Hugo's House of Horrors

Posted by Jenny Hanlon.
First posted on 28 June 2012. Last updated on 10 September 2013.
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Hugo's House of Horrors
Hugo must save his beloved Penelope who is held captive inside the haunted house.
Hugo's House of Horrors
Hugo falls victim to a mad scientist and his hideous experiments.
Hugo's House of Horrors
As Hugo mingles with a gruesome array of dinner guests, he wonders if his disguise will be blown.
Hugo's House of Horrors
The hungry dog has an appetite for human flesh.
Hugo's House of Horrors
A mysterious old man bars the way in the caverns beneath the house.

Hugo's House of Horrors (also known as Hugo's Horrific Adventure or Hugo 1) is a third-person mixed graphics and text based adventure game created by veteran indie game designer David Gray. This is the first game of a trilogy adventure series featuring Hugo and is followed by Hugo 2: Whodunit? (Hugo's Mystery Adventure) and Hugo 3: Jungle of Doom! (Hugo's Amazon Adventure) subsequently released later.

The game was originally released in 1990 as shareware but was also later re-released in 1995 commercially as part of the Hugo Trilogy. The trilogy re-release included both the original DOS version and the enhanced Windows version, along with a hint/answer booklet. The Windows version retained the interface of the original DOS version but added a new point-and-click mouse interface, MIDI background music, and digital sound effects. The point scoring system was also modified to increase the total points from 190 in the DOS version to 200 in the Windows version.

According to the developer, the DOS version can be run in DOSBox or ScummVM, and the Windows version can be run natively in any 32-bit version of Windows.

The game makes use of EGA graphics to combine a third-person 2D modal view and a text parser capable of understanding fairly basic commands. The style is reminiscent of early adventure games from Sierra's Leisure Suit Larry or Space Quest series. However, the overall theme has much in common with Lucasfilm Games' Maniac Mansion (released a few years earlier). In Hugo's House of Horrors, like Maniac Mansion, you play a hero attempting to rescue his girlfriend from a mad scientist in a haunted house.

Hugo is a rather mysterious character, in that you know little of his background when the game abruptly begins. This is also true for his girlfriend Penelope. All you know is that Penelope has gone missing while babysitting at a spooky house and Hugo has now come to rescue her. As the chiptune intro begins to play (the game has only a small handful of sound effects), you are greeted by Hugo standing on the street outside the house. It is a full moon, and there are bats in the night sky and several evil pairs of eyes peeking out of the house windows. It does not look the friendliest of places. Yet, Hugo knows that his true love Penelope is trapped somewhere inside and he must enter to save her.

Hugo encounters many weird and wonderful characters once he is inside the house, including a mad scientist, a ravenous dog, and a host of gruesome dinner party guests for whom vegetarian dishes are most definitely not on the menu. He explores the house to gather clues and objects that will help him ultimately work out where Penelope is being held prisoner. As you pick up objects and solve the puzzles, you gain points that also serve to mark the game's progress. The puzzles are fairly easy for experienced adventure gamers, who can probably breeze through the game in under an hour. All of the objects you find have very logical and often obvious uses. For example, the candle is clearly there to light up a dark room, and an oilcan is obviously for oiling a mechanism that has rusted shut!

You control Hugo by using the arrow keys and by entering simple text commands, such as "open door" and "take candle", into the parser located at the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately, the parser is somewhat limited. As such, you must be prepared to tolerate the message "Apparently our hero either doesn't understand what you mean or doesn't think that would be very useful!" many times before finding a command that the parser will accept. The function keys serve as the standard save and restore functions, along with an inventory key and a "recall last line" feature. In the Windows version, these functions are available as a menu bar accessible at the top of the screen.

There are a few puzzles in the game which cannot be solved by using objects or by entering a specific command. This change makes a refreshing challenge for a simplistic game of this era. An example is a scene where you must dodge the grasp of a mummy by working out where the creature is going to move and how to sneak past. Another example is a puzzle that involves a series of trivia questions asked by an old man blocking your path. The questions you must answer are all along the themes of fantasy and sci-fi related popular culture.

There are several points in the game where you can die, often quite suddenly and without warning. The game also has at least a couple of potential dead-ends. Therefore, it is advisable to keep more than a few game saves so that you can jump back to the nearest save point if you are truly stuck. The dead ends I have encountered are all a little unfair. For example, if you realize you have forgotten an object after getting past the dog, when you try to sneak past the dog again after backtracking, you will find that the original solution will no longer works and the dog will promptly come straight for you. Similarly, when you try to get Igor to press the buttons in the mad professor's lab, once Igor has cycled through pressing all 4 buttons, you will find that he will not press the buttons any more. Thus, you need to make sure you have done what is required while you have the chance. Keeping multiple saves will avoid this problem, however.

I have only a few criticisms of this game. The first is the frustratingly limited parser. There are several stages in the game where you simply cannot progress any further until you enter the exact phrase that the parser is looking for. For example, at some point in the game you see a crawlspace under the stairs and want to investigate it. You may try to type in "Look under stairs", "Crawl under stairs", or even "Examine under stairs". None of these commands will be successful. Rather, the correct command is "Look inside". Until you know what to type whilst standing in front of the crawlspace, you will be stuck. Likewise, you will not be able to pick up an object until you know what the game wants to call it. The game has no look or examine function, and the pixelated graphics do not best lend themselves to identify the names of some objects. The main culprit of this crime is an object in the wardrobe in the upstairs bedroom (it is a mask, in case you were wondering).

Hugo's House of Horrors is a game that remains highly popular to date for its nostalgia value. With its light-hearted tongue-in-cheek flavor and short length, the game is easily replayable. It is also a game that is suitable for all ages: younger gamers will love it for its simplicity, whereas older gamers will love it for its retro feel.

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