[Wandrell] Maybe some of you remember a film that around twenty years ago tried to give a twist to Peter Pan's story. Well, it did share name with this game, and it's not by chance, as here we have the adaptation of Spielberg's Hook.
[Mr Creosote] The game was made by Ocean who were, at that time, notorious for their movie adaptions. Notorious, because the games often had little resemblance to the actual movies they were supposedly based on. Some critics even claimed Ocean would just take the same standard game from their drawer, put in a new main sprite and sell it under the movie's title. Which would explain why almost all of these games were Jump'n'Runs.
[Wandrell] I suppose other people, like me, would know them mostly due to their console games, as they were among the cheap NES games that everybody had played. But this time they decided to make an adventure game, which I think was a first for them.
A Movie Adaption with a Plot?
[Mr Creosote] There were also Hook games in that style, e.g. on the C64 and on the SNES. We will be discussing the computer-based adventure game, though, which is, by Ocean standards, quite plot heavy. So much, in fact, that the intro takes up one complete floppy disk!
[Wandrell] That did surprise me, because it didn't seem so long, and while it makes you know what starts it all, it feels like there is something missing between the end of the introduction and the start of the game. Still, they could have added a few more scenes like that.
[Mr Creosote] So, the intro tells the story of Peter Banning (played by the beefy and almost unbearably annoying Robin Williams in the movie) who leads a fairly boring, uneventful life. Until, one day, he comes home and finds his children have been kidnapped. Behind this is the evil Captain Hook, an inhabitant of the dreamworld of Neverland.
You see, although Peter "Banning" has forgotten all about it, in his childhood, he was actually Peter "Pan", the boy who never wanted to grow up. He visited Neverland quite frequently and had many great adventures there. But then, the movie told us, he did grow up and, due to the grind of adult life, lost the power of imagination and therefore forgot all about Neverland. Now, Hook wants his revenge for what Peter did to him in the past, so he uses Peter's children as bait. The pixie Tinkerbell takes Peter to Neverland again and this is where the game begins.
[Wandrell] His objective is clear, recovering his children, but to achieve that, Peter will have to remember who he really is, mostly because in a land of imagination, nobody wants to have anything to do with a man who can't dream.
[Mr Creosote] So, what we have here is the excepted cheese from the master cheesemaker – the game, like the movie, is completely devoid of irony, it is just pure kitsch. Those who can't stand that, this is your chance to stop reading. There is a reason why you (and me, for that matter) could hardly sit through that horrible movie!
[Wandrell] As the plot ends having little impact on the game you can say that, on the good side, it won't affect the game much; on the bad side, it removes coherence from it. As, unlike games like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade this is an adaptation, instead of a "based on" game.
Monkey Island Redux?
[Mr Creosote] So, in other words, after the intro, there suddenly isn't much plot development left to speak of until Peter recovers his former identity (which is when we are treated with another lengthy cutscene). Instead, we are treated with a game which Ocean themselves likened to Monkey Island in their own ads.
[Wandrell] That's a thing that surprises me, as this is closest to traditional adventures rather than the "graphical adventures" of Sierra and Lucas. I know that the difference between the two genres can be blurry, but in this case the game is closer to what Core used to make, mostly to games such as Curse of Enchantia.
[Mr Creosote] Well, Enchantia is newer than this game, so that's probably not the best comparison. I would actually agree that there are many parallels to Monkey Island: You, a stranger around these parts, find yourself in a city full of pirates. It is your first goal to become one of the crowd (Guybrush's three trials, Peter's search for a pirate disguise) in order to unlock the larger mystery.
[Wandrell] But it lacks the charm, I don't see any character that can be remembered, actually most of them seem to be identical, and any conversation you start ends after a few words.
[Mr Creosote] Well, the success of this attempt is another discussion, of course. The structure is definitely similar, what Ocean also claimed was that the number of locations is the same. Though the point could be made in a similar way as you did for the 'charm', as this game has got quite a few locations which the player only passes through, but where nothing ever happens; and many locations are also very similar… how many bars are there in this city?
[Wandrell] Three at least, and very close to each other. But I'm not surprised, pirates need something to do with their lives, which apparently is mostly getting drunk.
[Mr Creosote] It should also be said that the game does expect a certain familiarity with the source material. Although Tinkerbell is always around as a guide and hint-giver (which is a nice feature), once Peter enters the forest and encounters the Lost Boys (his old childhood friends), things could get a little unclear for anyone who has not watched that movie. Which is a bit of an unfortunate design choice, because in spite of the movie's commercial success (which Ocean couldn't have known about at the time they made the game), it is never a great idea to have things not inherently explained.
A Guide to Successful Puzzle Design?
[Wandrell] That phrase is perfect for another part of the game, the puzzles. Even if you always know, in a general shape, what you should do, the puzzle itself and the ways to achieve the result are never clear. In the first place because you can't notice easily which items you can grab or use, making them easy to miss, but mostly because the game seems to expect you to already know the puzzle.
[Mr Creosote] The controls could definitely be improved with some mouseover effect for hotspots, I agree. Other than that, the controls are fine, though. As for the puzzles, they do seem to fall into the realm of typical adventure game logic at times, i.e. forcing the player to do things in the most roundabout way imaginable. Getting a pirate hat and trousers should really be simpler. I don't think these puzzles were unsolvable or actually hard, though.
[Wandrell] I needed many attempts to get the hat, that sort of "actionish" puzzle tends to work badly in an adventure game. And having to try it three times before Peter decides to use the rope was a nuisance, that sort of things are what make a lot of people stop playing a game.
[Mr Creosote] Interesting. I was stumped by the trousers puzzle much more than that for the hat. Getting a guy drunk so that he falls asleep, I can accept. But taking his trousers off in public should really raise some eyebrows and lead to questions by the other patrons present in the bar.
[Wandrell] That puzzle shows another of the problems in the game. Most of the times, the steps you have to do will be told to you by Peter himself. Go to a character, talk to him and suddenly you notice he is asking about the objects you need to find, before anybody says anything.
In the case of that pirate, the situation was somewhat uneasy. Having a pirate hinting you about getting him drunk to undress him feels a bit weird.
[Mr Creosote] With the pirate disguise, Peter tries to confront Hook, but without his old powers, it is useless. So there is a second act taking place in the woods, which starts out with… a maze.
[Wandrell] I hate mazes. I know the game is short, but that's no excuse to put a maze on it.
[Mr Creosote] Again, we have the Monkey Island connection: That game had forest maze, too. Just that there, you had a map, which was kind of 'encoded', so it turned into a fun puzzle. In Hook, it is just a maze with no puzzle wrapped around it.
[Wandrell] I didn't finish the game, left it when I reached the lost kids, as I started to feel myself lost about what I had to do, and also a bit tired of these puzzles. But if I'm not wrong, the game even ends with a duel based on selecting the correct answers in a dialogue. Which would make it the only actual dialogue on the game.
[Mr Creosote] Yes, the game ends with an insult sword duel between Peter (now in his tight green pants) and Hook. Which shows the same effect: This being a gutted version of Monkey Island, because the surface (deciding a swordfight through insults) is still there, but the core (learning appropriate insults and comebacks) isn't – it's just a guessing game.
[Wandrell] So in the end the puzzles end being mostly a guessing game, with no clear hints, and several rooms that serve just as a filler. I say that, in my opinion, the game fails on what is the most important part for an adventure game.
[Mr Creosote] I can't quite follow you on the dialogue comment, though. Surely there are dialogues in the game. You can finish it without any, but I'd like to see you try…
[Wandrell] I wouldn't call them dialogues. With the pirates most things end with "get lost" or variants. And with other characters the dialogue is reduced to a bad way of giving you hints. For example, before you know you have to disguise yourself as a pirate, you can go to the barman and the available talking options are "Where can I get a pirate jacket/hat/trouser?".
[Mr Creosote] That's valid criticism about the structure, about the lack of logical triggers which prevent doing things out of order. Not so much about the dialogue itself.
[Wandrell] Again comparing to Monkey Island, there you had fun dialogues, fleshing out the characters. Here they all mostly seem to be the same guy with a different look. But yes, in it's base, the dialogue system works as it should, just that I don't think it's correctly used.
[Mr Creosote] Well, the Monkey Island pirates you meet on Melée Island while practicing swordfighting are all generic, too: They say the same things, just their hairstyles and clothes are different. Though surely, in its essence, Hook has much more in common with much older puzzle-centric games than plot-driven games like Monkey Island. That explains a lot of things, like the functional view on the people.
Breathtaking Visuals… for Advertisements?
[Wandrell] What I actually like about the game are the graphics. Again, this makes me think of other, as you said, more puzzle driven games of the time. Where graphics, instead of plot, were a big selling point.
[Mr Creosote] The game looks attractive, the animations are good and, although small, even the characters look distinctive – I have no complaints, either. I actually thought the animated bottom strip, with Hook sometimes threatening Peter when he had accomplished something, was a nice touch.
[Wandrell] Yes, that was fun. He even gets visible nervous sometimes, with the border of his upper lip trembling with restrained fury.
So that part works. Being cynical, I could say that of course it works, as that's what would be on the adverts. Still, it adds something good to the end result.
A Classic is Born?
[Mr Creosote] So, without further ado, let's sum things up: As I said right off the bat, I hate the movie this game is based on. It's not a hatred sprung from non-appreciation of children's stories in general, but that movie just drips of (non-tasty) cheese, as one would expect from Steven Spielberg. It is a mystery to me how this guy could ever become famous.
That said, I do appreciate Ocean's efforts into making this a decent game. I shudder at the thought of this being another stupid platform game, like Hudson Hawk (to name just one from around the same time). Not everything works in Hook, granted. The puzzles are definitely not very organic, they feel forced at times. Nevertheless, the game is easy to solve. So easy, in fact, that I'd say this game is much too short! That's the biggest downside, even if the rest is not overly convincing, either.
As for the Monkey Island references, Ocean most certainly did not do itself a favour with those. Comparing your first game (of the genre) to one of the (if not the) best game ever made in the genre, it is deliver or die! Of course, Hook stands absolutely no chance in this comparison. Taking even whole scenes out of that seminal game only makes things worse, as it makes the failures all the more apparent: Stripped to the bare essentials, without its attention to detail, 'something like' Monkey Island can be pretty bland.
Trying to blank out all these connections (the movie and Monkey Island) as far as possible, Hook does not look so bad to me, though. As a first attempt at making an adventure game, it's not half bad. At least the basics are there and its room for improvement is clear. It can be an entertaining hour or two, because finishing it won't take longer anyway. For me, this is one of Ocean's best movie adaptions!
[Wandrell] It's true that Spielberg films have a tendency to be kiddy in the worse sense of the word, but as I said, the game ignores the film as well as it can, so it doesn't affect the end result so much. Luckily, because it already is quite bad, and daring to compare it to Monkey Island shows their advertising department had balls.
This ends being just another adventure game, even if you put it side to side to Curse of Enchantia, a game that is not a hallmark of adventure game making, this looks bad, with cheap puzzles and lacking a general coherence. In the end, it may be better than the typical movie adaptation, but still lacks a lot to be considered a decent game.
[Mr Creosote] That is exactly where we differ: Curse of Enchantia is a much worse start into the adventure genre for a developer. It's much more linear, the puzzles are real nonsense and there is even less plot. Hell, that game does not even attempt to have a conversation system! Compared to that stinker, Hook looks pretty good in spite of its own downsides.
Most cracked floppy versions floating around in ADF format are broken in ways that will prevent you from finishing the game. We strongly advise you to stay away from them!