Hugo - The Evil Mirror
Developer: ITE Media
Release Date: April 24, 2005
I've been picking up a lot of games for my Atari 2600 lately. It's a console I did not purchase for the purpose of playing games, to be honest; I bought it, along with two keypad controllers, to use as a synthesizer in my band. (I also employ an original Gameboy and a Nintendo DS, with respective sound programs for each, during my live sets.) I've written off most of the games on the system as much less than what nostalgia recalls for most people: ugly, broken little messes that managed to ruin the gameplay of simple games like Pac-Man. I mean, if they messed up that, how could something like Galaxian be any good? But the whole thing has caught up with me, although most of the enjoyment works out a little better because I'm paying about seventy-three cents for each game. These games are all little concepts, and while the execution leaves a lot to be desired, as past reviews have told you, I'm having some serious hankerings for some well-thought out, focused games to play, and there hasn't been much of that lately at all.
Wait, there's a lot of that. Just not much that anybody really needs to play. Some games pique my interest, especially Mercury on PSP, with its unique twist on the Marble Madness/Super Monkey Ball formula, but not anything that really makes my heart palpitate with excitement. So imagine my surprise upon inserting Hugo – The Evil Mirror into the GBA slot of my DS, and seeing that this was not another boring side-scrolling adventure, but an action game set in confined "arenas. " Unfortunately, this excitement quickly turned into disappointment as soon as I got my hands dirty with the game. There is no depth, there is little fun to be had... and this, sadly, seems to be the future for concept games.
The story: Scylla the Wicked Witch has used her wicked, witchy magic to capture the impish Hugo in a mirror. Despite the name of the game, the hero is not Hugo himself, but his three children, Trollerit, Trollerat, and Trollerut, who must travel the Tricky Troll Forest to find, conveniently, the three shards of the mirror that Scylla has cast about the land. Hugo can only be freed once the three shards are combined.
The three lands in which the game takes place are exactly what one would expect from a quickly developed side scroller: Generic "Forest Land," slightly more special "Interior Land" (in this case, the inside of a tree), and "Snowy Land," the obligatory frozen territory. Beyond the visuals, each stage has the same goal: playing as one of Hugo's children, all of whom look essentially the same, players must employ various items and weapons to wipe out every enemy in the relatively small stages by encasing them into large blocks of ice. The only real difference from stage to stage is the backdrop; "Snowy Land" or not, there are ice blocks in every stage. The ice blocks can be pushed, picked up, whatever, but the goal is to smash them before the enemy finds his way out. Once every enemy is killed, Hugo's kid will do a smarmy little dance, a silly song plays, and the next stage, with the same exact gameplay, begins.
That's it. That's all there is to it. There are items, yes, and I will get to those later, but that is the goal. And me, one of the biggest supporters of simplistic gaming (though a fan of games like Steel Battalion – everything has its place), I am appalled. See, this game, with its ice-smashing concept, is interesting. But it is really little more than one of many actions that can be used in a multitude of better games today. It's like taking a single aspect of Grand Theft Auto – say, killing helpless hookers – and making an entire game based on nothing but this. That kind of game would be amusing at first, but its actions would become repetitive, inane, ridiculous... and while freezing enemies with little more thought than that of a goomba is better than taking out a massive army of GTA's hookers over and over – at least there are the added challenges of dealing with the variables of time, score and energy.
The available items do help things along a little. Freeze Gun Power-Ups increase the range and power of the somewhat weak weapon. Running shoes increase speed to make the countdown-clock a little less of an issue. Gauntlets help Hugo's kids carry blocks of ice deftly, slowing down their movement less as they carry frozen enemies to their doom. Finally, armor pickups decrease the damage inflicted upon your little troll. All of this is very straightforward, and, with the exception of the running shoes, does not affect the game nearly as much as it should.
Difficulty is managed by how fast enemies move and how long they are frozen. However, the differences are not grand, and while I could tell the difference between modes, the challenge was not deepened as much as I had hoped. I simply depended on items slightly more instead of slowly dominating the levels and ignoring any pickups.
I've already mentioned how contrived the art direction is – outdoor, indoor, snow – but for a GBA game, this one looks fairly nice. Nothing a crack team of homebrew developers couldn't have thrown together, but nice nonetheless. The sprites have a more creative look to them than the backdrops, and are nicely high in resolution. Whenever a stage is cleared, the "camera" zooms in and increases the resolution of the sprites seemingly by a thousand-fold, and they hold up perfectly, increasing in quality with every size increase of the frame.
Still, each stage looks virtually the same. Thin platforms float in the air. The same background is shown over and over. Repetition. Repetition. We learn by repetition, etc.
And sound, the final frontier for every Worth Playing review: adequate. MIDI songs, completely unmemorable. Clearly digitized sounds, somewhat unsatisfying, but videogame-y enough. Your ears will hear, but your brain will not be stimulated.
So there's another concept game down the tubes. Can we have something new up to Burgertime's snuff, please? Please? How many Evil Mirror-type games will we have to see send the GBA to its grave before 2D is also dead and buried? Were the late 1970s really the peak for this genre? Please, Namco, try harder next time. Didn't you guys create the incredible Klonoa? We know you can do better.