First posted on 13 August 2012. Last updated on 23 September 2012.
Hoodwink is a prelude to what is possibly an amazing adventure game. It is a charming, albeit simple, puzzler that offers an intriguing future world rife with characters, stories, and possibilities. It is a shame that none of these possibilities are fully explored in Hoodwink, leaving you wanting for more of the game that can truly leverage its full potential.
Hoodwink packs a wonderful introduction of its world in its limited narrative. Even as a budget title, however, some gamers may find the game to be a difficult recommendation without knowing if the next installment for the new series will ever follow. This is too bad, because in the few hours of play that the game delivers, the gameplay is compelling and offers a beautiful, contemporary return to classic adventure games. The game is the debut project from Malaysian developer E-One Studio. Judging from the game's production quality, the developer definitely has the chops to create a lasting adventure series. Whether or not this will happen, which will depend on whether or not Hoodwink can generate enough commercial interest to warrant it, is what remains to be seem.
Hoodwink is a sci-fi comedy with a very eclectic group of characters. You play the role of Michael Bezzle, a career thief whose motivation, for most of the game, is to retire from larceny and marry his wheelchair bound girlfriend Francesca. The world that Michael and Francesca inhabit is an odd dystopian cartoon. It is a whimsical but Orwellian world run by the monolithic Unicorp. It is not long until the corporate authorities intervene with Michael's modest intentions putting him on the run.
What grabs you immediately about Hoodwink is the game's graphics. Indeed, adventure fans are unaccustomed to being spoiled by a game looking this good in high definition. The game is simply gorgeous. While the cel-shaded animation may seem strange for the setting of a ruined future, the graphical style works well here due to the fact that the game itself never takes itself too seriously. The lighting, colors, shadows, and even textures are woven together to invite you into an imaginative world.
In the distance, you can see the sun setting beyond the smokestacks belching out clouds of smog and turbines powering unseen machinery. Unfortunately, you are not going to get very far beyond this vista. This is because the game is limited to a meager handful of locations and many doors that you are unable to open. To be fair, the game packs a fair amount of action in these locations. However, like most indie adventure games, a lot more seems promised but is not delivered.
The game's interface is simple and fairly elegant. You click on the mouse button to cycle through the cursor icon, from walking feet to a question mark to a speech bubble, based on what you need at the moment. Even the adventure trope of ruffling through an inventory to find the correct item has been taken out of your hands. The correct item will be chosen for you when you want to interact with your surroundings.
To advance along the linear narrative, you will need to collect items and talk to other characters in the right order. In addition to the typical puzzles, you will also need to complete a few mini-games. Both the puzzles and the mini-games are very easy and present no real challenge. In fact, the game comes with a built-in hint system. However, by leaving it on, you will cut short of an already abrupt experience. As well, there is a particular ingenious puzzle evading a laser guided rifle in which the game gives away its solution too quickly, robbing you of the joy of solving it yourself.
The game is not without its quirks. From time to time, you can see a glimpse of the fine polish that the game is missing. The cursor icon does not always shift to the correct pointer (in fact, in a particular scene, I had to stand in an awkward location in order to discover how to exit a room), and the hint system definitely needs improvement. These glitches are fairly inconsequential, however, and they do not spoil the fun playing the game. Still, they serve as brief reminders that this is an indie production, which in some ways, adds to the game's charm.
Every character—which includes not only humans but a feline anthromorph, some comical robots, and even a group of leftist cockroaches—is voiced. The voice acting is a hit-or-miss affair but generally keeps in line with the unusual setting. Without much in the way of time to develop these characters, the eclectic cast still manages to amuse despite being often played to type: Michael is the roguish vagabond; Francesca is the doting love interest; Saffron is a hippie flower child selling tie dyes and patchouli (ok, perfume, not patchouli) oil.
The tone of the story is surprisingly pleasant and light. Despite the dystopian backdrop, the game is still played for silly laughs, evoking plenty of comedic farce and absurdity.
While Hoodwink offers an excellent introduction and a few randomly scattered insights into its larger world, the game ends just as it finally introduces its hook. By the time you begin to care to where Michael and Francesca are heading, the credits screen is already rolling. It is not a particularly elegant transition either, offering a somewhat disappointing cliffhanger for the next installment.
The uncertainty of Hoodwink's future presents the biggest challenge for this game: you want to know what happens next; you want to explore this world more; yet, are you willing to jump in without knowing if you will ever get that opportunity? As it is, though, Hoodwink is merely the prologue to what is possible for a future series. For now, Hoodwink remains caveat emptor for the adventure game enthusiast.