Movie licensed video games were on average absolutely dreadful during the 8 and 16-bit era. Sure you could blame this on the films publishers chose to create tie-ins to; I don’t think anyone expected Beethoven’s 2nd to light up the sales charts. And if they did well there’s a reason those publishers aren’t around anymore. But even decent movies suffered. Predator should have been an easy slam dunk but instead we wound up with……that. The movie Hook received mixed reviews yet its video game counterpart is one of the best underrated gems of its era in my opinion. Which is all the more surprising considering the odds stacked against it.
No one can deny that Akklaim/LJN were the absolute worst when it came to butchering any license they touched. But nipping on their heels were Sony Imagesoft and Ocean. Ah yes, Sony Imagesoft, proud parents of 3 Ninjas Kick Back, Cliffhanger and the Last Action Hero. As tou can imagine no one expected much but in the end we all came out pleasantly surprised. It’s probably not saying much but this was easily one of their best titles alongside Mickey Mania and Skyblazer.
The mechanics are pretty simple overall and while that is a bit disappointing it isn’t a deal breaker. As Peter you are armed with a short sword with the only other weapon being a golden sword that fires a wave attack. Unfortunately it is hard to find and lost once you take a single hit. The most crucial mechanic however is flight. Once you find Tinker Bell her fairy dust will fill your meter allowing flight. Your flight meter can be spent however you choose and in most cases will precede a section where it is required. However there are plenty of opportunities to use it to explore.
In a lot of ways Hook is very similar to Castlevania. Both are very slow paced with deliberate enemy placement and traps. It takes some getting used to, especially if you are coming to this fresh off of Castlevania IV which is faster paced. However Peter is far more agile than Simon although I really wish he moved a tad faster. Holding down Y will make you run but you’ll find very few lengthy surfaces to use it on and it even takes a few seconds for Peter to start sprinting. It is used in conjunction with flight to move quicker and navigate some of the trickiest sections of the game such as Captain Hook’s ship.
In terms of level design Hook is a little different. Most levels are full of wide open expanses to take advantage of your flight ability. There are secrets to discover everywhere as well as alternate paths in some stages. Rationing your flight meter becomes critical about midway through the game. What I appreciate most is the variety. Some levels are based around a gimmick; level eight has a flame that follows and lights your path. If you stray too far or strike it all platforms are covered in black for a few seconds. Stage four tests your mastery of flight and is actually one of the more challenging areas of the game. There’s even an auto scrolling section thrown in. It isn’t all gravy though; the list of enemies is very small and repetitive and the bosses are about Robotnik tiers of dumb.
At about ten levels this is pretty long for a platformer yet surprisingly I don’t find the lack of a password option to be a negative. Even though most levels are pretty open for exploration they are about medium length. I’m actually surprised at how short some of the levels actually are. The world map is large and yet the game still seems so small. You also don’t fight a boss at the end of every stage. All of these factors are compounded by the light difficulty.
Part of what makes the game seem so short is its moderate difficulty. The slow pace can be frustrating and the enemy placement will lead to all manner of cheap hits however the game is pretty generous with extra lives and life restoring leaves. Most of the bosses have incredibly simple patterns to exploit and it is only the final parts of the game where things start to pick up. But between the copious amounts of lives you have probably built up as well as unlimited continues most will complete this in one sitting.
The presentation is absolutely stellar and I feel places it in the upper echelon of the SNES. The lush environments are rich with detail to an insane degree. Although the island is small the trip to Captain Hook’s ship crosses a number of regions such as mountains, forests, and dank caves. There are impressive weather effects and pretty good animation as well. The soundtrack is similarly fantastic, featuring excellent renditions of the film’s score.
Hook is a truly great game and one that has flown under the radar. There are many different ports of the game but the Super Nintendo version is the original and the best. For a few bucks you can pick up an excellent platformer, one that has help up brilliantly over the years.