There have been a lot of these, and there may even be one or two I don’t know about, so I’m not going to endeavour to cover them all. Instead I’ll just invite you to add your own in the comments if I left any of your favourites out. But this is a nostalgia post about video games I used to play that were based on the works of my favourite author, J. R. R. Tolkien. I’ll start with the very first one I ever played and then proceed chronologically from there, while also mentioning a few I missed out on that I wish I hadn’t.
The Hobbit (1982)
The first home computer I ever owned was the Commodore 64. As a teenager I used it primarily to play video games and also to program–or at least try to program–text adventure games in BASIC. I never got very far because I’d find my clunky, inelegant code crashing up against an out of memory error, I guess due to the enormous array of variables my method required. You see, I didn’t know jack about programming text adventure games, I just thought I could figure it out on my own. And I was very, very wrong.
I was first introduced to text adventure games at the age of 12 by a friend of mine who had an Apple IIe. Together we played Zork and Zork II on that, and later I was able to play those games on my Commodore as well. But I don’t blame the Commodore for my inability to successfully create my own Zork-style text adventure game–at least, not anymore. In retrospect I probably would’ve run into the same problem if I’d tried to do it on the Apple IIe.
It wasn’t until years later that I encountered another text adventure game. I was in my twenties and at a fair in town where someone was selling their used Commodore 64 along with a bunch of games on floppy at one of the vendor tables. I don’t recall what happened to my original Commodore 64 but I’m guessing it had stopped working long before, because now I jumped at the opportunity to take a walk down memory lane and bought it without haggling for about $200. One of the disks that came with that fateful purchase contained a text adventure game that up until then I hadn’t even known existed: The Hobbit! And what a joy it was to play, especially since (unlike Zork), it often rendered still images onscreen to enhance the text-based gameplay, so it was kind of like buying an illustrated edition of a beloved book. Of course by then I had already been exposed to games with better graphics, but keep in mind that I had long ago acquired a peculiar affection for text adventure games specifically, especially since I’d even attempted to make my own, so this was something special… that is, until it just wasn’t anymore.
Alas, file this one amongst the many other games (of any type) that I never actually completed. I can’t recall now if it was too difficult, or if I lost interest, or both. It was probably both. But I still remember it fondly to this day, especially since reminiscing about it takes me right back to that particular time in my life, like it was yesterday.
J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Vol. I (1990)
This is one of the ones I missed out on, and in fact I might’ve never known about it if it didn’t have the exact same name as another Interplay game which is the one I had intended to look up instead of this one, and which I’ll be talking about next. So this game was originally designed for the C64 but ended up being upgraded for newer platforms such as the Amiga. But it looks like something I would’ve loved at the time. Here’s a video someone made of the intro and a bit of the gameplay:
It also got a Volume II, unlike this next one…
J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Vol. I (1994)
Now here’s the one I was actually looking for. I loved this game so much that years after the sad demise of my Super Nintendo Entertainment System (which I no longer recall the circumstances of–hmmm… I’m starting to see a pattern here), I downloaded a SNES emulator onto my PC specifically in order to play a ROM of this game, just for the nostalgia of it. But before I get into the gameplay let’s take a moment to appreciate the music. I’m not saying it’s the best video game soundtrack I’ve ever heard but it’s a damn sight better than its 1990 namesake (see above) and a lot of other fantasy games that came out back then. Here, give it a listen:
This is one of the few games I actually finished, and as with the animated film Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, I was disappointed that it ended in the middle of the story. But then, it did say “Volume 1”. The problem is, there was never any “Volume 2” (and the same goes for Bakshi’s “Part 1”). Interestingly, the portraits of the characters in the profile sheets in this game are sepia illustrations of their counterparts in the Bakshi film, which I noticed back then and appreciated because I was a fan of that as well, despite its many flaws.
And I can’t deny this game’s many flaws either, but I loved (and still love) the look of it, delighted in all the different areas, and in the wide variety of enemies and the different ways they moved and attacked, and in the ambience such as the birdsong and other sounds of nature that often accompanied the charming medievalesque music. And though the music did get a bit repetitive at times, since it didn’t change until you moved to a new area, it really went far in terms of setting the mood of each different region of Middle-earth as depicted in the game. I remember wandering around this gameworld without a care in the world for hours on end, day after day–mostly due to the seemingly endless number of mandatory fetch quests which would often require players to cover almost every square inch of ground in any given area before moving on.
For example, your adventure starts in the Shire, in Hobbiton, with Player One as Frodo all set to leave with the One Ring. But he needs to take Sam with him, and Sam can’t leave until you find his Gaffer’s reading glasses. So after meandering around the Hobbiton area a bit with no luck, you see no way forward but to venture outside of it into this barren wilderness full of snakes, wolves, and a system of interconnected caves and underground tunnels. I’m not sure if this area is even still considered part of the Shire, or if all the Shire is contained in Hobbiton; I only know it doesn’t look like the Shire to me. Anyway (spoiler alert), the Gaffer’s glasses are somewhere in those seemingly endless underground mazes, shoved so far up the buttcrack of those benighted bat-infested caverns that you can’t imagine how the hell they got there in the first place. Did the old geezer go spelunking on a whim? And if so, how did he avoid getting bitten by poisonous snakes or eaten by ravenous wolves?
This should give you an idea what the rest of the game is going to be like. But it’s got some really cool moments, which I won’t give away, and with the Multitap and extra controllers, you could get your friends to play Sam, Merry, Pippin, and later even Aragorn and Gimli! Even without extra players it was cool to have a party to adventure with, if mostly AI controlled (you could take limited control of other members of your party besides Frodo if need be, such as in order to fight off enemies). Alot of the departures from the book made me groan at first, but overall it was a fun, cute, atmospheric game that I’m sure I’d enjoy playing again even now.