I haven't had the chance to see The Hobbit (or, The Hobbit Part One, anyway) as yet, although I'm not too fussed by spoilers. I've read the books far too many times -- but they pale compared to the sheer quantity of hobbit-centric video games. It's a pity, then, that such a classic setting has seen so many terrible games.
I've been a gamer for a very long time, but in putting this together, I was genuinely a bit surprised at how many of these I'd played over the years. Sure, I like me some Tolkien… OK, I'll be honest here, I like me a LOT of Tolkien. The only real reason I haven't seen The Hobbit yet is largely for family and holiday reasons, especially as my kids are at an age where one of them desperately wants to see it, one is ambivalent, and the youngest wouldn't sit still for that long anyway. Although he did like the Battle of Helm's Deep in The Two Towers. Make of that what you will.
Still, the quantity of words that Tolkien put down pales next to the number of games that have been spun off from those stories. Sadly, though, there are only a few glistening golden rings of goodness in amongst games that often struggle to even earn the plaudit "mediocre".
You can't start thinking about Hobbit games without… The Hobbit. Melbourne House's classic is still a great game.
Note: the video above is one massive walkthrough, so if you've never played it and like text adventures, might be best not to watch. I should also highly recommend local Aussie journo Simon Sharwood's interview with the game's lead programmer if you're interested in the tech behind the scenes.
Melbourne House held the licence for a while, making further LOTR text adventure games -- although I've never played any of them, which makes me rather sad. They also put out War In Middle Earth, a much more strategy oriented title. I've got dim memories of trying to play this one in the late 1980s, although I could be conflating it with other titles.
Something I couldn't have played -- but would have wanted to, back in the day -- was Parker Bros' Journey To Rivendell for the Atari 2600. It was never actually released, although the ROM was found a number of years back.
Konami and Mirrosoft got into the game with Riders of Rohan, a game I'd never even seen before digging around for this feature. Then again, it seems rather light on actual Hobbits -- anyone got fond memories of this one?
Interplay got into the Hobbit game with two Lord Of The Rings titles, not so subtly titled "Vol II" and "Vol II".
Those came out slightly before I got into PC gaming, but one thing I did love in the early 90s was the SNES. Sadly, the SNES didn't love The Lord Of The Rings… unless you liked tedium a lot. If you thought the end of Return Of The King was a bit plodding, then run as far away from this one as you can. I wish I had.
After the SNES, it was a little quiet on the Tolkien games front until the more modern run of Hobbit-friendly titles, which were split weirdly between Sierra (who held the book game rights) and Electronic Arts (who had the movie game rights). EA did somewhat drag things down eventually, but the first two LOTR games are still cracking efforts, even now.
Sierra was also responsible for the last full console "Hobbit" title, with a rather bland -- but not terrible -- platform adventure that's now a decade old.
EA, being EA, ploughed on scraping as much out of the movie licence as it could with The Battle For Middle Earth and The Third Age.
While Sierra released its last title while still holding the book rights with War Of The Ring.
(again, I can't say I've played that one -- anyone want to chip in with thoughts?)
Battle For Middle Earth II still stands up nicely, and represents EA's last big hurrah with the Tolkien licence.
By this stage, even J.R.R's prolific output was being spread more than a bit thin. Although I'm still waiting for a Silmarillion game, if anyone's listening. We're nearly done with the journey; there's just the MMO
Which I found to be a fair effort, but MMOs and me have never really gotten on, for reasons I should probably explore more deeply. Then there's the Battlefront-esque Lord Of The Rings: Conquest, a game I should love (I do like me some Battlefront, and liked the combat-heavy movie games), but found a bit bland.
Then there's Snowblind's War In The North -- again, I can't say I've played it, but I don't see much here to get too excited about.
Update: Oops... I missed out Aragorn's Quest. Wouldn't want Aragorn unhappy with me (although I've no opinion on the game in question, having not played it at all)
Naturally, I couldn't leave Lego Lord Of The Rings out. I suspect if I don't crown it the Lord of all games, my wife may disown me.
Want a game of the current Hobbit movie? For, now you've got a choice.
There's the MOBA-style Guardians of Middle Earth, which is said to be middling at best.
Or there's the mobile movie game, which looks great in the trailer.. but then a trailer can hide many sins… including a resource management game with rather severe time-based in-app purchase requirements.
As Ron Simmons would say, Damn. That's a LOT of Tolkien games -- and I've probably missed a few, although there's few there that I haven't played that I feel I've really "missed out" on. Tolkien provided a rich fantasy setting, but it's been home to many mediocre games.
If I had to pick the games that I'd go back to, it'd be Melbourne House's original Hobbit, if only for the technical innovation (for its time), the recent LEGO game and EA's PS2/Xbox "Return of The King" -- in fact, I played it with a friend about a fortnight ago.
But what do you reckon? Which one Tolkien game rules them all?