Retro Review: “Hook” (SEGA CD)
We sadly lost actor Robin Williams too soon, but seeing as how his birthday was 21 July 1951, it still seems worthwhile to celebrate his life in a way.
So to mark the occasion, we’re going to review a shitty licensed game from the early 90s. I asked around The Splintering’s staff for a someone to review a copy of Hook, and this is the best we came up with.
Return to Never-Neverland
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been nearly 24 years since Fox premiered the first episode of Peter Pan & the Pirates, and what a run it had! Tim Curry’s voice work as Captain Hook was nothing short of incredib…
Oh wait, this review is about Hook, isn’t it? Dammit. You know, Peter Pan & the Pirates was a good show, though. Maybe there is a game based on that? Hurm…
Fine. Hook then. F*#&. F*#& everything.
Jokes aside, I actually enjoyed the movie Hook. It was flawed, sure, but it was still fun. So how does the SEGA CD interpretation fare? Is it “pan-tastic?” (God, kill me)
Hook for SEGA CD was published by Sony Imagesoft in 1992. It’s a side-scrolling action game in which the player (that’s you, ya’ lucky devil) takes control of the legendary Peter Pan, in all his middle-aged, slightly overweight glory. It follows the general story of Stephen Spielberg’s Hook film in a sorta-kinda fashion.
I won’t delve too deeply into the plot, because it’s not really important to the game, and it would probably take you less time to watch the damn movie than it would for my long-winded ass to explain it all…
You’re trying to save your kids, okay? Hook took your kids, and now you have to save them. Shit.
What you really need to know is this: You jump, you fly (sometimes), and you have a teeny-weeny boy-who-never-grew-up dagger which can be upgraded to a larger, far more impressive Pan-man sword, both of which are used to cut down enemies. However, your Pan-man sword is lost upon taking a beating. Sounds about right.
Speaking of lost stuff (super-witty segue follows) standing in your way, between you and your lost kids are 10 stages filled not just with Hook’s pirate goons, but apparently all of the creatures in Neverland instinctively hate, hate, hate Peter Pan, because contact with any and all creatures great and small deals damage. The locales include a mixed bag of a forest, caves, a waterfall and ultimately a pirate town. The whole game can be completed in about an hour, so it’s a bit light on content. Oh, and some levels have bosses and stuff.
One of the first things you will notice about the SEGA CD version of the game is the enhanced CD soundtrack. It’s pulled directly from the film’s score, which was composed by John Williams, so these be some quality tunes, yar! (Dammit, I hate pirate speak) Oh, the days when games on disc came with their soundtracks by default.
The visuals are a mixed bag, really. The stages and character designs are relatively well done, and Peter himself (while oddly clad more in brown than green) animates really well. I have always especially enjoyed his enthusiastic jumping animation. The enemies, on the other hand, are fairly static and the same care and attention to detail was not extended to them, which is a shame. Overall, I’d say that the graphical content is more than adequate.
As far as other extra content provided by the CD format is concerned, the story sequences are all fully voiced, and your enjoyment of them will depend on your tolerance level for bad voice acting. I honestly get a kick out of God-awful voice acting back when it was so new to games, and it’s therefore more forgivable, but it’s hard not to think that Robin Williams’ reanimated corpse could still do a better job.
There are also two or three moments where images from the film are digitized into the cinematic sequences. Their appearance doesn’t do much to advance the story, they just seem to be sort of “there” because SEGA CD.
So, is it bangarang?
Hopefully you’ve been picking up on both my general lack of enthusiasm and my use of hackneyed, trite game-reviewer speak (it be a mixed bag of segue content, yar!), because as painful as it is for me to write some of that garbage, there is a point to it. Hook goes through all of the motions of making a decent platforming game. It looks pretty good, the CD soundtrack is awesome, it controls well and there is some decent variation between the levels.
I simply don’t see much inspiration or imagination in Hook. It’s as if the game designers had broken down what other platformers had done and plastered extra creamy Peter Pan all over it. Let’s take the background design first: Yes, the final pirate town stages were OK, but let’s go more generic. A forest? Check. Cave? Check. Vertical cliff level? That’s a check. Another cave? Double-check. Obligatory ice level where everything is slippery? Czech. (Hah! Mixing it up to keep you on your toes like a goddamn pro!)
Oh, enemies? How do I design thee? Let me count the ways. Pirates (duh), spiders, snakes, birds, skeletons, blue hedgehogs (yep) and even stalactites falling from the cave ceiling. Hey, does anyone else remember that other game that had spiders and birds as enemies? I think it was called Every Other Fucking Platform Game Ever Made- Ever Ever, which as we all know, was part of the Castlevania series. Oh, and the pirates? They either brainlessly wander to and fro (some even carry shields, so you have to hit them in the back!) or stand stationary and launch some sort of projectile at you. Except the ones in blimps, I guess. They mix it up a little bit… like a mixed bag… of pirates.
This is Never-f*#&ing-Neverland! Show us something unique! Something that we’ve never-never seen before except in our imaginations! Instead of making us fight snakes and spiders, give us something that, I don’t know, isn’t snakes and spiders! Why do so many games have the same exact environments and enemies, especially in this case when Hook’s designers could have designed pretty much anything, anything their creative minds cranked out.
It’s not as if the game held itself fast to replicating only the environments from the movie. Let us fight some of those giant trees in the first stage, or have a boss fight against a swarm of evil fairies, or save some sexy mermaids from bizarre mer-monsters in an underwater level, or hey! There’s a big freaking mountain in the center of the island. Let’s fight the mountain! If you removed Peter Pan from this game, you really could insert almost any character into Hook and they would still sort of fit against such a conceptual blank slate.
Your flight ability is pretty well wasted, too. You spend most of the game without the ability to use it unless you find some fairy dust, and even when you do use it, it mostly serves as a means to make some longer jumps. Other than flying through a short tunnel of spikes in one of the last stages of the game and a short auto-scrolling level where flight moves you simply from one fairy to the next, nothing really interesting is every really explored flight-wise, and Peter is never given his due reign to just soar.
It’s just plain lazy is what it is. Even the sound design is lazy. “But wait!” You say. “I thought you just told us that the music was really good!” You’re right, I did. But did anyone at Sony Imagesoft (or Core Designs, if you want to be dev team specific) have to do anything other than ape John Williams’ work? Did they remix, edit or re-record any of the music so that it better matched the atmosphere of the individual stages or the spirit of the game? Newp. Cut. Paste. Save. Hey, the music is done, guys!
I honestly wish there was a way to turn the music off in the game. Why? Because it would be the best way for me to demonstrate my next point. There are almost no sound effects in this game. Find an online video of stage 2 right now. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
So, Pan’s sword makes a swooshing sound and there is a slight “pop” when you make contact with an enemy, but that’s about it. There is no ambient environmental noise, and the enemies don’t make any sounds at all.
A light “twing” of a bow and arrow being fired? Not there. The sound of a boulder or barrel being thrown at you, Congo Bongo style? Missing. How about even a simple “Yargh!” being muttered when you slash an enemy pirate? Absent. As much as I really do hate pirate speak, it wasn’t nearly as prevalent and annoying in 1992, and how much better (and doable) would it have been to have the pirates taunt you a bit while you are fighting them?
Even the final battle with Captain Hook is devoid of any extra sounds. His sword and chain-hook make neither a swoosh nor clink-clank, and he doesn’t say a word! Not a single line of Pan/Hook banter. All of this auditory vacancy leaves the player with a sense of detachment from the game.
Nothing to crow about here (Please stab me in the neck)
Hook is a completely playable, competent, non-offensive yet uninspired platformer. It’s a pretty easy game too, and it never really gets too frustrating for veteran players (well, maybe until the weird difficulty spike starting at the end of Stage 8 when you reach the skeleton boss).
The game actually does get a bit better near the end, which is where the more interesting levels are, and I appreciate it when a game does that.
Hook certainly isn’t a bad game. The SEGA CD version of it is probably the definitive version, and any platformer fan will probably enjoy this short romp through Neverland. However, I wouldn’t suggest that anyone feverishly hunt down a copy to add to your collection unless you’d also specifically like to have the soundtrack.
If it seemed like my tone was overly harsh, that’s because there is so much missed potential here, most of which was squandered due to laziness, which really irks me. You should hear me rant about a really bad game (Ooh! I should do one of those soon).
It stings a little bit for me to call the game average, because I actually do have a soft spot for it. To be fair, it really is on the better side of average, but it never introduces anything from a gameplay standpoint to help it transcend into the next level.
Sadly, Hook really had the fundamental backbone to join other SEGA games like Aladdin and Castle of Illusion as among the best licensed games from the era, but…
…Wait what? You’re telling me that Hook was actually initially developed as an SNES game and was then later converted over to the SEGA systems?
Hmf. Nintendo. That explains it. Lazy, iterating bastards.
Wait! One final, insensitive joke before I cut out…
What did Robin Williams say when his body was being cremated?
“First day I’ve been dead, and I’m getting hot flashes!”
Bad form, Splintering!
Bah. You should have seen the stuff even I chose to cut out.
Thanks for reading!
Please consider following The Splintering on social media or bookmarking the site for more independent entertainment news, views, and commentary!