Before we move onto The Lord of the Rings, I want to talk about one last Hobbit adaptation—the video game.
No, I’m referring to the 2003 adventure game from Sierra. I only bring it up because it came at a very interesting point in the history of Tolkien adaptations, near the end of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but years before his Hobbit trilogy.
The game draws a lot from the cartoon, especially in the voice of Bilbo (Michael Beattie), which is very similar to Orson Bean’s.
Thorin (Clive Revill) is very close to his book counterpart, and Jim Ward does his best John Huston impression as Gandalf.
I’m not a video game player… at all… but I have played this game in the past. (It quickly turns into that montage in Groundhog Day where Phil keeps finding new ways to kill himself.) More than anything, I enjoy the visual style. It’s not just level after level of the exact-same designs and characters. There are all different kinds of mooks to kill off in each level from wolves…
To these weird plant things that belong in Little Shop of Horrors…
How about these cool-looking cave creatures? I mean, they’re kind of unique.
Of course there’s a giant armadillo… remember him from the book? Who knew Middle-earth was actually in Texas? Come on, did the set designer of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula work on this game?
When you get to the Misty Mountains level, you get to fight… frogs? Sort of?
And these Misty Mountain wolves that can breathe fire apparently…
Sometimes the game just makes you play Whack-a-Mole with these reptilian things.
But hey, the goblins look cool at least.
It could just be a coincidence, but I do think some of the visuals in this game may have inspired Peter Jackson’s trilogy ever so slightly… which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just worth pointing out. We didn’t really see much of the Goblin kingdom in the 1977 cartoon, but here’s what it looks like in the game.
And here it is from An Unexpected Journey.
Maybe there’s just a universal look mountain kingdoms tend to have, who knows? I suppose the same argument could be made for the Wood Elves’ kingdom, as it makes sense it would look very tree-like, but take a gander at the comparison.
The game takes some liberties story wise, while also adding some subplots in the form of quests Bilbo undertakes. (These often tend to be more interesting than the ones Peter Jackson introduced in his films.) There’s Balfor, a dwarf of the Iron Hills trapped in a goblin prison, Lianna a proto-Tauriel who you meet early on and see again in the Wood Elf kingdom, and most interestingly of all, a group of thieves in Lake-town who strike a deal with the goblins. Come on, Jackson, that could have filled your absurdly padded Desolation of Smaug instead of the testicle-chewing Master of Lake-town.
There is plenty of fighting, sure, but a good portion of the game relies on stealth, like sneaking past the trolls in an attempt to steal a wallet. Also, you once you get the ring, you have to use it many times over. A good portion of the Wood Elf level is sneaking past the elves so you can set up the famous barrel escape. Of course, you have to crawl around Smaug (James Horan) to keep him from waking up while in the treasure room.
However, a good bit of the story takes place through cutscenes, which are nice but why couldn’t they work them into the game play? Couldn’t Gollum’s riddle contest have been part of the game? Surely there could have been some way to work in the showdown with the Wargs from the treetops. Worst of all, you skipped over Smaug’s death! How hard would it have been to make Bilbo go back to Lake-town and warn Bard? Maybe he could have even helped him kill the dragon.
The weirdest moment in the game happens during the Mirkwood level… which is actually quite enjoyable on the whole. You’re constantly fighting poisonous spiders, the visuals are both eerie and lush, and you ultimately have to cut the dwarves out of their spider traps, but in the middle of it, you have to fight this guy.
Throughout the level, you’ve been fighting minions of the Necromancer, but here they actually have you fight and kill the Necromancer! Remember that thing where the Necromancer is SAURON, the villain of Lord of the Rings? Yeah, he gets bumped off by Bilbo in a forest. How dare this game call The Hobbit “The prelude to Lord of the Rings” when it kills off the main antagonist of that story?
Quick note: This appears to have been amended in some platforms or in a later edition, as the YouTube video I watched referred to him as “Wight Lord” instead of the Necromancer. It’s something, I guess.
Ultimately, this is an intriguing game if you’re a Tolkien fan. The music and visuals are quite nice, and the voice acting is pretty good all around. It’s hit-and-miss in regards to story, but it’s still a unique beast in the Tolkien universe. I like that a lot of it involves sneaking around, since Bilbo is a burglar after all. If it interests you, you’ll probably enjoy it.
Next week, we begin the Lord of the Rings portion of the series, with my review of Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings.