Sunday, 11 June 2017

Hook - (Won’t You Take Me to) Pirate Town

Written by Joe Pranevich

Clap if you believe in faeries!

Our game begins in a town full of pirates. If you missed the introduction, our protagonist is Peter Banning, a boring and career-obsessed lawyer with two kids. While visiting London, his kids are kidnapped by the evil Captain Hook and taken to Neverland. Mr. Banning learns that faeries are real and that he is actually Peter Pan, grown to middle-age and without his memories. Tinkerbell flies him off to Neverland and they land right smack in the middle of pirate-central. Why there and not with the Lost Boys? I have no idea! In fact, the only reason I know this much is because I vaguely remember the movie as the opening cinematic is sparse on the details. If I will need to recall the film to understand key plot elements throughout the whole game, I may get into trouble quickly.

My first impressions are not too bad. The opening area that I find myself in has a good respect for the Peter Pan mythos: the Crocodile, Hook’s ticking nemesis, stands stuffed in the center of the square as a sign that the pirates have won in Pan’s absence. The whole town seems to be made of parts of ships pulled together, perhaps from a long history of shipwrecks on the Neverland shores. Tinkerbell is my constant companion, hovering around Peter’s head, but the pirates don’t seem to pay much attention to either her or me. What am I supposed to be doing?

Peter and Hook squint and fidget a bit every now and then.

I size up the interface and it’s pretty understandable: bottom-of-screen actions like LucasArts games while adapting Sierra-style cursors. We have icons for “look”, “speak”, “get”, “use”, and “give”. Underneath those is a box for inventory items. I already have a “letter about the project”, a “holster phone” and a checkbook. Strangely, the save game disk is also an inventory object! By “using” it, we can get to a very simple saved game menu with five save slots and no way to label them. I hope that there will be a metafictional moment later where you have to throw your saved game disk at a pirate or something, but I suspect I ask too much. Unlike the Sierra games, your mouse cursor doesn’t change when you click on an icon but at least mousing over exits tell you where they lead. Finally, a ton of space is set aside in the corners for images of Hook and Pan. Every now and then they sneer or something but maybe that will be used for something later. All in all, it’s not a bad system but we’ll see how it plays.

What do I do first? I try talking to Tinkerbell and that’s doubly an exercise in frustration: first, because she’s so hard to catch as she moves around quickly and second, because all she says when I finally nab her is, “Welcome to Neverland!” I can talk to a few of the pirates that run by but all Peter does is ask about Hook and no one wants to answer. The area scrolls a bit to the left and right and we can find a tailor shop, a bait shop, roads to the north and west, and a pier to the east. Of course, I’m making up the compass directions but you get the idea.

Pants and Magnets ‘R’ Us

I hit the tailor shop and get the first clue what I am supposed to do: I need a pirate uniform! Why, I have no idea, but Tinkerbell says I need one so I believe her. I talk to the shopkeeper and am initially concerned that the game is bugged because conversation gets stuck in an endless loop, but that’s just me misunderstanding the interface: when you talk, you have to right-click to change Peter’s response. I was left-clicking and so always picking the first option since it wasn’t clear I had a choice. I should have been more careful reading the manual! Running through all my options, I discover that the tailor would be happy to sell me a hat (44 gold), pants (84 gold), or a magnet (9 gold). Since all I have is a checkbook and he won’t take either that or an IOU, I leave. I’ll need to find a way to get some money.

There’s an Emmy on the shelf in honor of all the awards Hook would *cough* win.

Just down “Mugger’s Alley” to the north, I find the “Jolliest Roger’s Place”, a tavern catering to drunk pirate patrons. The Jolly Roger, if you are not up on your Peter Pan, was the name of Captain Hook’s ship. There’s a huge “Hook vs. Pan” banner on the wall and the bartender tells me that they are gearing up for a final war between Hook and his young adversary. A pirate in the corner, labeled simply “lazy pirate”, offers a few more dialog options than most: he tells me that when he drinks too much cocoa, he falls asleep and people steal his clothes. Aha! Is that a way to get a pirate’s uniform without having to pay the tailor? I ask the bartender about cocoa and he’s happy to sell me some for a gold piece but they are all out of mugs. Really? I’m not sure if I’m more perplexed by a bar serving hot cocoa to pirates or one that doesn’t have anything to put drinks in.

The engine’s seams are beginning to show already. The pirates we’ve come across while exploring are named simply like “dumb pirate” or “dangerous pirate”. Most of them do not have unique dialog, but we have to try them all anyway because (like the “lazy pirate”), some of them do. We have to talk to everyone or risk missing an important clue. After the main square, the screens have been quite static with very little music or animation to speak of to bring them to life.

This looks promising...

The next stop down the alley is Dr. Chop, a multi-purpose dentist and surgeon that serves pirate clientele. His character design is cartoonish and doesn’t match the style of the rest of the game. Tinkerbell tells me that his clock is magnetic, another example of a clue given before I have any idea what the heck she is talking about. There isn’t even a clock in the room! When chatting up the dentist, he offers one gold coin for one of my gold teeth and I intend to say “no” but bump the left mouse button instead. Oops! He props Peter up in the chair and extracts one of our teeth. Fortunately, it doesn’t kill me and I end up one gold coin richer, but I do not have nearly enough teeth to buy a suit of clothes. Before I leave, I snag the roller blind off his window. Why? I have no idea but it wasn’t nailed down. I also try to snag the map of the island but it is stuck to the wall beyond my reach.

Shouldn’t that be “fairies”?

The alley ends at a different road into town but Peter refuses to go down that way… yet. Is that where I need to go once I get a full set of clothes? I am not sure. Off to the right is a pair of passages to Good Form Pier and its associated beach. Hook’s ship is moored nearby but a guard won’t let me onto it because I’m not a pirate. Aha! That is why I needed the pirate uniform! I’m not upset about the puzzle but it seems lazy somehow that I get hints to the solution before I even learn what the obstacle is. There’s also a sign that says “no fairys” so I may have to part ways with Tink before I board. I check out the beach as well but there doesn’t appear to be anything I can do yet. (Editor’s Note: Yes, I was absolutely blind and missed the “X” on the beach. I was too busy monkeying with the plywood and pulley but I’ll get back to it, I promise.)

I hope no one needs to use the bathroom...

Since I explored all the way down Mugger’s Alley, I head back to Pirate Square and finish exploring the other two exits from there. First up is Dead Man’s Pier off to the east, a scenic spot with a pirate fishing in front of a beautiful Neverland sunset. There are two shops there: the Crossed Swords Inn and a bait shop. I explore the inn first, stealing a mug off of a table, but not finding much else I can do. A sleeping pirate is blocking a set of stairs to a door labeled “WC” and I know my Britishisms enough to expect that means a bathroom. If I want to explore there, I’ll have to find a way to wake the pirate. (An alarm clock?) I also see if I can steal his clothes but the game doesn’t even give me that option.

I’d like to buy some… bait?

The bait shop… doesn’t look like a bait shop. If anything, it looks like another bar. If fact, now that I put these screenshots next to each other, the last two rooms look surprisingly similar! The pirate at the table in the lower left is identical between the two buildings, the second floor is on the same level, same clock, etc. I sense budget-cutting. At the top of the stairs are two doors: one with a sign that says “busy” and another leading to a balcony overlooking Pirate Square but I don’t see anything that I can do there yet.

So, I have to ask? Is this all an elaborately hidden prostitution joke in a children’s game? There is no “bait” for sale here anywhere. The name of the store is “Bait and Tackle” and there was a fisherman outside but inside doesn’t have anyone selling any fishing gear. Is this an obscure pun on “wedding tackle”, a British euphemism for male genitalia? Does the “busy” sign mean what I think it means? Am I reading too much into this or did they really hide a brothel in Neverland?

More clothes!

My final stop is the western exit from Pirate Square. Despite looking like a major thoroughfare, it actually leads only to a small alley containing someone’s laundry. Peter seems particularly drawn to a jacket on the line but there’s no way to reach it. I mark this down as a clue.

Unfortunately, I’ve now explored all of the rooms so I have to hunker down to solve puzzles. My first stop is back to the tavern and I purchase a cup of hot cocoa from the barman. Strangely, we don’t use the “use” icon here, rather we “give” both the money and the mug to the barman one by one and a full mug of cocoa appears in our inventory. At least, I assume it’s cocoa. The game just tells us that it is a “full mug” from this point. Was the whole “cocoa” joke a last-minute replacement for an alcoholic beverage? I give the cocoa to the lazy pirate… and nothing happens. There's no animation. He doesn’t mention it. He doesn’t react. There is no feedback at all except that the item disappears from my inventory. I talk to him again and nothing is different, not even the dialog options about sharing a drink. Is this a bug?

I restart the game just in case and this time re-explore everything to see things that I might have missed. I missed a lot! You really have to click on everything. I am out of practice with these types of games…

How’s the fishin’?

Doing a pixel-by-pixel hunt of the game, I find a number of things that I missed on my first pass:
  • Two more mugs, one in the Crossed Swords Inn and one in the “bait shop”. They were in plain sight but I didn’t think to try and pick up them all.
  • A washing line pole and an anchor in the alley with the hanging laundry. 
  • A second gold coin if I’m willing to get another tooth pulled. After that, I’m out of gold teeth. Dr. Chop also (finally) tells me that he buried his clock on the beach. I find the obvious “X” there but we can’t use our hands to dig. I suspect this is where I’ll need the magnet from the tailor’s shop.
  • A spare rope on the pier by the fisherman.
  • Tinkerbell gives me a lot more tips if I keep talking to her. I make it a habit to talk to her in every room, but I’m not sure if the location matters or not. 
Using all my new stuff, I work out that I can almost grab the jacket off the line with my pole but am stopped when the washer-woman pokes her head out the window and yells at me. I’ll need to figure out a more subtle method. I also work out that I can tie the rope to the anchor but at this point I am unsure what I could use that for other than mooring a boat. Using my second painful gold coin, I buy another mug of cocoa for the lazy pirate but still get no feedback at all. Tinkerbell occasionally gives me a hint that I’m on the right track (“Fake Jake looks like he needs a mug of cocoa or two”), but I’m not completely sure that the lazy pirate that I am giving the cocoa to is even “Fake Jake” since there’s no way to find out his name.

A complete accident!

While experimenting, I stumble on something terribly random. I was up on the balcony next to the… er… bait shop trying to see what I could do with the crocodile. I thought I could snag the clock out of the crocodile’s mouth by throwing the anchor and rope at it. Instead, I end up swinging all the way across Pirate Square. It’s exciting! It also defies physics because the rope gets thrown well-above anything it could attach to, but that’s okay. On the other side of the square, I land on a balcony with a door. I knock and it’s the lady who works at the laundry! She doesn’t want to let me in and I end up having to swing all the way back empty-handed.

I swing back and this time Tinkerbell gives me a hint that the tavern keeper knows how to get a hat. I chat him up and discover that in his youth, he would swing across the square and steal people’s hats. That sounds like just what I needed! I do the swinging again and this time I retrieve a hat off of one of the pirates below. I do not know if it was just that I got lucky or if there is some timing involved but I have one item down. Tinkerbell’s next hint is that we can play tricks on Mrs. Smeedle, the washer woman. I have no idea how contextual these are but it seems that the quality of her hints just skyrocketed. Either I was just unlucky before or I’m on the right track now. With that hint, I do the swinging and knocking yet again but this time try to run all the way from there to the hidden area behind the square. I make it (in two attempts) and am able to snag the jacket without being interrupted. That’s two! Where do I get the third? That answer comes quickly: the jacket contains the missing third gold piece that I needed to buy another cup of cocoa. I use that and finally the “lazy pirate” falls asleep! I steal his clothes and have to search to find someplace private to get changed; I end up doing it back where I stole the jacket. That’s very subtle, Peter, returning to the scene of the crime with the stolen goods literally on your back…

I’m a pirate with a fairy. Do you have a problem with that?

With the outfit on, the guard blocking Hook’s ship disappears and I can board. The ship is a few screens wide with a crowd of pirates blocking the way on the far left and a prison cell and cargo hold entrance on the right. The pirates are listening to someone give a speech, but I can’t press my way through. Similarly, I can’t seem to open the cell or enter the hold. I can interact with the cannons on the deck, but the game doesn’t let me fire any of them. It takes another pixel hunt of the entire game, but I find eight gold coins in the pots of gunpowder by the cell. Now, I can buy the magnet!

Not an efficient means of treasure-hunting.

I buy the magnet off of the tailor and I use it on the big red “X” on the beach. That pulls up a still-ticking alarm clock. I remember from the TV show that Hook hates the sound of ticking because it reminds him of the crocodile that ate his hand. I take the clock onto the ship and this time the crowd parts to let me through. As we approach Hook, he hears the ticking and pauses his speech. He captures us and Peter gives a wimpy little speech before he is silenced by Hook. The captain is disappointed and Tinkerbell negotiates with him for three days to get “Peter Pan” back into fighting shape. Even with that agreement, he forces Peter to walk the plank and we disappear beneath the waves.

“Bite your tongue. Don't make a scene, dear.”

So far, I am of a mixed mind. It took a long time for me to figure out what to do and start solving puzzles, but once I got back into the mold of pixel-hunting and random experimentation, it went pretty quickly. I also came to appreciate Tinkerbell’s help once I worked out that I need to talk to her frequently to get all of the clues that I needed to progress. The game is missing some polish and flair, but it’s not half bad. Let’s see how the rest of it goes now that we’re out of the opening section.

Glub, glub, glub.

Time played: 6 hr 5 min
Inventory: Letter, Phone, Checkbook, Pole, Anchor & Rope, Magnet, Alarm Clock


  1. So you are trying to become like a pirate and end up underwater? Why am I getting Monkey Island vibes here?

    1. Light-hearted pirate adventure would probably always seem a bit like Monkey Island but I agree that there are a good number of homages.

    2. More like "staying true to the source material." The first Neverland sequence in the movie is, in broad strokes, the same as the game; Tinkerbell brings Pan to the pirate town to face Hook (not realizing how useless Pan is at this time), helps him disguise himself as a pirate to get close to Hook, they face off and Pan is captured (because he's useless), and Hook is so despondent at how ridiculously easy that was that he agrees to Tinkerbell's offer to make the war interesting. And then dumps Pan in the drink, where he is saved by mermaids (per the screenshot).

      If anything, the *movie* is paying homage to Monkey Island.

    3. I know that the game follows the source material, but it's more a matter of emphasis. Dressing up as pirate is a short scene in the whole movie, here it is almost half of the whole game.

    4. Yeah, some of these screenshots are quite Monkey Island'y. The graphics aren't as nice ( in my opinion anyway ), but the composition is quite similar in some of them. The tailor shop is a dead ringer for the woodworker's shop in MI2. At least if you squint a little...

    5. I agree and have been working up some comparisons for later, but having now seen "Hook" I can say that many of the pirate sequences feel a bit like Monkey Island, even in live-action. They certainly pulled out key Monkey Island tropes to use in this game, plus the art-style, but I agree with Voltgloss that a lot of that fell out of what they were adapting.

      More on the second big MI ripoff in the next few days.

  2. Funky town! ( Title reference )

    1. Gotta make a move to a town that's right for me!

  3. You solved most difficult puzzles very easily, I was stuck here for years (got this game as a 8 year old with no english skills).

    Fun fact, if you run this game on DOS with not enough memory, the game boots fine, but the inventory will be empty (no save item !) and you won't be able to access some parts (for example, the dentist and the entire section won't be available), the cursor just won't show you the location.

    1. It wasn't all that easy, I had a heck of a time figuring out how to start. It was more than six hours at that part so I glossed over some of the random failures and such. The hardest one here was the swinging one but I solved it completely by accident. No way would I have thought to swing on nothing-- I was trying to get to the crocodile!

  4. That would be an Oscar on the shelf. As a movie, Hook would be extremely unlikely to win an Emmy, which is for television.

    I was initially tempted to say it might be Spielberg's Oscar, but he hadn't actually won any by 1991 so that doesn't pan out either.

  5. Oh snap. I wish it had been deliberate now, it would have hooked in nicely.