Lord of the Rings: Journey to Rivendell

Name:
Lord of the Rings: Journey to Rivendell
Company: Parker Brothers
Model #:
PB5950
Programmers:
Mark Lesser
Year: 1983
Released?
No
Notes:
A prototype box also exists

 

If there was ever a prototype I doubted the existence of it was LOTR.  After seeing the mock up screenshots in the final Parker Brothers catalog I was sure that little if any work had actually been done on this title.  Imagine my surprise when not only did the prototype turn up, but it was nearly complete!  How could one of the most sought after prototypes remain hidden for so many years?  Was it worth the wait?  Did it live up to expectations?  Would Tolkien fans have a reason to to keep on living? The answer to these questions is a resounding "sorta".

 

First lets make one thing clear, much like Star Wars: Episode I there was no way this prototype could have lived up to the hype.  The 20-year wait had made everybody's expectations of the game unreasonable, and poor old LOTR never had a chance.  While the game was good, it wasn't the ultimate fantasy game everyone had been hoping for.  Still, fans were happy with what they got and we're all better for having played it.  That being said, here's a complete and thorough rundown of the game.

The goal of the game is get from Hobbitton to Rivendell in as short a time as possible.  As you make your journey to Rivendell you will be pursued by the deadly Nazgul (Ring Wraith), who will attempt to kill you and take the ring.  Along the way you can meet various characters from the book, each character will help you in a special way.  Although you can simply run straight for Rivendell without exploring the rest of the game, it makes the game rather short and boring.  The game much more enjoyable if you attempt to follow the path laid out in the book.  This means stopping over in Bree, finding all the various hidden characters, and not using the ring.  While the game ending is exactly the same, your enjoyment level (and points) will increase dramatically.

 

You start the game in the town of Hobbitton with Sam Gamgee (the red guy).  The town scene is fairly well done with rows of houses and streets dotting the landscape.  All the towns in the game (Hobbitton, Bree, and Rivendell) look exactly the same, I guess the building codes of Middle Earth were pretty strict.  Your character is represented by a square (no room left for your graphics I guess), which you can move around the screen.  To leave Hobbitton simply move one screen any direction.  Going to the left will bring you to the road, and going either up or right will bring you to the forest.

 

This is probably a good time to explain how the health, time, and map system work.  Frodo can only take three hits before he croaks.  You can be wounded in one of two ways: getting hit by the Nazgul or waiting in the forest for more than four time units (I'll explain the time units in a second).  Unfortunately there is no way to heal yourself in the game (I guess aspirin hasn't been invented yet), but the various characters can protect you from the Nazgul (which I'll explain later).

 

Time works like this; there are 16 time units in one day.  Every second or so your character will blink, every four blinks is equal to one time unit.  You can tell what time of the day it is by watching the hills at the top of the screen.  Over the course of the day the sun will slowly set and the sky behind the hills will get darker and darker until night falls.  During the night the Nazgul become much more active and will speed up considerably and will be able to out run your character!  The longer the game lasts, the faster the Nazgul becomes, speeding up a bit each day (their initial speed can be changed with the left difficulty switch).  If you fail to reach Rivendell in a week (7 days), the game ends.

 

The map can be called up in the forest or town by pressing the fire button.  The large pluses on the map with the letters next to them are the three towns you can ender (the pluses are he actual towns).  H stands for Hobbitton (your starting point), B stands for Bree (where you pick up Strider), and R stands for Rivendell (your goal).  The world of Middle Earth is divided into a grid of 43 x 100 squares (screens).  If you reach the edge of a screen the world will turn black and you will not be able to proceed any further in that direction (no world wraparound I guess).

The fastest way to travel through Middle Earth is by following the road (which incidentally leads to Rivendell).  While traveling on the road you will move at your top speed and be able to outrun (or keep up with if its night) the Nazgul.  As you travel the road or open land you'll occasionally see bids fly overhead, these birds are spies for Sauron and help the Nazguls find your faster.  You can hide yourself from the birds by using the ring, but this will speed up the Nazguls so it's usually not worth it (unless you're sure the Nazguls are far away). Eventually the dreaded Nazgul will show up riding his black horse and making a rather nasty sound.  If the Nazgul appears your only defense is to run like hell towards the forest or let poor Sam take the hit for you (assuming you have him with you).  Veering off the path will bring you to open ground, which looks the same as the road screen but without the road (duh!).  You don't move quite as fast here, but you can still outrun the Nazgul in the daytime.  The brown roadside buildings are just there to slow you down and serve no purpose.  Moving through the open ground will eventually bring you to the forest.

 

The forests of Middle Earth are very dangerous.  While they allow you to hide from the Ring Wraith, they will wound your party if you stay in them too long.  If your character is wounded in the forest you'll hear a thunderclap and the screen will flash briefly (Frodo should know better than to take shelter from a thunder storm under a tree!)  Various characters can be found in the forests, so ignoring them completely is not a good option.  Just be careful and limit your time in the forest as much as possible.

If you keep heading north you will eventually come to the Loudwater River.  Since Hobbits can't swim, you'll have to find a bridge across it.  Luckily there are two bridges, which will take you to the other side.  The other side of the river is completely void of any features, but it really doesn't matter since you're close to winning the game at this point.  Simply make your way to Rivendell (consult the map) and you've won.  The ending is pretty cheesy and consists of the town screen flashing a few pretty colors.  Apparently there wasn't any room left over for a flashy ending. Oh well, at least the game HAS an ending unlike most 2600 games of this era.

So what about the ring?  While the ring is present in the game, it's not particularly useful other than for hiding from the birds (at the cost of speeding up the Nazguls) so it's best to only use it sparingly (just like in the book).  To use the ring, press the fire button while you're not a square (on the road, forest, or open land).  You'll know you have the ring on as your character will turn gray and a tune will play.

As I mentioned earlier, there are several characters you can pick up along your journey that can help make things easier.  Finding these characters are beneficial to your progress and will give you bonus points, but they are not necessary to win the game.

Sam Gamgee
You start the game with Sam in Hobbitton. Sam's only purpose is to take a hit from the Nazgul for you like a human (err Hobbit) shield.  If the Nazgul touches you with Sam in your party you will not get hurt, but Sam will disappear.  You can find him again eight screens down from where you lost him (hiding from the Nazgul I guess).
Strider (Aragorn)
You can find Strider in the town of Bree.  Once joining your party, he will help you to locate Gandalf.  An arrow will appear in the lower-right corner, which will point you in Gandalf's direction.
Gandalf
While Gandalf is in your party your character will become white, and the Nazgul won't attack you.  However, he won't stay with your party very long, disappearing to a different part of Middle Earth.  The first time you find Gandalf, he will always be in the same location; after that, his future locations are based on where you are in Middle Earth when he leaves.
Tom Bombadil
Tom allows your party to move at full speed through forests.  To find him, from the starting screen go 2 screens right, and go up to the 3rd forest.
Glorfindel
Glorfindel allows your party to move at full speed across open land (very useful).  To find him, go to the end of the path (at the river), left 3 screens, and down 1.

 

All in all Lord of the Rings isn't bad, and is pretty complex for a 2600 game.  LOTR main problem is that it's boring!  All you do is run away from things until you reach Rivendell, there's no way to defend yourself.  This is an unfortunate side affect of basing a video game off a fantasy novel.  Having Frodo take out his sword and slice the Nazgul in two just wouldn't fit the character (but it would make for a much more exciting game).  LOTR was never released due to two different parties owning the rights to the characters.  Tolkien's son owned one set of the rights (to the books), and some company owned the other set of rights (movies, games, and action figures).  Parker Brothers was able to get permission from one group, but not the other so the project stalled.  It's just as well I suppose; the game is average and probably wouldn't have been a great seller.  Of course with the Lord of the Rings name on it, rabid fans probably would have gobbled it up anyway.  Either way, we can finally close the book on one of the greatest prototype mysteries of all time.

 

Lord of the Rings Box

 

Version Cart Text Description
??????   Different Victory Music
?????? LOTR Final Version?

 

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