I recently received my Hobbit LE, and wanted to share some of my impressions after several days of play.
It's difficult to evaluate the Hobbit without drawing comparisons to Wizard of Oz, since WOZ--whatever your thoughts about the actual gameplay--arguably set the bar for what to expect from a premium-quality machine. My WOZ LE came very late in the production cycle, and by then, most of the kinks with bad boards and other technical issues had been worked out. While WOZ isn't my favorite game to actually play, there's no question that it's a stunner.
The Hobbit is also a very pretty machine at first glance. As I set it up, the crystal-clear invisiglass allowed all of the artwork on the playfield to pop, and the gold Smaug looks pretty cool as well. This is one pin that looks fantastic even when powered off.
But, when you take a closer look at the Hobbit, it's evident that you're not getting quite as much machine for your money as you did with WOZ. When you power up the machine, the display is crisp and bright, and the artwork is good use of static images from the films. The surrounding translite doesn't fare as well. The lighting is a bit harsh and overly white, and it causes the images on the translite to look washed out. This is especially evident when you have a WOZ powered up side-by side.
The cabinet art is nice, though mine shipped with a huge nick in the side of the head that goes all the way down to wood. My shipping box was pristine, and this was sitting in the middle of a room when I set it up, so the damage must have occurred before it left the factory, and it just didn't get noticed.
The most disappointing part of the package is the apron. WOZ had a beautiful wood apron with an engraved placard on the ECLEs. On the Hobbit, my apron is just a plastic apron with a matte decal. It's bland, and doesn't scream "Limited Edition" to me. What's worse is that the decal wasn't even fully glued down, and when I lifted the playfield to cut the zip ties that hold some mechs in place for shipping, I noticed that the decal started to peel up at the bottom as I tried to re-seat the playfield. Just doesn't feel very premium...
The coated legs are extremely nicely done, and the trim is top-notch. The invisiglass is also great, though it looks like mine had some overspray from some process, since there is a stenciled area of paint that I can't clean off of the glass. Getting the glass back in is a bit of a chore, since the runner at the top of the body isn't quite lined up, and I have to manually push it down to line it up so I can slide the glass in. Thankfully, the lockdown bar is much less of a pain than the lockdown on WOZ.
Oddly missing are some features that were promised initially, including replaceable magnetic side art (mine looks to be decaled), the lack of illumination in the apron (I see no lights), and the removal of the outlane nudge that could get you back to the shooter lane.
All in all, it's a nice looking machine, but it's evident where Jersey Jack decided to cut some costs compared to WOZ. That said, with Hobbit initially costing several thousand more than WOZ did when preorders opened, it's really sort of a bummer to see that they cut corners. I'm also a bit upset that my game shipped with an obvious nick in the cabinet, and that the mech that diverts the ball down the left ramp appears to have shipped in a non-working condition, because it generated an error after the first few games, which means that it must not have been working during at least part of the testing phase.
OK, so with the design and build quality out of the way, how does the game look and play?
The light show on the playfield is a bit subdued in the initial code. Granted, WOZ's central theme is a rainbow, and the full spectrum of colors wouldn't look all that great on the Hobbit, but the light show--at least in this early code--is pretty basic, with most inserts either white or orange, and some color pretty much reserved for the inlanes and outlanes and the lock rollovers.
The game is a lot more fast and flowy than WOZ, and several features encourage you to make shots on the fly. As with WOZ, Hobbit is hurry-up crazy, with most inlane rollovers triggering a beast to pop up for you to hit as a way to make progress towards a 2-ball multiball. I like the fact that these pop-ups register hits from both the front and back, and that especially the middle ones allow you to bank the ball off of them into another target, but they do often block what would be the next logical shot up a ramp or through an orbit. The idea of diverting a ball to the left kickback is a great idea, but as I said, my kicker arrived DOA.
The ability to use the apron button to delay locks is a nice touch, though some of the other features are a bit less obvious and I'm still not sure what "Light Thorn" during multiball means. Stacking multiballs is a great way to rack up points, and the fact that you can use skillful apron button presses to ensure you can stack is welcome.
As for the modes, they're not incredibly fleshed out at the moment, and I don't believe there is a reward for collecting all of the characters. When I did, it just seemed to reset and roll over. I also remain unclear as to what governs when the drop targets reset.
There are a few skill shots, and it's nice to be able to pick your shot before you plunge, but one thing that is distracting is how all of the drops reset after you hit your first switch. It's loud!
The lock rollovers in the middle of the playfield are fine, but it does have a tendency to corral a ball rolling back from a ramp and cause it to ride the lip and go SDTM. Maybe this will get better as the buttons soften up.
Some of the promised features have yet to be implemented, such as player control of the diverters. The game is also completely lacking in helpful callouts, so it can be difficult to know what to shoot for during a mode, or to know what the ring button will do at any given time, since it is context-sensitive. This is made a bit worse by the fact that the only information you have is on the screen, and what you need to do to make progress in a mode is printed in text at the top middle of the screen... a far distance to move your eyes away from the playfield. I've found myself draining while just trying to get some info on what to do. Of course, all of this can be fixed in a future update, so I am not too concerned.
All in all, the Hobbit is a nice machine, but it doesn't quite feel like the premium product WOZ is. I think that with refinement of the software, this will be a very fun game and a good players' machine, but at the moment, it very much feels like a work in progress. Was it worth $8500? Time will tell.