Unlike the foreboding menace of Tolkien's earlier tale The Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit is a brief, more lighthearted foray into the beardy literary marvel Middle Earth.
Set several years before Frodo's gruelling sojourn to Mordor, The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and a band of gold-obsessed dwarves as they venture into the heart of Lonely Mountain to swipe the dragon Smaug's gleaming hoard.
The PC version of events sticks to the script pretty faithfully and the upshot is a charmingly playable 3D action-adventure. All the best moments from the book are there, such as the bickering trolls, stealing' the ring from Gollum and of course, the final attack on Smaug. Not too much to gripe about when it comes to content, then. Yet, The Hobbit will not appeal to every lover of the little people...
This is because it's so sanitised, you can almost smell the disinfectant. With inoffensive gameplay along the lines of Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone and a nonthreatening cartoon style reminiscent of Zelda on the GameCube, The Hobbit is aimed squarely at pre-teens.
When Bilbo kills an enemy, instead of severed limbs, gushing blood and wails of agony, you're rewarded with a sparkling shower of crystals.
The more courage crystals" Bilbo collects, the stronger he becomes. Enemy innards are not the only places harbouring crystals. Virtually every corner, crevice and cubbyhole on each of The Hobbit's essentially linear levels hides a gem; it's like a plague you can't escape. What's more, the tinkling sound of crystals echoes around your head hours after you've stopped playing.
Despite the linearity, there's still room for a few mini-quests, secrets and puzzles. Completing every quest (please find my son! etc) and finding every secret is not always essential, but the chances are it'll help in the long run. The puzzles could be anything from knocking apples out of trees with stones, to unlocking a chest by playing a strange sort of reflex test, where you have to stop tumblers at the right time. Oh, and cowards will be pleased to know this is one Tolkien game where you can wear the Ring and run away... And platforms? Don't talk to us about platforms; The Hobbit contains more precarious vaults across crumbling rock precipices than all the Harry Potter and Zelda games put together as one.
So, cute and annoying it may be, but The Hobbit is still worth a shot if you have little ones itching to smear their greasy fingerprints all over your computer. Okay, it might not possess the glamour and gore of EA's more topical Lord Of The Rings game, but at least it won't give anyone nightmares. In fact, you'll be lucky if you get any sleep at all with all those bloody crystals jingle-jangling around in your head.
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If you're a grown-up gamer whose mental image of Middle-earth is of blood-smeared swords, raving ores, and other nightmare snapshots from Peter Jackson's trilogy, you'll likely dismiss The Hobbit as a squeaky-clean Tolkien adaptation for tots. And that's a shame, because under the overly colorful graphics and so-cute-they're-ugly character designs lies a fun, little adventure. The gameplay and sprawling environments are scraped from the Legend of Zelda mold, with crafty puzzles and an emphasis on stealth--thanks to the invisibility-granting ring--and platform hopping. Fuzzy-toed hero Bilbo does get bogged down in tedious fetch-the-doodad missions later in his quest. In fact, the game flat-out misses some opportunities from the book. It glosses over Bilbo's snatching of the troublesome ring from Gollum (the whole exchange happens in a cinema), but then we get entire levels based on finding firewood and solving crime for townsfolk. Maybe the tykes crave that kind of busy work, but mature gamers demand more--like a hero who doesn't look fresh out of training pants.
Tolkien purists will no doubt be thrilled to hear that this game lovingly recreates the beloved prequel's lengthy platform-jumping passages. Yow. The Hobbit plays like a mix of Zelda and Tomb Raider--anti fittingly has a lead character that looks like a blend of the two lines' heroes: an awful, pointy-eared little girl. Sure, like Crispin says, The Hobbit isn't a terrible game, but its sketchy camera, imprecise controls, and lackluster combat relegate it to the realm of the terribly average to me. I've been there and back again, and next time, I'm staying home.
So what if Bilbo looks like an Ape Escape reject? Any Tolkien fan should still get a kick out of this adaptation of The Hobbit. As an action-platformer, the game brings almost every book chapter to life through some long (sometimes too long) levels full of simple yet interesting puzzle-solving and fun combat. A faulty camera and some sloppy rope-jumping cause many cheap deaths, but you never feel overly frustrated--just kind of annoyed. The Smaug level alone makes it all worthwhile.