Recently, I set out on a quest to track down a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: Volume 1 for the Super Nintendo – a game that I awarded a paltry 3/10 to some time ago. I didn’t seek out a copy as a strange kind of punishment, or to be ironic – I wanted to re-own it because, despite being pretty terrible, I’ve got a genuine, heartfelt connection with it.
Back in 1994, when Lord of the Rings originally hit the SNES, I was already a seasoned fan of the acclaimed fantasy series. My introduction to Tolkien’s world wasn’t the book trilogy – or even the child-friendly prequel novel, The Hobbit – but Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 animated version of the first two Lord of the Rings books – The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers – and, following this rather uneven (but still beloved) primer to Middle-earth, I read the original books a few years later. By the time I’d hit my teenage years, I was hungry to consume as much media relating to the series as possible – which, back in the early ’90s, wasn’t as easy as you might assume (Peter Jackson’s blockbuster movies were still some way off).
As you can imagine, I was keen to get my hands on Lord of the Rings for the SNES, despite the only other game based on the series that I’d played – War in Middle-earth on my Atari ST – being something of a disappointment. Interplay, the company behind the SNES outing, had already created two Lord of the Rings games for personal computers, but I’d only seen screenshots in magazines and had never actually played them. Therefore, I was entering into the SNES version with a degree of optimism – optimism which only increased the more I read about the grand scope of the game in magazine previews of the period.
The release of Lord of the Rings: Volume 1 was delayed somewhat, and by the time it eventually arrived in 1994, excitement was building for the next generation of gaming, with the 3DO and Atari Jaguar already available and the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn both looming on the horizon. Still, I was a committed fan and the fact that Interplay’s SNES game borrowed heavily from the 1978 animated film only cemented my desire to actually play it.
However, removing my rose-tinted specs just for a moment, I was aware even then that this was not a good video game. The controls were stiff, the environments dull and the gameplay painfully repetitive. There wasn’t even a battery backup option, so you had to input an annoyingly laid-out password every time you wanted to continue your adventure. And, as the ‘Volume 1’ in the title suggests, this wasn’t even the full story – it ended the moment you reached Rivendell, which meant that a whole host of other amazing moments in the books were missing. Still, at least the music was good – in fact, I’d argue that it’s one of the best soundtracks on the SNES.
Despite its obvious, crippling failings, I persevered. This might have been because, back in the mid-’90s, I had little in the way of disposable income (I was still at school) so I had to make sure I got the maximum amount of enjoyment and entertainment from every game I purchased – even if it was terrible. However, I still feel that my longstanding connection to the world of Middle-earth is what really convinced me to keep on going; I still love Tolkien’s works (even after two decades over what could charitably be described as over-exposure in the wake of Jackson’s movies) but Lord of the Rings: Volume 1 came at a time when Frodo, Samwise and Gandalf were merely fringe players in the world of popular culture, and the fact that they starred in a game on my SNES somehow made the whole venture feel a lot more appealing than it actually was.
And here we are, in 2021. Many years after selling my original game when I jettisoned my SNES collection to purchase a PlayStation (forgive me, Miyamoto!), I’ve gotten around to picking up another copy – not to play, but to merely have in the collection to remind me that not all games have to be stone-cold classics in order for you to love them unconditionally.
What ‘bad’ game do you love beyond all reason? And what’s the story behind that relationship? Let us know with a comment below.