Author: John Legendoffzelda
Hook fails to prove that the world needs a continuation of the Peter Pan story. Or at least one that presents a scenario where Peter has grown into an adult and forgotten his roots. In Steven Spielberg’s film, Peter is now a workaholic father who has his children taken away from him by Captain Hook. And in his return to the island of Neverland to face the Captain, he regains touch with his former self and re-learns the values of childhood and believing in fairies.
Such an oblique method of getting adult audiences to appreciate these values is the movie’s insurmountable flaw, no matter what amount of special-effects magic or head-turning star appearances Spielberg puts on the screen. The video game from Sony Imagesoft and Ukiyotei tries making the movie work as a platformer instead, chiefly by bringing back Peter’s original magic; the flying, the sword-swinging and the carefree adventure that defines him so well. In a rather bitter turn of things, the two creators get lost on their own way to Neverland. As for the adaptation they come up with, while far less cluttered than the source material, is no less arduous.
Peter Pan begins his mission from the Lost Boys’ hideout and takes the long way around Neverland. Furthermore the game takes the time before each stage to pour over the overhead map and its diverse topography. It’s a lovely storybook image, the vividness of which carries into the forests and rocky plateaus and creaky wooden docks contained at ground level; the re-orchestrations of John Williams’ enjoyable score contribute to the fanciful proceedings. But the map clearly shows that there’s only a scant distance between the hideout and Captain Hook’s ship, which would negate the need for all the traveling. This seeming nitpick is something the player will address more often as he tries to play through any of the action.
The same way the movie Hook was coated in sugar, this game seems dipped in molasses. Its pace is slowed down substantially by the egregiousness of how Peter handles as a character. He has a really slow walk which can be increased into a sprint by holding down the secondary button. Consequently, sprinting hardly helps when the player has to press that button anyway so they can hit an enemy, or when they skid around as they try to stop.
Peter has a bad case of moon gravity, something that affects his momentum in both running and jumping. He has almost no traction on land, but he’s able to jump twice his height and gracefully float back down like a feather. The sight of him jumping is supposed to look daring and fantastical, with his brunet hair fluttering in the wind and the dramatic forward flips he can pull off before landing. Unfortunately it doesn’t work because it puts spectacle ahead of practicality; when he gets stuck in the air, there’s no way to considerably affect his direction so that he doesn’t land right in a spike pit, or on top of a pirate, and lose another hit point.
The difficulties in running and leaping, and in fact the Hook’s general mechanics are explored in the introductory stage via Peter Pan’s training regimen with the Lost Boys. While traipsing through the hideout against the changing seasons, Peter learns how to fight and swim and fly like he used to before he grew old. Then he takes his skills and leaves to take out the nasty pirates that have likely taken over his homeland in his long absence.
The main weapon he has by his side for fighting is a short dagger, something that requires close proximity to work effectively and does kind of work against most of the enemies – that is, those that aren’t the pirates who throw boulders or fire arrows and successfully hit Peter from afar. They’re the most painful pirates to fight, since they always have the higher ground and they can easily break Peter’s stride with each hit. They can either stop him or knock him out of the air, leaving the player with little choice but to try and get back up to speed.
In fairness, Peter starts the game proper with a more useful weapon than his dagger: he gets to use a large sword that flings magic projectiles and removes the need for short-range combat. The sword barely counts as an item, though, seeing how it can easily get knocked out of his hands by whatever enemy or environmental obstacle that manages to outwit him. He’s not hard to outwit either, not just because of his slushy physics but also this needless pose that he strikes whenever he reacquires the sword. He points it toward the sky in triumph, but the world around him doesn’t stop and maybe a pirate will come around and make him lose the thing before he even gets to swing it again.
Appropriately for his character, Peter has somewhat better luck with flying than with staying on the ground. Every so often, Tinker Bell will appear in a stage and cover him in fairy dust, filling up a meter that powers his flight capabilities. Being airborne is the one part of this game that feels normal, probably since the player isn’t so forced to drop back to the ground. Peter can swing his dagger and increase his speed just as efficiently in this mode, and the relative responsiveness of how he zips through the air can give players the impression that mere running and jumping leaves him stranded.
Which makes it a shame that flight mode is so fragile that players will be brought back down anyways; if they’re safe, the meter will just deplete after too short a time and Tinker Bell won’t be there to replenish it. In a worse situation, something will outright knock them out of the air such as a spiked ceiling or a pirate firing at Peter from a hot-air balloon. And if players should drop into a bottomless pit or otherwise run out of hit points, they may just have to start everything anew.
Then again, the player may be able to clear a stage without relying on any checkpoints. The ten stages of Neverland that Peter must clear on his way to Captain Hook are annoyingly inconsistent with their levels of difficulty – some are stretched long with frustrating enemy placement and a dumb gimmick or two, and others are squashed short with empty finishes, the satisfaction of completing them likely meant to derive from dealing with Peter’s slow, floaty movements. The boss fights that only happen in half of the game are similarly unsatisfying, a combination of striking easy bad guys while still colliding with their hit boxes and having to cross the spike-covered ground even after the fight concludes so Peter can end the stage properly.
Ultimately, the ease of these boss battles plays into the real problem with Hook, that it has no authentic challenge to it. The only consistently difficult part is how imprecisely Peter handles, and though it certainly muddies up enough things it’s only complemented by a lot of fake “improvements”; non-threatening bosses, extra lives that are heaped upon the player, unlimited continues, and chances to increase Peter’s hit points by collecting leaves as green as his tights. The developers distract from the game’s problems with these features instead of fixing them, and it just makes the game a waste.
Peter Pan is done a great disservice by Hook, the tedious and badly designed update of his legend. The lush fairy-tale visuals make it enjoyable as far as watching it, but in pretty much all other aspects it’s more advisable to simply read the books.
Two out of five stars.
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