz Factor for the PC and by Inevitable Entertainment for the consoles. The game closely follows the novel on which it is based, allowing much comfort for exploration and a breathtaking intake of Tolkien's perspective of Middle-Earth. There must have been much debate among the developers over what the game should and should not look like. Respecting the intention of Tolkien that the book is originally for a younger audience, the developer has wisely decided to model the game in a cheery, almost cartoon like atmosphere filled with light colors and simple details. The idea is to build freedom for the player to access the world of Tolkien's vast imagination, but to do so within the restrictions for a young audience and minimum violence. With these expectations, the developers have to make sense and believability inside the boundaries into which they can trudge deeper. Some gamers may complain that the graphics are unrealistic and even look robotic at times (for example, when Bilbo climbs a ladder). Others may complain about the childish look of Gandalf in this game as compared to the hard, mature look of Gandalf in other adaptations as in The Lord of the Rings. However, these criticisms neglect the influence on The Hobbit by games such as The Legend of Zelda which uses a more simplistic color scheme and lighting effect but which the graphic style holds its own charm. In fact, the characters in The Hobbit resemble more of the 3D polygon figures from Super Smash Bros. or even Super Mario 64.

The designers at Fizz Factor and Inevitable Entertainment must have been, for the most, experts on Tolkien's universe. Gamers will come to recognize the intricate passion and design in which the story has been woven and faithfully reproduced in the game. Minute details added into the game world, such as rain falling and splitting into hundreds of droplets on rocks, footprints left behind on the ground by Bilbo, and a multitude of coloring that flavors the caves, should be extremely apparent to any attentive gamer. Even the grass is beautifully drawn to enhance the space and depth of the game world and not just as plastic sticks popping out of the ground.

While the game plays out in a linear fashion in that the player cannot venture back to past locations and into the mysteries of Middle-Earth at will, each level offers enough flexible alternatives from which the player may choose at any time to keep the gameplay somewhat interesting. The game follows the path laid down by the novel for the most, with each chapter in sequent order through to the very end. Each level begins with a short synopsis that reveals the chapter's purpose and intentions. The synopsis is delivered with such lush and memorable images as well as emotions that make it more like an animated movie than a video game. However, the appeal only lasts for a few minutes, since the game quickly trades itself over to actual gameplay. When this occurs, the player may feel as having been thrown into something less than what may otherwise be expected and be reminded that this game is more or less for the kiddies. Still, it is a game that can be enjoyed by the masses (devoted Tolkien fans and newcomers alike) wishing for an adventure that deviates from the norm.

Both the music and voiceovers in The Hobbit help to greatly enhance the Tolkien atmosphere in this game. For some battle scenes, the music succeeds in elevating the tension between the player and the enemies. For other scenes where suspense is otherwise obvious, the music still adds an extra special flare. What is particularly well accomplished is that there is an omnipresent source of music alternating in play wherever the player travels in the out world. It switches to concise melodies on key whenever Bilbo confronts certain obstacles such as battles. A full orchestra has even been used to record an entire soundtrack for the game. Likewise, the voice acting in the game is superb, particularly for Bilbo and the other characters that are allied with him. The developers have apparently taken the liberty of hiring a Los Angeles studio to get professional recording of voices that range from a Scottish to a Polish accent for all the characters in the game.

Again, traits of The Legend of Zelda are easily seen in this game. The player is often asked to run back and forth, all the while shifting and collecting objects here and there in order to get from place to place. The puzzles are not at all difficult but many require both time and patience to complete. A novice player working at a modest pace can probably sift through them without much frustration, while an expert player who sees through the tricks may find the processes tediously obvious. The challenge, of course, always lies on the personality of the player and how much game the player is willing to put forth. For example, the game relies on its clever role-playing to make the alternative paths in many levels purposeful. The player must continually gather gems to boost Bilbo's health points, in order to make him fit for the brutal enemies afoot. These gems are laid down in such a way as to guide the player through the main path and the most efficient route through a level. At any time, however, the player may choose to stray away from this main path to seek other routes. Yet, taking a detour may allow the player to stumble across scrolls and hidden treasures that are otherwise not found on the main path. Gems are also collected whenever Bilbo defeats the baddies. At the end of each level, a shopping list of items is made available from which the player may purchase to upgrade Bilbo's character.

What sticks out most awkwardly about this game is its clumsy interface. The keyboard and mouse controls tend to be a bit stubborn, especially when used to jump from platform to platform. There are also a few notable movement glitches. Sometimes, when Bilbo jumps onto ledges he jitters and quickly falls down. At other times, Bilbo is unable to climb moving left or right at all. Fortunately, these glitches become more manageable as the player learns to adapt to them throughout the game. Several items are particularly useful—Sting the Elvin Sword makes it simple to lock onto an opponent during combat, rocks are dead useful in fighting off an enemy while avoiding contact at low health, and a walking stick allows Bilbo to cover enormous gaps where a simple jump can prove fatal. Bilbo carries all these items from the start, except for the Sting, to the very end. The game is intended solely as a single player experience. It has no option for multiplayer or cooperative play, nor does it offer any extra unlockable characters as a bonus.

Having finished the game once, The Hobbit is not a game that I will come back to replay. While it has tried, and has tried hard, succeeding at some degree, to perform at the same magnificence as games such as The Legend of Zelda, The Hobbit falls short of the mark. This is largely because of its simplistic and over exceeding puzzles that grow tiresome quickly even after just the first few levels. Adding to this is that once the level starts, Bilbo is pretty much left on his own. Even though Gandalf and his party are supposed to be at Bilbo's side for much of the game as dictated in the novel, Bilbo pretty much hogs the spotlight all by himself from the start to the middle and finally to the end. Not that this is horrible, since games such as Prince of Persia can perform well with its lone ranger approach where the slogan seems to be "you are your own best friend" for most of the time. Yet, this is not supposed to be so in the book. Fortunately, the game has made exceptional use of the walking stick, the Sting, the rocks, and other items in the gameplay so that the player will not be completely bored by the solitary journey. The enemy with its mediocre AI passes as average foe who can even utter a few different sentences every now and then, and the flexibility with which Bilbo is given in using the Sting definitely makes the battle scenes more enjoyable.

Kudos must be given to Fizz Factor and Inevitable Entertainment for creating a believable world to behold for a Tolkien audience. It succeeds largely by following the book and remaining faithful to its characters. Alas, some storylines in the book are clearly omitted. This is likely intentional on the part of the developers, for otherwise the game will be elongated to extreme amounts. The short video clips played in the beginning of each level clear off scenes that will otherwise take too long to fully develop inside the game. For the most part, the game does an adequate job of entertaining adventure fans, apart from the overly tedious, repetitive gameplay. The game is also ideal for those who are novices to video games and those who detest excessive blood and violence. This is not to say that more experienced gamers who like video games and live on the wild side cannot enjoy this game. They can, but the challenge will leave them wanting more. Even diehard Tolkien fans who may otherwise find little new in the game will enjoy seeing Bilbo, Gandalf, and other Tolkien characters come to life on screen. This is especially true for Smaug the Dragon, who is truly a beautiful sight to behold.

In the end, my greatest concern with The Hobbit is that the game fails to give enough attention on screen to other Tolkien characters aside from Bilbo. This omission is particularly glaring for any gamer who has read the novel. My advice to interested gamers is to become familiar with the novel, in order to fully enjoy not only this game but also to realize what you are missing. The spirit of the book still exists, but the story that wraps around it does not entirely. Nonetheless, The Hobbit is a game worth playing if you are only in for a few kicks and not a whole truck load of flare. It is a chance to see visually Tolkien's ingenious work for what is arguably among the best crafted pieces of literature of all time. It is commendable that the publisher has chosen to revive this beautiful yet unappreciated gem in the shadows of its grander self. Despite the misgivings of somewhat limited gameplay and simplistic graphics, The Hobbit still merits enough credit and charm to be played at least once to experience Tolkien's magic in a brand new light.

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