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Atari Gravitar
Written by  :  Terrence Bosky (5458)
Written on  :  Mar 11, 2005
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars

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Great superhero game that's smart enough to be silly.

The Good

“The future ain’t what it used to be”, reads the opening text of Superhero League of Hoboken and boy ain’t that the truth. 200 years from now (or then, since this is an older game) America resembles some squalid mix of post-apocalyptic clichés, superhero parodies, and early 1990s topical humor.

The player takes on the role of the Crimson Tape, leader of the Superhero League of Hoboken, seemingly more of a catch-all for misfits than a superhero headquarters. The Tape’s superhuman powers make him really good at creating organization charts, Robomop can clean up almost any mess, Madame Pepperoni can see inside closed pizza boxes, and other heroes waiting in the wings are gifted with the ability to put animals to sleep, tread water, increase cholesterol levels, and induce rust. All of this might sound pretty useless, but since the heroes face foes like Albino Winos, Steroid Men, and Nuclear Missiletoes, these are actually handy skills to have.

The League’s arch-nemesis, Dr. Entropy (whose origin story would make Stan Lee weep) has several plans to dominate the world and it’s up to the League to thwart him. During the game, you can attempt to explain to him that good always triumphs over evil, but he’s a single-minded jack-in-the-box. The game’s setup gives the player a series of missions to complete before taking on Dr. Entropy and heading to the next level. With seven mission sets, there’s a lot to accomplish: rescuing a village from rabid sheep or helping a cat trapped under the Liberty Bell, even without Entropy’s fiendish schemes, like unleashing a cryogenically frozen George Steinbrenner on an unsuspecting world.

Most of the game is played on the world map (New Jersey, New York, and the occasional subway ride to other environs). The player moves the cursor representing the party over the world map, finding locations, having random encounters, or hitting obstacles: hills, water, or woods. Locations are typically a static screen shot where players can click on objects to examine them, click on people to talk with them, or use inventory or an appropriate superpower. Random encounters lead to turn-based combat where the heroes take on the villains until the villains are defeated or run off. Obstacles only remain obstacles if you don’t have the right equipment or the right superpower.

When combat occurs, you see a row of icons at the top of the screen showing all the enemies present and the enemies that are immediately within striking range are animated in the center of the screen. A row of icons at the bottom of the screen shows your hero party and usually the first four are able to engage in melee combat with the others assisting with ranged weapons or superpowers. While the action takes place via a combat text-scroll (similar to the classic Bard’s Tale games, there’s actually quite a bit of strategy to the combat: sometimes it’s worth taking on the stronger enemies farther in the queue and letting the weaker ones up close pummel you. Here, too, marching order comes into play, since you’ll want your sluggers up front.

Most superheroes begin their adventures as 10th class heroes and move their way up to 1st class heroes by gaining experience for defeating enemies and completing missions. Heroes level up automatically, increasing their hit points and other attributes. The player does have control over the characters regarding their weapons and equipment, purchased from stores on the world map. Players can also buy elixirs which add new superpowers or strengthen existing ones. While this customization is more of an off-screen thing, it does help develop your characters.

As the player completes mission sets, the League itself gains levels of status. The more famous the Superhero League of Hoboken becomes, the more superheroes are attracted to it and the Commissioner of Superheroes allows the League to increase the size of its party—so less heroes are left in the League’s lunchroom.

What impressed me most about Superhero League of Hoboken was the quality and humor of the writing. It’s not enough that the superpowers are funny and inane, but that you actually have to use them to complete missions. You’d be lost if you didn’t have a person who could eat anything or refold road maps or have that Midas touch (for mufflers). It’s a silly game that’s smart enough to have a Bowdlerizing Ray and expect people to know what that means and how to use it and who should use it. And you have to love a game which isn’t afraid to drown the player in trivia about Hoboken.

The Bad

This game could have been immeasurably improved if villages were labeled on the world map once they had been visited. I don’t know how much time I spent backtracking, looking for some area I had visited previously, but was now victim to one of Entropy’s schemes. More challenging is remembering which subway line led to which city. Most of the world map is accessible by walking around, but a handful of areas can only be reached by subway—sometimes involving connecting lines.

My biggest complaint, however, is that it’s possible to enter into an unwinnable situation. You need to pop power pills to explore hilly areas and every party member needs one pill. You also have to have the maximum number of heroes in your party. So if you have seven heroes and six pills, you are out of luck. I’m assured online that there is a failsafe to this problem, but it didn’t work for me. I ended up reloading to an early time when I hadn’t squandered those precious pills. There isn’t a failsafe for playing with termites too soon. Thankfully I didn’t.

The Bottom Line

Some gamer I am. Not only did I just discover this game, but I just discovered Steve Meretzky! First off, I highly recommend this game. With the exception of a few dated references, the humor in this game is as funny today as it was ten years ago. Plus, we’re talking about top notch gameplay, great puzzles, memorable characters, and amazing villains. With the exception of extremely aged graphics and moderate instability on modern systems, there isn’t anything here not to like. It’s funny without being dark, challenging without being inscrutable, self-defacing without being stupid. It establishes an internal logic early on, sets a tone and a pace, and keeps building up until the end.

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