The Hobbit

The Hobbit
The Hobbit Cover
Platforms GameCube, PS2, Xbox, GBA, Windows
Genre Frustrating, linear platformer
MtAMinutes to Action 3
Keep Playing? Yes
Buy from Amazon

Marrying my wife a few months ago came with a videogamey bonus: a Nintendo Wii. And it wasn’t until several weeks back that I kind of realized that this system can also play GameCube games on it. The Nintendo GameCube is a system I missed out on hard, having only really played two games to my memory: Luigi’s Mansion and Pikmin. GameStops statewide seem to still sell a good selection of GameCube games, and I was able to pick up The Hobbit for less than a cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich from the local market. As a true J.R.R. Tolkien fanboy, I couldn’t wait to play it. Alas, I had to wait. Long story short, I had to make a return trip to pick up a memory card so I could actually save my progress.

Anyways… The Hobbit. It came out in late 2003, and I’m assuming that its makers were banking on a lot of eager fans awaiting more Lord of the Rings action would be interested in seeing how the journey all started. In fact, blazing bright and gold on the game’s cover is some silly marketing pullquote that says “the prelude to the Lord of the Rings!” Yeah, we know. Hopefully they don’t pull the same silliness with the upcoming theatrical adaptation. The Hobbit, Part 1 of 2: The Prelude to the Lord of the Rings! Bad enough there’s going to be two films.

I’ve played a number of other games based on the Lord of the Rings over the years. Some were decent amounts of fun (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers), and others just an unfair mess (The Lord of the Rings: The Third Age). Will The Hobbit soar like the Lord of the Eagles or sink like the One Ring abandoning its former master? Let’s find out with the game’s first sixty minutes.

Minute by Minute

00 - Before I can begin Bilbo’s legendary journey to the Lonely Mountain, I must first create a save data file on my GameCube memory card. Afterwards, we’re treated to a short CGI video which tries to hit a few of the game’s major scenes. We got wolves and goblins and Gandalf doing his thing. It would all look really cool…if the CGI work wasn’t so stiff and unattractive. Poor, poor Gollum; I mean, he has enough self-esteem issues to deal with already!

01 - Main menu screen. It’s nothing fancy. I select “new game,” and we’re off. Folksy music plays as Gandalf takes on as Chief Narrator. Thankfully, there’s no CGI movie here. Instead, we’re blessed with storyboard-like artwork, all hand-drawn and pretty, and it’s a much more effective way to tell a story. Basically, it’s like The Hobbit with Pictures!

02 - But then, much like how the One Ring abandoned Gollum, we’re dumped back into the realm of terrible CGI. Ugh. It’s of all the dwarves partying it up in Bilbo’s hobbit-hole, and he faints when he learns that he’s been selected to be the team’s sole burglar. Just before Bilbo blacks out, he hears Gandalf assuring everyone of his skill. Loading screen time!

the Hobbit Bilbo Hobbiton

03 - We’re now inside Bilbo’s dream. An army of goblins are attacking elves and men. I guess this is what they call in the gaming biz…foreshadowing. I guess it’s also a tutorial level. Bilbo seems to have infinite health here, and I learn how to hack, slash, jump and slash, and switch between Sting and the deadly walking stick.

05 - After clearing the first area of goblins, Bilbo moves to the next area…to clear out more goblins. It’s pretty uninteresting. Pressing start brings me to my quest log, which basically just says, “Look for an exit.” Good idea!

06 - Fight, slash. Slash, fight. All in a day’s work for a videogame hobbit. It’s actually hard to tell some of the goblins apart from the armored men. Thank goodness for friendly fire. Bilbo hits a stack of explosive barrels to lower a ladder. Yeah, that makes sense. A goblin leader named Bolg enters to shout a command, but our dear hero suddenly wakes up.

07 - More slick animation. And then to a loading screen titled “An Unexpected Party,” which is the title of chapter one in The Hobbit. Good to see them sticking with the source material every now and then. Gandalf informs Bilbo that he overslept and needs to get to the Green Dragon Inn as quickly as possible.

09 - Read some menus and text about collecting things. After that excitement, Bilbo collected his walking stick and headed outside. Naturally, his pocket sprung a leak and all his silver pennies are scattered across Hobbiton. Sure, sure. Whatever you say, Bilbo.

11 - A Hobbiton Man (shouldn’t that be Hobbiton Hobbit?) tells me all about Bullroarer Took, the hero of the Battle of the Greenfields, and how he helped invent the sport golf.

the Hobbit Bilbo Spider web

12 - Used a glowing pedestal to save my game. Yup, it’s one of those saving systems.

13 - Gammer gives me a sidequest: find her quilting needle. Bilbo agrees to help despite that fact that this Hobbiton being is doing nothing. She’s just standing around. Find your own needle! Instead, I moved a butter churner onto her porch and was rewarded with tea-cakes. “We’re gonna need a lot of food on this journey,” Bilbo says. True that, fatty!

16 - Evidently, Peter Jackson got it wrong. Hobbiton is just one giant path. You can follow it, but you can’t stray from it too far. There’s doors, but none you can go in. Along the way, Bilbo will collect silver pennies and courage points to increase his courage meter.

17 - A friendly neighbor lets Bilbo in on the secret that the best apples in Hobbiton are right above his head in the “unreachable” orchard. To get there, all Bilbo has to do is move a haystack over and climb up. Grabbed some throwing stones and practiced knocking apples out of trees. To throw, hit the right trigger, aim, and throw with A. It’s very awkward and not effective at all.

19 - An old Hobbit guarding a well yells at Bilbo. “Hey, what are you doing?!”

20 - A group of Hobbiton kids wants to play hide-and-go-seek with Bilbo. He lets them go hide, but he’ll never go seek ‘em. Insert an evil Sauron laugh here.

the Hobbit Bilbo Bridges

21 - The Green Dragon Inn is right across the stream, but alas, the bridge is out. To fix it, the Hobbit repairman needs hammer and nails. At this point, they should really rename Hobbiton to Fetchqueston. Let’s save our game first, eh?

23 - To get to the hammer, Bilbo has to go through a mill. The camera here goes extremely haywire, making jumps and distance judges a little tricky. It’s not life-threatening, but it’s also not easy to work with.

24 - Words I actually yelled at the TV screen: “This camera is worse than Epic Mickey!”

26 - Lots of swimming, lots of jumping, lots of climbing. Finally made my way to…Carl the Hobbit. He simply hands over his father’s hammer without an additional fetch quest, and we’re on our way back to fix the bridge.

27 - Or maybe not. Not wanting to climb back down from the tall ledges, I had Bilbo jump down to the water. Turns out that kind of fall is painful enough to kill our dear Hobbit hero, and the game reloaded from my last save from six minutes ago. Looks like I get to do it all over again!

30 - All right, hammer and nails acquired. Bridge is now fixed. On the other side, Bilbo runs into Bombur who is shaking with excitement to give us yet another sidequest. He wants provisions…lots of them. Er, maybe later. Let’s keep this unexpected party going forward.

the Hobbit Bilbo Caves gem

31 - Bilbo heads over to the Green Dragon Inn, and that’s the end of the level. A stats screen comes up, and it seems we missed a good chunk of fun. Only completed 10 out of 23 available quests. A vendor screen allows us to purchase items with our found silver pennies, but nothing calls out to me at the moment.

32 - More awesome storyboard animation sequences. Bilbo is sent to investigate the campfire smoke out in the woods. This level is called “Roast Mutton,” same as chapter two in the book. Guess we’re gonna stumble upon some trolls then.

34 - The level begins in an open clearing, with just about every dwarf standing around idly. Bilbo chats with ‘em all, and even manages to get a sidequest from Kili.

36 - Moving forward, a plant attacks. A plant…attacks. They are easier to kill with thrown stones then swinging the walking stick. Moments after this, a wolf attacks! This is a very dangerous forest. The wolf is hard to kill thanks to a lackluster combat system, and Bilbo has to down his only health potion to keep his heart ticking.

37 - Well, forget that idea. Three wolves attacked at once, and they were more than Bilbo could handle. His health depleted quickly, and now I have to redo everything yet again. That seems to be a trend here with The Hobbit. The road goes ever on and on and over again?

40 - Rocks were much more effective for killing wolves. PAY ATTENTION, BEAR GRYLLS!

the Hobbit Bilbo Grassy Field

42 - Exploring more of this forest level. Found some burberry leaves for Kili’s cold, as well as killed a few more evil plants.

43 - Bilbo can use his walking stick to pole-leap across big gaps. It’s a little tricky to master, but when it does work, it’s pretty cool.

44 - These quests are kind of getting more absurd. In order to advance, Bilbo needs to turn off a flood gate. Also found a skeleton key. As I near the flood gate, a swarm of vile creatures attack. Seriously, the game refers to them as “vile creatures.” I haven’t a clue what they are supposed to resemble.

47 - Opening a flood gate this time. Ooooh!

49 - Bilbo died. He fell in the water while jumping from floating piece of wood to floating piece of wood. I guess the rules changed. In the first level, Bilbo could go for a swim safely; here, it’s instant death. Remember, consistency is our friend.

52 - Made it across safely this time. Killed some plants and saved game progress.

the Hobbit Bilbo Spider Fight

53 - Uh oh. It’s a giant whirlpool with pieces of driftwood and a rope to climb directly in the middle. I predict certain death! Yup, miscalculated a jump and drowned.

54 - Got up the rope, but instead of jumping from the rope to the safe bridge, Bilbo jumped to his death below.

55 - Whirlpool section, you are everything wrong with this game.

56 - Success! GIVE ME AN ACHIEVEMENT FOR THIS, DANG IT. A lightning bolt, uh, strikes and sends some boulders crashing down, blocking the way back. Up ahead are the trolls: Bert, Tom, and William. Bilbo’s plan is to steal their pocketbook to impress the dwarves of his burglar skills. And with that, The Hobbit has turned into a horrible take on Metal Gear Solid. Time to sneak!

58 - Bert caught me trying to sneak past. The problem here is that there’s no indication of line of sight and other sensory alerts. Biblo can’t walk on the leaves, but can he run and hop about noisily? It’s all trial and error, unfortunately.

60 - Failed again, this time trying to tiptoe past one of the trolls. According to Tom, “I AM A NASTY LITTLE RABBIT.” And that’s how it’ll always be now that our sixty minutes is over.

the Hobbit Smaug

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 3

What I liked: The style and presentation of the hand-drawn animation sequences, as well as Gandalf’s nice narration. It’s no Ian McKellan, but the voice actor does a good job representing his persona. The music is solid, but it does get repetitive. And despite wavering, the dedication to the source material is appreciated.

What I didn't like: The combat system. I’d have rather had something more like a turn-based RPG than an obvious The Legend of Zelda wannabe. It’s clunky and hollow. The save system is arbitrary, too, sucking the fun right out of a level when you have to constantly replay parts because you weren’t able to find a glowing pedestal in time. Or maybe I’ve just been spoiled by modern games autosaving at every checkpoint under the moon.

Story: It’s The Hobbit…with strange additions. I understand that, to make this more like a videogame and less like an interactive version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, some new story bits need to be added in, but a few instances are rather jarring. Not sure about the enemy plants or having to open/close floodgates in the middle of a forest.

Gameplay: You move Bilbo down a linear path, attacking enemies and picking up sidequests. You can either try to complete those miscellaneous tasks for extra silver pennies and courage points, or you can continue down the only path to the end of the level. Other than some really random minigame action used to open locked treasure chests, that’s all I got from The Hobbit. Certainly a lack of variety.

Challenge: In the game’s first hour alone, I died eight times. Now, I’m not going to go on some tirade about my awesome videogame skills, but I do believe I have some skills. I mean, I’ve been pushing buttons on controllers since I was a wee lad, and for a game that is somewhat presented as kid-friendly, I found it rather frustrating and unfair.

Fun factor: Um… it’s fun watching what surpassed as decent graphics in 2003 fall apart in front of you, some eight years later. That’s fun, right?

Would I keep playing? Yes, but only because I want to see more of the slick animation sequences, as well as how Gollum riddling in the dark and the battle against Smaug is handled. Basically, I want to play to see how everything is handled...not to actually play the videogame. I’m totally aware of how frustrating it’s gonna be. However, there is nothing like looking, if you want to find something.