Spanish-made adventure goodness.
Hollywood Monsters could be called the first truly "professional" game developed by Péndulo Studios, and it was the first major hit from the developers that enabled them to play with the big boys on their next adventure: Runaway, a Road Adventure
. Unlike Runaway, HM didn't have a major international release so it remains in obscurity to those that don't reside in the few spanish speaking countries it got released on. A shame really, since it would surely win accolades from adventure fans anywhere should they be able to get their hands on it.
The game works in the same way as a previous Péndulo title: Igor, Objective Uikokahonia
, meaning that it's a humorous adventure using a point-n-click interface as a revival of sorts of the classic LucasArts adventure games. Unlike Igor however, HM can be called a fully-developed, commercially-viable product, and not just a fan-made nostalgic demo as the previous title seemed to be. In fact, the production values would be pretty much on the same league as any LucasArts game, featuring hundreds of lovingly detailed backgrounds and characters, drawn using a crisp, sprite-based engine that allows for smooth scrolling and overlapping special effects bringing each of the unique hand-drawn characters to vivid, cartoony life with the aid of superb sound effects, top-notch voice acting (really surprising in it's quality) and an extremely good soundtrack that fits the game like a glove and seems to include hundreds of tunes for each location.
The story is appropriately retro-styled and follows the adventures of Sue and Ron, a pair of daring reporters that get the assignment to cover the "Hollywood Monsters" awards ceremony in the Hannover Mansion. In the game's universe (a cartoony 30s-40s USA), the monsters from such classic movies as Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Dracula, etc. are actually stars that play themselves in the movies, and live their own (and quite ironic) lives outside of the screens. As one would expect it, a sinister plot is uncovered and the pair of reporters (mainly Ron but also Sue in a couple of parts) have to unravel it with the aid of the many monsters that seem to be connected to the plot in one way or the other. Thus you go around the world solving different inventory/deduction puzzles as in a classical adventure game using a pop-up SCUMM-like Menu from which you manage your inventory and perform individual actions.
The story itself isn't exactly groundbreaking but sets the stage for each monster to do his/her own thing and it's the interaction with them and the sideplots they provide where the meat of the game lies. Each character is lovingly characterized and helps build up one of the most memorable ensemble casts in any adventure game ever. Setting up some really amusing setpieces and making use of great scripting, the game keeps the comedy level high, and the puzzles for once are well integrated into the game and include both serious challenges for hard-boiled veterans as well as simple exercises used mainly for comedy/scripting purposes.
And just in case you get stuck on any of them, the game includes a great walkthrough help-file that works in a similar way as the UHS system, providing progressively spoiling tiers of hints to help you get the most out of the game without spoiling it for you. How cool is that?
The animations strike me as kinda slow, there are some interface nuisances reminiscent of early SCUMM games (you have to always select the verb properly and then click on the destination), and there's the nasty decision to place the loading menu in the initial title screen, meaning you have to restart the game if you want to re-load something.
There's also the ever-present collection of pixel hunts, but they could be far worse than they are here.
The Bottom Line
Completely solid point-n-click adventure game that stands it's ground as one of the best examples in the genre, and which didn't come out of LucasArts or Sierra!!!
Provided you can find it, Hollywood Monsters is a sure investment and a top-notch addition to any adventure gamer's library, providing both an original and classic experience in the same package.