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Editorial The Digital Antiquarian on Superhero League of Hoboken

Discussion in 'News & Content Feedback' started by Infinitron, Aug 7, 2020.

  1. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Infinitron
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    Grab the Codex by the pussy Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    Tags: Legend Entertainment; Superhero League of Hoboken; The Digital Antiquarian

    Over the past year, the Digital Antiquarian has continued to write about the computer games of the early 1990s, including the adventure games of Infocom successor company Legend Entertainment. His article today is about Superhero League of Hoboken, Legend's overlooked comedic adventure/RPG about a team of low-rent superheroes from post-apocalyptic New Jersey. Released in 1994, Hoboken was one of the last major titles designed by interactive fiction legend Steve Meretzky. The Antiquarian is a huge fan of the game, citing its fresh writing and the lack of annoyances commonly found in other RPGs of the era. Here's an excerpt from the article:

    Indeed, Superhero League of Hoboken remained in active development for more than eighteen months, longer than any Legend game to date. In the end, though, they succeeded in melding their standard graphic-adventure interface to a clever new combat engine. By the time the game was released in the summer of 1994, Meretzky had already moved on from Legend, and was working with fellow Infocom alum Mike Dornbrook to set up their own studio, under the name of Boffo Games. As a parting gift to Legend, however, Hoboken could hardly be beat. It had turned into a genuinely great game, Meretzky’s best since Stationfall or even Leather Goddesses of Phobos.

    It takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting, a choice that was much in vogue in the mid-1990s; I’m now reviewing my third post-apocalyptic adventure game in a row. But, whereas Under a Killing Moon and Beneath a Steel Sky teeter a little uncertainly between seriousness and the centrifugal pull that comedy always exerts on the adventure genre, Hoboken wants only to be the latter. It’s extravagantly silly, so stupid that it’s smart — Meretzky at his best, in other words.

    The premise is that a considerable percentage of the population have become “superheroes” in the wake of a nuclear war, thanks to all of the radiation in the air. But most of the actual superpowers thus acquired are, shall we say, rather esoteric. For example, you play the Crimson Tape, whose superpower is the ability to create organizational charts. That makes you ideal for the role of leader of the Hoboken chapter of the Superhero League. Your gang there includes folks like the Iron Tummy, who can eat spicy food without distress; the ironically named Captain Excitement, who puts others to sleep; Robo Mop, who can clean up almost any mess; Tropical Oil Man, who raises the cholesterol levels in his enemies; the holdover from the Infocom proposal Madam Pepperoni, who can see inside pizza boxes; and my personal favorite, King Midas, who can turn anything into a muffler. (For my non-American readers: “Midas” is the name of a chain of American auto-repair shops specializing in, yes, mufflers.) Some of these superpowers are more obviously useful than others: Captain Excitement’s power, for example, is the equivalent of the Sleep spell, that staple of low-level Dungeons & Dragons. Some of them are sneakily useful: the game’s equivalent of treasure chests are pizza boxes, which makes Madam Pepperoni its equivalent of your handy trap-detecting thief from a more ordinary CRPG setting. And some of the superpowers, including your own and that of many others, are utterly useless for fighting crime — until you stumble upon that one puzzle for which they’re perfect.

    The game has a smart and very satisfying structure, playing out in half a dozen chapters. At the beginning of each of them you’re given a to-do list of five tasks in your superhero headquarters. To accomplish these things, you’ll naturally have to venture out into the streets. Each chapter takes you farther from home and requires you to explore more dangerous areas than the last; by its end, the game has come to encompass much of the Northeastern Seaboard, from Philadelphia to Boston, all of it now plagued by radiation and crime.

    In the Spellcasting games, Meretzky had a tendency to ask the player to do boring and/or irritating things over and over again, apparently in the mistaken impression that there’s something intrinsically funny about such blatant player abuse. It’s therefore notable that Hoboken evinces exactly the opposite tendency — i.e., it seeks to minimize the things that usually get boring in other CRPGs. Each section of the map spawns random encounters up to a certain point, and then stops, out of the logic that you’ve now cleaned that neighborhood of miscreants. I can’t praise this mechanic enough. There’s nothing more annoying than trying to move quickly through explored areas in a typical CRPG, only to be forced to contend with fight after mindlessly trivial fight. Likewise, the sense of achievement you get from actually succeeding in your ostensible goal of defeating the forces of evil and making a place safe again shouldn’t be underestimated. Among CRPGs that predate this one, Pool of Radiance is the only title I know of which does something similar, and with a similar premise behind it at that; there you’re reclaiming the fantasy village of Phlan from its enemies, just as here you’re reclaiming the urban northeast of the United States. Hoboken is clearly the work of a designer who has played a lot of games of its ilk — a rarer qualification in game design than you might expect — and knows which parts tend to be consistently fun and which parts can quickly become a drag.

    The combat system makes for an interesting study in itself, resembling as it does those found in many Japanese console CRPGs more than American incarnations of the genre. It’s simple and thoroughly unserious, like most things in this game, but it’s not without a modicum of tactical depth. Each round, each character in your party can choose to mount a melee attack if she’s close enough (using one of an assortment of appropriately silly weapons), mount a ranged attack if not (using one of an equally silly assortment of weapons), utilize her superpower (which is invariably silly), or assume a defensive stance. Certain weapons and powers are more effective against certain enemies; learning which approaches work best against whom and then optimizing accordingly is a key to your success. Ditto setting up the right party for taking on the inhabitants of the area you happen to be exploring; although you can’t create superheroes of your own, you have a larger and larger pool of them to choose from as the game continues and the fame of your Hoboken branch of the Superhero League increases. But be careful not to mix and match too much: heroes go up in level with success in combat, so you don’t want to spread the opportunities around too evenly, lest you end up with a team full of mediocrities in lieu of at least a few high-level superstars.

    As you explore the streets of the city, you stumble upon special locations that cause the adventure side of the game’s personality to kick in. Here the viewpoint shifts from overhead third-person to a first-person display, with an interface that will look very familiar to anyone who has played Companions of Xanth, Legend’s first point-and-click graphic adventure. In addition to conversing with others and solving puzzles in these sections, you can visit shops selling weapons and armor and can frequent healers, all essential for the CRPG side of things. That said, the bifurcation between the game’s two halves remains pronounced enough that you can never forget that this is a CRPG grafted onto an adventure-game engine. Your characters even have two completely separate inventories, one for stuff used to fight baddies and one for stuff used to solve puzzles. Thankfully, each half works well enough on its own that you don’t really care; the adventure half as well marked a welcome departure from Meretzky’s recent tendency to mistake annoyance for humor, whilst offering up some of his wittiest puzzles in years.
    Whether underrated classic or merely overlooked curiosity, commercially Hoboken was an utter failure, selling fewer than 10,000 copies. To add insult to injury, shortly after the game's release Legend received a cease & desist from Marvel, who claimed ownership of the trademark for the word "superhero". Fortunately they were able to survive thanks to a major investment from book publisher Random House and would live on for almost another decade, though they would never release another RPG.
     
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  2. KeighnMcDeath RPG Codex Boomer

    KeighnMcDeath
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    Bought the game but didn't play it much as there was a sale on several CDs with multiple RPGs on them. Eventually it was lost under a pile of boxes in a closet esp when I hit more doom mods, to diablo+mods, to too much daggerfall, duke nukem and more. I always meant to get back to it. Woot I'm one of the 10k
     
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  3. Morpheus Kitami Educated

    Morpheus Kitami
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    Huh, it was just Marvel kicking their shit in? Marvel and DC co-own the trademark. That's why everybody has to use "Super Hero" and sound like an idiot. Thanks, trademark law!
    But I don't understand the praise so much. I don't care one way or another if the game has unlimited encounters, so long as I have enough experience to not get completely screwed. That wasn't Hoboken's issue. It was just so...boring. It might be interesting if you've completed a hundred RPGs, but if not, it's just okay.
     
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  4. acer palmatum Scholar

    acer palmatum
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    I bought and played that game back in the day. As far as I remember it was good entertainment for me. Not sure if I played it until the end, but I played it more than a few hours.
     
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  5. KeighnMcDeath RPG Codex Boomer

    KeighnMcDeath
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    [​IMG]
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  6. KeighnMcDeath RPG Codex Boomer

    KeighnMcDeath
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    Hmmmmmm? How so?
     
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  7. taxalot I'm a spicy fellow. Patron

    taxalot
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  8. KeighnMcDeath RPG Codex Boomer

    KeighnMcDeath
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    Yeah, I'm not seeing many having interest in this game. That alone makes me want to play it thoroughly.
     
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  9. JackOfOwls Erudite

    JackOfOwls
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    I've come to hate superhero-themed stuff thanks to Hollywood (not that I has a burning interest in it before that) so I wish it was about something else. Seems a waste for such a high quality game. The Digital Antiquarian is interesting. He has a fully intelligent and professional style about him compared to most gamer journalist/players who can only communicate in the form of some kind of crude snark/humor (Angry Joe, Dr. Disrespect, etc) or are just bad writers/reviewers. I knew TDA was cool when he extensively ranted about Piers Anthony's creepy closet pedophilia on one of his blogposts in a totally fearless, I Don't Give a Fuck What you Think way. Dude is a bro.
     
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  10. KeighnMcDeath RPG Codex Boomer

    KeighnMcDeath
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    There was a playstation set of marvel hero games i wanted to try. It was like top 3/4 view. Looked kind of gaunlet like. X-men Legends maybe?? Yeah PS2. I saw this and thought... hmmmmm.

    ah... wait. Marvel Ultimate Alliance series. I knew there was one with Cap.

    Go Raven Software. So RPG, gauntlet, fighting with combo game?
     
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  11. Bumvelcrow Bellator Sempervirens Patron

    Bumvelcrow
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    Digital Antiquarian used to be a really good read and I'd look forward to his histories of the development of various games and the reaction at the time. Since his Infocom series wrapped up it seems like he's lost interest and spends more time telling you why your opinion of this or that game is wrong because the author once wore blackface or wasn't sufficiently effusive in their depiction of a female hero. Basically, it's not a gaming history any more, it's a list of grievances and finger wagging lectures. There's always been too much of the author in his articles to be a real history, but now it's all author and very little else.
     
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  12. KeighnMcDeath RPG Codex Boomer

    KeighnMcDeath
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    I have Freedom Force & the 3rd Reich but i have no idea what its about or game play. RTWP i thinks? RPG? Dunno. Strategy Brawler? Maybe.
     
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  13. Luzur Prestigious Gentleman Good Sir

    Luzur
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    I had the game back in the day, although only as loose floppies, never had a box or manual. didnt get any far into it either since i was playing other games at the time.

    Although i still remember those Nixon with signs and chinese guys with big mouths LOL
     
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  14. Strange Fellow Criminal Lawn Forcement Patron

    Strange Fellow
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    I played this a while ago. Quoting myself from another thread:
    The main thing that sticks with me about the game is how many locations and items there were and how tedious it got to stay on top of it all.

    There was another point I wanted to make as well, about the disjointedness of the plot. In the end the problem is summarised well in one of the comments below the article:
    Needless to say I disagree with the antiquarian and can't recommend the game. It is funny, though.
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2020
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  15. KeighnMcDeath RPG Codex Boomer

    KeighnMcDeath
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    Super powers = spells? I should watch a review play.
     
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  16. KeighnMcDeath RPG Codex Boomer

    KeighnMcDeath
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    The idea of no ravine:
    Caves of Chaos without Ravine

    You know, one could make a lot of random caves similar and roll randomly on a table. Just make sure to adjust if they connect. It might not even make sense but perhaps the shrine of evil chaos warps reality.
     
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  17. felipepepe Prestigious Gentleman Codex's Heretic Patron

    felipepepe
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    HAHAHAHA NO

    Seriously, that's precisely the game's biggest issue. He must have played it with a walkthrought to say that, because this is an adventure game were some puzzle solutions are rare lot drops from specific monsters! It's the worst idea possible.

    Also, Marvel also killed another superhero game at the time, Bullfrog's The Indestructibles: https://www.unseen64.net/2008/12/08/the-indestructibles-cancelled/

     
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  18. Pope Amole II Prestigious Gentleman Nerd Commando Game Studios Developer

    Pope Amole II
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    Bullshit. This is a game with limited amount of encounters per area, most important encounters are fixed and loot for encounters is quite specific. "Rare loot drops" just isn't something that doesn't exist in this game.
     
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  19. felipepepe Prestigious Gentleman Codex's Heretic Patron

    felipepepe
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    Are you seriously defending "kill all random encounters" as a good solution to a puzzle? It's not, I got stuck on this shit and remember finding other people stuck on it as well. I googled it now, it's the Red Tube Pass. From the walkthrough:

    That's shitty game design, no matter how you put it.
     
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  20. KeighnMcDeath RPG Codex Boomer

    KeighnMcDeath
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    Lol, too many forums up with backdrop. Oh well.
     
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  21. Taka-Haradin puolipeikko Prestigious Gentleman Filthy Kalinite Patron

    Taka-Haradin puolipeikko
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    Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire Make the Codex Great Again! Grab the Codex by the pussy Bubbles In Memoria
    What about Guardians: Agents of Justice?
    Was Marvel causing problems for it too or was it cancelled just because deaths of Microprose and Simtex?
     
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