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Game Review 

by Ted S. McGregor Jr.

Now that The Return of the King is out in theaters, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is complete. For millions of Tolkien fans worldwide, the reality is just now setting in: There will be no fourth installment. Peter Jackson is not filming Gandalf and Aragorn out in the New Zealand countryside; no, he's working on a remake of King Kong. Life is a little emptier than it was when there was always another LOTR film to look forward to.

But wait, you say, what about The Hobbit, the prequel to the Lord of the Rings? Can't they make that into a movie? Can't we start looking forward to that? The answer is maybe. Jackson has said he would love to reunite the cast for a film version of The Hobbit, but apparently the film rights to the Tolkien book are in dispute. Still, since there's money to be made, you can expect this film -- someday.

In the meantime, you can get a taste of The Hobbit in the new video game version of the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, Frodo's uncle. Bilbo, you'll recall, found the One Ring while roaming around with a band of dwarves led by Gandalf. The video game follows the book meticulously, even using storybook bridges to link the levels. Bilbo is a lot tougher here than you might have remembered him -- he kills a lot of goblins -- but it's not all swordplay. There are lots of tricky jumps Bilbo can do with his walking stick, and he can throw stones, too. Along the way, there are mini-quests to pursue and puzzles to be mastered.

I played with my 5-year-old son, and he was riveted. Having a story behind the game gave it an element of suspense missing from a lot of games. We particularly liked the giant spiders and, of course, Gollum. Some of the multiple-button moves were too tricky for my son, but he played on most of the levels.

You really get your money's worth here, as the game lasts for weeks, with some levels taking days to conquer. And it looks great, too, with delightfully ghastly trolls to petrify, spooky caves to explore and a seriously intimidating villain at the center of it all: Smaug, the dragon who sleeps atop the treasure of the dwarves' ancestors.

For fans of The Lord of the Rings who want to get back to Middle-Earth, The Hobbit video game is just the ticket.

Publication date: 02/26/04

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