Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Developer: Inevitable Entertainment
Release Date: November 11, 2003
While plenty of attention and hype is being lodged towards the recently re-born Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien's prelude to the epic struggle of The One Ring, The Hobbit, has gone overlooked for the most part. Luckily, Sierra Entertainment and Inevitable Entertainment have picked up the slack and taken the time to create and release a GameCube title based on the book that started it all. While essentially a standard action adventure romp, The Hobbit should appeal to both younger gamers and Tolkien fans alike.
It's great to see a game that is based on the world of Tolkien's Middle-earth, but for diehard LOTR fans it's even nicer to see a game based on the oft-overlooked The Hobbit. It should be noted, however, that Sierra has taken some liberties with some of the story elements of the book, sometimes modifying or outright changing certain events in the name of efficiency or videogame adaptation. The basic plot remains virtually identical though, the story still revolves around Frodo's estranged uncle Bilbo Baggins and his adventure with the powerful and mysterious wizard named Gandalf. Like the book, Bilbo will travel with Gandalf and 13 dwarves into the Lonely Mountains to take back a dwarven treasure that is protected by a greedy dragon named Smaug. Of course there are plenty of other, more important, twists and turns in the story, the most notable being Bilbo's chance encounter with The One Ring. While the action in the game, and indeed the story on which it is based, is decidedly toned down in terms of action as compared to the recent Peter Jackson films, the adventure is still essentially true to the source material and somewhat entertaining on an entirely different level.
It's hard to look at The Hobbit and not think of Nintendo's opus The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Both games look quite similar on the surface and it's clear that the developers were looking to borrow a little bit of Wind Waker's style of character development as Bilbo learns and grows throughout the game. Bilbo begins with only a walking stick and some throwing rocks, but since the initial environment in the game is the quiet and peaceful Shire town, not much offensive resources are needed. Once Bilbo starts venturing further into the wilds, however, he'll use his trusty dagger Sting along with a new set of combat moves to slay opponents and such. Eventually, Bilbo will acquire The One Ring, which gives him the ability to turn temporarily invisible, then the proceedings take a turn for stealth style gameplay.
But while The Hobbit desperately attempts to bottle the magic of Wind Waker, its focus on platform jumping, simplistic puzzles, and real-time combat falls considerably below the mark. It's not that anything in the game feels slapdash or sloppy, it's just that we've seen everything this game has to offer many times before, and in far better form. The platforming elements are relatively basic and they won't offer most gamers much of a challenge. Controlling Bilbo as he navigates the many straightforward obstacles of the game can be a bit frustrating at times since the gameplay is twitchy and imprecise, plus the camera tends to be uncooperative in certain areas.
The combat system is also simplistic, but staving foes with throwing rocks from a distance or up close with Bilbo's sword can be pretty satisfying. You'll recognize the lock-on system The Hobbit uses for one-on-one confrontations, and you'll appreciate that it's there, but you will be far from impressed if you've already played the GameCube's new Zelda title. Unfortunately, the enemy AI isn't sensitive to your needs of staying alive when dealing with packs. Locking on to one enemy simply means that you'll be vulnerable to other attacking enemies.
Visually, The Hobbit portrays Middle-earth in a substantially more light-hearted and cartoony light than other LOTR-themed games you'll find on shelves. If you are a big fan of the recent films and games based on the films, then you may want to take a good look at this game's art direction before plunking down the cash. But while the graphics will certainly appeal to a younger audience, they also retain a admirable level of quality and appeal, much like The Wind Waker. Animation is nice and smooth, complementing the game's cartoon style character models and over-the-top illustrations. The engine used here allows for quite expansive environments and long draw distances - most Tolkien fans will agree that Inevitable Entertainment did a good job of believably representing the locales detailed in the book.
While the developers did an almost impressive job with the visuals in the game, they simply dropped the ball in terms of sound presentation. Aside from weird-ass audio glitches that speed up the dialogue recording, you can expect crap-tastic performances from the cast of voice actors across the board. Everybody sounds merely like a vague recollection of their more realistic and satisfying big-screen counterparts. The soundtrack isn't all that diverse, though the whimsical upbeat tunes that play during the majority of the experience blend nicely into the background and rarely become annoying. The music is somewhat dynamic, changing in style and tempo depending on the on-screen circumstances, but the music is far removed from a Howard Shore composed production.
In the end The Hobbit does a good deal of staying true to the book but also tends to lose a lot of the intrigue and Tolkien-esque storytelling grandeur that makes the source material so immortal and endearing. To expect a videogame adaptation of such a timeless tale to accomplish the same thing as the original creation is perhaps an unrealistic expectation, but the LOTR games based on the Peter Jackson movies can do it. So, it isn't impossible.
Kids will find a lot to like here, what with all the flamboyant scenery and constant jumping about but those bred on a stronger strain will inevitably be disappointed.
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