From The Archive is a series that takes articles written by Jennifer McMurray in the past and presents them here on MIC News for a new audience.
The Hugo’s House of Horrors was previously published on The Adventuress on October 9, 2012.
Hugo’s House of Horrors is available on GOG.com.
Hugo’s House of Horrors (known as Hugo’s Horrific Adventure in the Windows re-release) was an independent adventure game solely designed by David Gray and released in 1990. It does fall into many of the traps that befall independent adventure games by first-time game developers, but it’s zany atmosphere and freeware status of the DOS version may make it worth playing to those willing to overlook its many flaws.
The game interface uses a combination of a keyboard for movement and a text parser for actions like the early games in Sierra’s King’s Quest or Space Quest series. The Windows remake features optional point-and-click controls, including using inventory items. If you use ScummVM to play the game, the freeware DOS version of the game also gains most of these point-and-click features, with the exception of inventory items. The Windows version has clickable icons representing inventory items, but in the DOS version through ScummVM, the inventory is only represented in text form and is not clickable. The control and parser method works, however, the text parser is lacking. It doesn’t understand many verbs, and you will find yourself typing verb after verb until you find the one that the parser is expecting in some puzzles. The Windows version gets around this nuisance since you can left click to perform an action on an object instantly without having to worry about guessing the correct verb. The Windows version (and the DOS version through ScummVM) also adds text letting you know the name of the object when you hover over it, which is very useful for finding an exit to a room that is a bit of a pixel hunt in the original DOS version. However, the Windows version is not freeware and is only available in a bundle including all three Hugo adventure games.
Although David Gray hadn’t heard of Maniac Mansion before the game was created, their similarities are undeniable. Like Maniac Mansion before it, Hugo’s House of Horrors is a pastiche of the horror movie genre. However, Hugo aims in a slightly different direction, tackling classic movie monster cliches rather than teenage slasher films. You will find just about every movie monster in the mansion, although few of them are put to good use. The one exception is the mad scientist and his assistant, which are part of a rather funny puzzle early on in the game. Although this was released the same year as The Secret of Monkey Island, it doesn’t contain the vast dialog seen in that game. This is a game that has a decidedly 1980’s design philosophy. There isn’t a lot of dialog from the characters. Hugo doesn’t speak at all, and most of the dialog comes from the narrator. Instead, like Maniac Mansion, the humor in the game comes from the humorous actions that are performed by the zany characters in the mansion. And like Sierra’s games, some of the humor comes from the death sequences. You can die in this game, and sometimes it’s unavoidable. So, saving is highly recommended. Most of the death scenes are solved with puzzles, however, there is one annoying instance where death is avoided simply by getting an enemy’s AI to get stuck behind a foreground object. This results in trial and error, and you will find yourself saving and reloading many times before you get the timing just right. Thankfully, this kind of gameplay only occurs once, and the rest of the deaths can be avoided by puzzles.
As this was released on PC in 1990, the artwork is of the pixellated variety of that time period. However, the art in the mansion is bright and cheery and the characters are reasonably detailed. Even with the limitations of the engine, you can still make out every monster that is being parodied, even without the help of the text from hovering over the characters with your mouse. The art style will be a put off to some due to its age, but to those willing to overlook its age, the art style is really one of the best aspects of the game.
The other differences from the DOS and Windows versions are that the DOS version only has music at the beginning of the game, whereas the Windows version has another music track. The silence in DOS games was usual at the time, due to few computers possessing sound cards. Programmers had to play the music through the boops and beeps of the PC speaker instead. As this was difficult to implement, and usually didn’t sound too nice, PC games of the 1980’s and sometimes (as in this case) the early 1990’s only had opening songs. The opening music is nice and slightly catchy, and the Windows MIDI music sets the mood well although it’s not as memorable as the title tune. The choice between versions in regards to music really has to do with whether you mind silence in your games, since the Windows song, while nice, isn’t necessary for the experience.
The puzzles are where this game both shines and falters. There are some really good adventure puzzles here, but there are some which aren’t as well executed. There’s a puzzle in particular at the end of the game, where the player is asked some various pop culture questions. There is no context for this in the game. Like the Leisure Suit Larry age verification questions, the player is just expected to know them from their own memory. This kind of puzzle doesn’t work, as a player born in different generations or from other countries might not know the questions. I, personally, didn’t know the question that related to an American television show from the 1950’s, and resorted to looking it up on the internet. It’s a shame because this puzzle could have been integrated into the game through text found throughout the mansion, as was the case of another puzzle where the answer was written in graffiti in one of the rooms. There’s another puzzle that results in a dead end if you don’t do the right action right away. The ability to perform the action is right there, but the character that is required to do that action refuses to do so after the action has already been performed. It’s the puzzles like these that make the game more frustrating than it should be. The last drawback of the game is that it is quite short, and can easily be played in a few hours or less by those who have never played it before.
Hugo’s House of Horrors is a conundrum. It is full of many faults, but it has gained a small fanbase due to its quirky art style, music, and characters. With just a few changes to some of the more ill-conceived puzzles, it could be a much better game. But as it stands, it’s hard for me to recommend this game. That said, if you wish to play through it and see if you’re willing to overlook the flaws, the DOS version is free, and it is short. If you do opt to play it, I’d recommend playing the freeware DOS version in ScummVM for the ability to point-and-click with your mouse.
2½ out of 5