Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Hobbit by Vivendi Universal


   In 2003, when the Lord of the Rings film franchise was at the peak of popularity,Vivendi Universal published a game based off of the prequel to Tolkien’s infamous epic, The Hobbit. The game received mixed reviews and modest sales, and has since been forgotten by many.
   I remember seeing a trailer for this game back in 2003. I knew that I had to have it, and sure enough come Christmas of that year I found my winter break entirely occupied with flipping this game. I have played it countless times since—so many times in fact that the disc is scratched and the case is battered. Before writing this review I decided to spend the weekend replaying this title( a great challenge I assure you. Who wants to spend a weekend playing games?). While I still find it as charming as I did back in 2003, I have noticed several quirks and flaws that should be addressed. However, before I descend into the realm of nitpickery, here is a quick overview of the many perks and treats that this game has to offer.

This game was created at a very unique time. Its entire existence was put into play solely because of the success of the Lord of the Rings film franchise, and yet it was not based off of a film adaptation. Because of this fact, the writers of the game had the opportunity to go by the book instead of by a script, which in turn produced a story very faithful to the original. There are very few deviations from the original plot, save for the usual deviations expected in a video game. Naturally, Bilbo was not running around Middle Earth collecting floating gems and random bags of silver. Plotwise however, the story of the game is almost a mirror image of the book save for a few exceptions. One notable difference is the fact that Beorn enters the game at a different point in time compared to the book. Whereas Thorin and Company come across him shortly after being rescued by the Eagles, Beorn does not appear in this game until the Battle of Five Armies. This fact has always irritated me. I understand why meeting Beorn would not merit and active level in the game. However, this game does make a point to mention important events like the company’s stop at Rivendale and Bilbo’s first encounter with the dwarves through a storybook narrative. Why they did not do the same for Beorn has always confused me. This alteration does not really effect the quality of the game, but it is none the less noticeable to any Tolkien fan. Other deviations include added storylines, such as a mystery in Laketown and made-up characters such as a female wood-elf named Liana and a Dalesman named Corbin. However, these characters do not play a particularly important role and instead serve as the impetus for side quests. Aside from the aforementioned changes, there plot of the game is incredibly faithful to the original text. Dialogue is taken directly from the book, characters are wearing the proper attire(hooray for Gandalf’s blue hat!), and easter eggs can be found all throughout the game for any attentive fan to find. Overall, this game is much more faithful than even the 1977 film, which in turn makes it a classic in this nerd’s book.

Character Design

(Forget handkerchiefs Bilbo. PACK A COMB)
   It would be wrong of me not to point out how ridiculous Bilbo looks. The clown hair and smurf blue shirt is both distracting and hysterical. His hair is especially comical when drawn in the story book narratives of the game, and it leads me to wonder if the game developers had gotten into Farmer Maggot’s "special" crop when they penned this design. Still, it’s better than the 1977 film. Aside from Biblo, the rest of the cast are well designed, though some of the dwarves look nearly identical (for instance, Gloin and Oin. Yes, I know that they are brothers. I have four sisters, but we don't all look alike). Gandalf by far has my favorite character design. While I love the way that Ian McKellen appears as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films, I have always been very attached to the idea that Gandalf has a silver scarf and a blue hat. The Gandalf that is featured in this game is almost exactly how I pictured him to look when I first read the book as a child.

Voice Acting/Music

                            (James Horan as Smaug the Defiler and Michael Beattie as Bilbo)
    Video games are not always known for great voice acting. In fact, up until recent years the vast majority of games featured both horrendously written and horrendously acted dialogue. For what was obviously not a very expensive title, The Hobbit boasts some very fine voice acting. Jim Ward(Gandalf) and Michael Beattie(Bilbo) in particular do fine jobs, and additional voices by the famous Dee Bradley Baker can be heard throughout. While the overall appearance of this game is cartoony, I am pleased to report that the voices are very professional.
   Unlike the voice acting, the game’s music isn’t owed any extra praise or considerations. It isn’t bad per say, however it can be very repetitive. During my first play through of this game I actually found myself turning the music off during gameplay. In some of the longer levels the looping background noise can become a major irritant. I’ve also found that most of the game’s glitches stem from the music. While the PC version of this game does not appear to have this problem, the PS2 version is known for succumbing to random bouts of skipping music or out of synch voices. I can’t seem to trace what exactly triggers these glitches aside from music, as I’ve played through the game at different points in time with completely different experiences. Sometimes the sound will be annoyingly glitchy( especially in the "Riddles in the Dark" section of the game) while other times I can get through the entire game without encountering any major kerfuffles. It is possible that this title was developed for the PC first before being converted to a major gaming console, which may account for the glitch discrepancies between the two versions.


     While definitely not one of the more advanced games from the beginning of the century, The Hobbit’s graphics have a whimsical charm. The environments and textures are rather nice—if not a tad limited. The characters a bit blocky, and the movement of faces are choppy and far from seamless. While you’re running around the different levels and kicking goblin but the character graphics aren’t all that bad. They main area in which they struggle is in cutscenes—though there are a few high dimension cut scenes scattered throughout the game in important areas. In some ways, it can be bit jarring to go from limited, blocky animation to something of a higher quality. The developers most likely did not have an abundance of funds to work with and could not afford to make every cutscene of the same caliber. It’s somewhat reminiscent of some of the later Final Fantasy games in this sense, as they too alternate between moderately animated scenes to freakishly realistic ones(though the ‘realistic’ cutscenes in The Hobbit are not nearly as advanced). Overall, the graphics are cartoonish and charming. I especially love the way that Hobbiton is handled.




   This is a simple platform game suitable for even the clumsiest of gamers. The controls are very straight forward and easy to grasp. The most difficult areas of the game tend to be ones that require accurate, timed jumps. The majority of difficult involved does not come from the controls, but rather some awkward camera angles. For most sections of the game, players can move the angles of the screen about to accommodate their assigned tasks or preferences. However, oftentimes when Bilbo will have to make a very awkward jump the camera goes a little nutty. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen to my death because of a wonky camera angle. Once you get used to it and learn a few tricks to negotiate around the angle problem, jumps and aerial maneuvers are pretty simple. The problem is that some gamers may become so frustrated at the wandering camera that they may decide to chuck their controls out of a window and find something else to do. Aside from the camera glitch, this game is very simple. It would be a great choice for someone who isn’t very coordinated and does not want a big challenge. Additionally, a more experienced gamer will find this game to be a good title to unwind with. There is very little fuss involved, unless you’re going for 100% completion of every level, in which case the game can be a bit more challenging. One final thing of note is the time between levels. Depending on what levels you’re heading into, the wait can be ridiculously long. The longest loading screen that I’ve ever timed went well over five minutes, though on overage they take a little under two. Once again, I’m not sure if other versions of the game suffer the same problem, but it is definitely an issue with the PS2 edition.

Easter eggs

   Finally, one of my favorite traits of this game is the abundance of easter eggs to be found by any clever Tolkien fan. I’ve tried my best to compile all of them in the below list, though it is quite possible that I’ve missed a few. If I have, feel free to comment and tell me what they are!

-when you look around Bilbo’s house, you can learn some facts about his family history. There is a picture of his parents, Bungo Baggins and Belladonna Took, as well as a picture of his aunt Linda Baggins, his uncle Bingo Baggins, his aunt Belba Baggins, and his gammer Laura Grubb.
-several hobbits out and about in hobbiton are named, including: Sandyman the Miller, Hamfast Gamgee, Bell Goodchild, Sadoc Brandybuck, Hilda Bracegirdle, Holman Greenhand, and Malva Headstrong.
-all of the dwarves were given the appropriate color of hood as described in the book. The colors are: blue w/tassel(Thorin), scarlet(Balin), white(Gloin), green(Bombur), blue(Fili and Kili), brown(Oin), gray(Ori), and purple (Dori and Nori).

Roast Mutton
-The game references the fact that one of their ponies—who was laden with supplies—bolted.
-The Witch-king of Angmar is mentioned periodically throughout the game, especially when the company is in his former territory.

-Arnor is referenced, tying into previous references to the Witch-king of Angmar as Angmar and Arnor were very closely situated.

Over Hill Under Hill
-once again, the game references the Witch-king of Angmar—which is appropriate as the more they travel into the northern Misty Mountains the more of the remnants of the Witch-king they will find. This is also a really clever way to explain why Bilbo finds as many traps and contraptions as he does throughout this chapter.
-it is mentioned that there are old dwarf mines in the Misty Mountains, which are presumably the mines that Bilbo stumbles upon. The most famous mine of the Misty Mountains is Moria, though it’s unclear if the game meant this particular in-game mine to be Moria. Some may argue that Moria lies a bit too far south to have been apart of Thorin and Company’s journey, though in the book the actual pass that is taken through the Misty Mountains is never named, and we know of at least one pass that goes by Moria, which is the Redhorn pass.

Riddles in the Dark
-in this level, there is a fictional dwarf character named Balfor who is of the Iron-hills. Dwarves of the Iron-hills, who are also descended from Durin, play a very important role in the final installment of The Hobbit, as it is the dwarves of the Iron-hills that Thorin asks for aide in the Battle of the Five Armies.

Flies and Spiders
-The Necromancer is mentioned in this chapter, as sections of Mirkwood used to be under his rule. Similar to Frodo in the Lord of the Rings novels, Bilbo’s ring does not protect him against wraiths or creatures of evil.
-The three spider sisters in Mirkwood are said to be either the offspring or close relations to Shelob—the spider that attacks Frodo during the Lord of the Rings.

Barrels out of Bond
while you’re sneaking around the Elvish palace(which is set in a cave, just as it is described in the book), you can hear conversations amongst the elves. They speak of their captive dwarves, the stirrings of the Necromancer, and the White Council.

Inside Information
this is not necessarily an easter egg, but unlike the 1977 film the writers did not fall into the same trap of pronouncing Smaug as "smog".


Gathering of Clouds
-the raven Roac of Ravenhill is seen during the narrative. The ravens of Ravenhill were allies of the dwarves before they were driven from Erebor.


  Most reviewers give this game a rating of 6/10 or 7/10, and I think this is fair. While it may have it charms and cannot be faulted for accuracy, minor glitches can cascade into full game errors, and repetitious music can be thoroughly annoying. If you’re a fan of The Hobbit and happen to fancy a video game every now and then, I do suggest that you give this title a go. If you’re wary of some of the glitches that come with the PS2 version, you can invest in the PC or GBA editions instead. Furthermore, emulators for this game can be found online for those who look hard enough. At the very least this game will be entertaining, and isn’t that point?


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