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SummaryThe only game that allows you to see the contents of a pizza box without opening it
The GoodI'm a big fan of classic adventure games, RPGs, and - ever since I played Death Gate and Shannara, enjoying both enormously - Legend Entertainment. So when I heard that there was an adventure/RPG hybrid made by Legend, I understood I had to try it no matter what. I was further motivated by Space Bar - although I failed to enjoy its tormenting gameplay, I very much appreciated Steve Meretzky's wit.
I was thrilled to discover that Superhero League of Hoboken was everything I expected it to be. It's not only a superbly written, hilariously funny game, but also a remarkably well-done genre hybrid.
Come to think of it, do you know many good adventure/RPG hybrids?.. The only answer that comes to my mind right now is Quest for Glory. It's hard to make a game that balances genre-specific challenges in such a way that they can satisfy fans of both genres.
Well, as a fan of both genres, I say that the creators of Hoboken did an outstanding job by creating a very enjoyable, moderately challenging adventure, and fusing it with a surprisingly solid and entertaining RPG.
How exactly does it work? By carefully balancing elements of each of these genres. By taking the best aspects from both - the fascination of exploring the game world, the joy of gradually becoming stronger in RPGs; the detailed, verb-based interaction and puzzles in adventures. By smartly avoiding the pitfalls they tend to fall into - exaggerated puzzle difficulty in adventure games, mindless grinding in RPGs.
The game never gets boring, because it allows you to switch gears. Tired of trying to figure out which items should be combined in your inventory and on what object they should be used? Leave the location, explore a bit, fight enemies, find goodies, level up! Enough walking around and fighting? Go back and use every verb command and every item on everything, and see if you can solve the puzzle - or at least read more hilarious responses from the game.
This works so well, is so satisfying, that after playing Hoboken I could only think: why didn't they do it again?.. Why aren't there more games like it? Maybe they don't have to be as funny, but the gameplay ideas of Hoboken are good enough to serve as a template for other games, no matter if serious or comical.
The adventure part of Hoboken is what you would expect from a comedy adventure of that time - funny dialogues and a lot of delightfully idiotic experimentation with your inventory items. Expect to pick up grotesquely useless objects and find their purpose either by following crazy leaps of logic, or simply by happily trying to use them on everything and everyone. Remember that Hoboken is still the product of the Classical Era of adventure games, meaning that you won't have the deplorable "you can only do the right actions, or no actions at all" design philosophy that plagued adventure games of later periods, with their stupid "smart cursors" that killed most of the interaction. Don't worry: Hoboken lets you try stuff, it generously throws at you smart-ass remarks, and it won't greet you with a stubborn "you can't do that" every time you try something.
The puzzles in Hoboken are not as hard as in many comparable games (Space Bar, I'm looking at you again!), but that doesn't mean you won't occasionally break your head over certain situations. But generally, Hoboken is quite forgiving. There are no dead ends (as far as I know), no time limits, and you can't die from trying something you were not supposed to do.
What about the RPG part? Well, you'll have a blast with it if you don't mind its low difficulty level. With the exception of Philadelphia and New York sewers, there are no real dungeons in the game; all the battles occur on the world map, and if you are hurt, you can just go to the nearest location and rest. There are also no boss battles, so you'll never have to be afraid of what comes next and what happens if you are not sufficiently prepared and leveled-up.
What makes the RPG gameplay of Hoboken so good are all those little touches and unique twists in it. The way they handled exploration in this game is, in my opinion, a textbook example of how to do it right. You see, some RPGs tend to be too linear, while others throw you into a huge world without any guidance. Hoboken does neither. It hooks you with its vast, detailed, fully explorable map - for which you'll have to get the right tools to explore fully! In the beginning, you can only walk in narrow lines. You can't enter any kind of water, forests, hills, subway trains. Over the course of the game, you gradually discover new means to map navigation, and new areas open to you. Want to know what lies beyond that deep water? Find a boat. Want to board that train? Find the right pass. Needed items are rarely given to you because "it's the right moment in the story", or are just under your nose. No, you'll have to search for them, and sometimes search hard.
The exploration in Hoboken is so delightful because it has perfect balance between linear advancement and free roaming. As new areas become available, you'll want to explore every corner of them, but getting the stuff you actually need to complete the game doesn't require it. There are useful items scattered everywhere, and you'll want to explore every nook and cranny to satisfy your scavenger instinct. Hoboken encourages exploration like few other RPGs, it constantly makes you want to unravel more squares of that map, and simply mapping the areas becomes one of the most enjoyable and addictive gameplay elements in it.
There are plenty of other excellent design choices when it comes to the RPG aspect of the game. Fight enough random battles and you'll clear the area - no random enemies will attack you any more, and you'll get a nice chunk of experience points for that. How simple and how effective - why did no other RPG with random battles do that?! Is there a better device to encourage fighting random enemies?.. I know people who don't touch Japanese RPGs just because most of them are full of random battles. What would happen if they followed Hoboken's simple idea?
There is more. Map out a whole sector and you'll get experience points. Drink colored isotopes and you'll teach special techniques to characters of your choice. Use different spells for humanoids, animals, plants, and robotic enemies. Manage and battle enemies with a party of not four, not six, but nine active members. Equip armor not on five, not on seven, but on ten body parts. Find goodies in radiation-infested areas if you are not afraid. Hunt for vegetables and meat to permanently increase your health and strength. And so on, and so on.
But of course, even if Hoboken had crappy puzzles and weak RPG elements, I'd still play it, and probably enjoy it. Because the writing here is so good and so funny that you'll keep wanting to continue playing just to see the next ridiculous "mission". Hoboken is full of text, and all of it is good. Gags, puns, bad jokes, satiric moments, constant breaking of the fourth wall - everything is there. And it's not just the dialogue and the location descriptions that are funny. Your super-heroes have idiotic names and even more idiotic powers (Captain Excitement, whose "aura of lethargy and dullness can put opponents to sleep instantly"...) You equip idiotic weapons and armor (trained doberman? iron earmuffs? the list is endless). Random enemies have ridiculous names (a giant hamburger named McMutant, Armageddon Armadillo, and so on), and say unique and hilariously funny lines when they attack or get hit (such as a lawyer realizing that he "loses the case", football player being "unable to understand how anyone could inflict 39 damage on him", etc., etc.), which makes the normally tedious routine of random fighting a pleasurable experience. Wherever you go, you are surrounded by humor.
The game looks great, even though I'm not a big fan of the adventure game engine they used in it (the same one as in Death Gate, still screens with "jumping" navigation). But the pictures supply a definite atmosphere, and not all the locations are comical. As a matter of fact, some of them are rather depressing. It is a post-apocalyptic game, after all. You are exploring a ruined civilization, ruined New York - entire districts submerged in water, once bustling streets turned into ashes, creepy central railway station, empty Empire State Building with malfunctioning elevators, abandoned Statue of Liberty covered by dirt and cobwebs... Hoboken is an atmospheric game and is more than just silly comedy.
The game has a very catchy soundtrack, which will particularly appeal to fans of good old-fashioned MIDI music. Personally, I love those cute synthesized tunes. Also, the CD version has sound effects and every line of dialogue (even the idiotic enemy speak) is fully voiced!
The BadThe combat system is not very deep, and the battles tend to be too easy. Since it is possible to rest in any location, and replenish your provisions at the easily accessed Superhero League quarters, you can effectively heal to full HP after almost every battle. Also, I found it a little disappointing that the game had no boss battles. All you had to do was survive the few scripted encounters, which didn't require much preparation.
I agree with BurningStickMan that there were a bit too many specific American jokes in the game. Many of them will be lost on someone who doesn't watch a lot of American TV and doesn't know a lot about American politics, sports events, pop culture, etc. For the record, I don't consider myself a specialist either, I also didn't "get" some of the jokes. But hey, there's plenty for everyone, as the "American jokes" are only a part of the game's humorous arsenal.
Oh, how could I forget. The ending is really bad! All you get is a small congratulation screen, no cut-scene, even not a humorous "post-mission" description, like between earlier missions...