by: Roger Barr
Dual 5 1/4" floppy drives, dot matrix printers, EGA monitors... ahh yes, those were the days. It was a simpler time, back when "going online" meant dialing in to a local computer BBS to play ANSI door games like "Tradewars 2002" and "The Pit" for hours on end. I should know; long before I started I-Mockery, I ran a computer BBS for years and had an absolute blast doing so. My parents hated it for a while, because the house would get phone calls in the middle of the night, and when they answered the phone, all they would hear is that piercing, garbled modem noise from somebody trying to dial into my BBS. Eventually, I got a private line of my own for it (and upgraded to a blazing fast 14.4k Zoom modem!) and the BBS was up 24/7 without waking up my family late at night any more.
In addition to meeting some really nice people with similar interests in my town, one of the great things about running that BBS for all those years was a lot of the members on my board would upload shareware games to it for myself and other members to check out. Long before I played any of the classic adventure games by Sierra (King's Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, etc.) and LucasArts (Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Loom, etc.), I was introduced to a little shareware adventure game called Hugo's House of Horrors:
Needless to say, upon seeing this opening screen, I knew this was going to be a game I would not stop playing any time soon. I already loved anything involving horror (shocking, I know), so getting to play a game where you guide some guy into a haunted house to save his missing girlfriend sounded absolutely awesome. Keep in mind, at the time, this wasn't a game where you used your mouse to move around... you had to literally type in every command. As with all adventure games, there's a lot of trial & error involved, but some of those errors can produce some laughs. For example:
Ok, so typing "FART" wasn't an error or particularly mature, but I remember half the fun of games like this was to play them with friends while typing in something ridiculous to see what it would respond with. In this case, Hugo reacts by exclaiming, "Same to you, loser!" He's got a temper, that one.
Now, two decades later, I've come back to the game after discovering it was re-released to be compatible with Windows, and I thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane and play through the whole thing. Fortunately, they let you use a mouse to move around now, which makes playing the game a lot easier than it used to be. Perhaps it's nostalgia, but I still enjoy typing in a lot of the commands, so I'll be doing that a lot as I play through it this time. Before we begin, if you're interested in getting a copy of the game, you can buy it here.
Alright, now with the big introduction out of the way, let's get down to business and play through Hugo's House of Horrors!
Once you're done looking at the bat or trying to climb the fence, you'll want to smash the pumpkin on the front porch there to reveal a key that unlocks the front door. I remember doing this instinctively and thinking I was a goddamn genius for figuring it out so quickly... and you know what? I was.
Before we go inside, I just have to say that this exterior haunted house graphic has appeared in countless Halloween clipart collections over the years. In fact, I just did a Google image search for "haunted house clipart" and a black & white version of it still appears as the second result! I'm always amused to see it it still floating around in those collections after all these years, because I was sure that nobody even knew it originated in an old PC adventure game.
Moving on, we're now inside the house in the main hall area and have to collect a few things: the candle from the table, and a pocket knife and whistle from the cubbyhole beneath the stairs. While you're in there, you notice some inconspicuous eyeballs looking at you from behind those paintings. I used to think there was some way to get to a secret passage behind them, but this wasn't the case. Couldn't even poke them in the eyes, the peeping bastards. With the aforementioned items now in our inventory, it's time to move upstairs into the bedroom. But wait!
If you're like me, the first thing you'd do upon acquiring those items would be to blow the whistle. Sorry, but this isn't Legend of Zelda... for if you blow that whistle in this house of horrors, somebody comes to greet you:
Greet you and eat you that is. Of course, your death isn't very graphic or anything, though that psycho dog with the red eyes is covered in blood. So yeah, lesson learned... don't blow the whistle while wandering around in the house unless you want to be mauled by psycho dog. Ok, let's move onward to the bedroom.
The bedroom is pretty small, so there's not much mystery about what to do here. You open up the cabinet and discover a "grotesque monkey's head" mask inside it. Hey, I never claimed the game didn't have completely random elements, that's part of its charm. Speaking of charm, if you try looking under the bed, the computer basically mocks you in something akin to Kuni in Weird Al's UHF. Good times.
We now head to the next room over, the bathroom, in search of more things for the ol' inventory. What we find instead is a surprisingly clean bathroom. This always surprised me, because I never figured a haunted house full of monsters would ever bother cleaning up after themselves. Well, except maybe for Dracula. That guy has class. But the Creature from the Black Lagoon? He'd try swimming in the toilet for chrissakes, and he doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who's gonna clean up after himself. He's more likely to eat a roll of toilet paper than use it for what it was intended for.
Well anyway, Hugo refuses to look inside the toilet for any clues, and when you tell him to piss, he really overreacts by exclaiming, "Yeugh! How uncouth!" Come on Hugo, you'd probably find clues a lot easier if you weren't distracted by a full bladder, don't ya think? Fortunately for him, there's a big "333" scribbled in red ink on the mirror above the sink. It's either telling us that the monsters in this haunted house are only mildly evil, or it's a clue that will come in handy later. Hmmm, I wonder which it could be? Before leaving the bathroom, I told Hugo to wash his hands and he said, "Look, are you taking this game seriously, or what?" No Hugo, I'm not, and besides... cleanliness is next to godliness.
Alright, let's see what's in that last upstairs room...
Upon entering that room, you get a notice telling you, "The high frequency cosmic radiation emanating from this rooms knocks your mask onto the floor! (You can pick it up again when you come out!)" SCIENCE! Who are we to question such bulletproof logic? Once inside, you discover it's a lab belonging to The Mad Professor (hey, it's not just scientists who go mad) and he wants you to walk into his box for an experiment. Seeing as you really want the rubber bung that's on the table behind the door, you cautiously agree to do it.
The Mad Professor tells his adorably green assistant, Igor, to push the blue button, but since he's color blind, he pushes the red one and you get shrunk down to half your original size. Annoyed with Igor, the Mad Professor storms out of the room and leaves you alone in there. Now you're small enough to walk behind the glass door and grab the rubber bung.
Guys, it's taken me over thirteen friggin' years to write an article where I get to say "grab the rubber bung," so I'm gonna revel in it here for a moment. Sure, a rubber bung is just a fancy, scientific way of naming a cork or a stopper, but a rubber bung transcends all conventional uses, and absolutely needs to become a part of our common vernacular. The next time you're at a restaurant, ask your server if they have any fine wines that are sealed with a rubber bung. If they say they don't have any or (even worse) they don't know what a rubber bung is, let out a big chortle and shout, "And you have the gall to call yourself a restaurant!? Good day sir! I SAID, GOOD DAY!" and proceed to storm the hell out of there. If we don't take these kind of drastic actions, rubber bungs will never have their chance to shine in the spotlight. Let the rubber bungs into your hearts, people... let them in.
Now listen up. Before we do anything else in the game, I think we need to take a minute here to appreciate the true star of Hugo's House of Horrors. No, not rubber bungs, though they clearly come in a close 2nd place. I'm talking about IGOR!
I mean, just look at the guy. He's green, has a red eyes, ears and a belly button, and walks around in nothing but purple underwear (and I bet if he want back in time, his mom would see them and call him "Calvin"). If there's any single character in this game who deserves to have a spin-off game of his own, it's gotta be Igor, the colorblind lab assistant. Hell, I could see him, Karnov and Abobo going on an epic bald guy's adventure together. Even Hugo knows Igor has something special, for if you look at him, he remarks, "He has a certain charm, I suppose!" Indeed, Hugo... indeed!
Ok, so after you've grabbed the bung and allowed Igor to fiddle with the buttons some more until he made you normal again, you put on your monkey mask and head on downstairs to the dining room. There you'll find a butler who will give you a tasty steak chop, but you can't sit at the table with all the other cool monsters, because you weren't invited. It's a damned shame too, because sitting at the table are some of the world's most famous monsters, Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster, along with some of the more unsung ones, such as Slime and Pea Head. You can try talking to any of them, but they're either really rude to you, or tell you a bad joke straight off the back of a Bazooka gum wrapper. Either way, not a dinner party you should be attending.
Oh, and if you're wondering why you needed that monkey mask? If you ask the Butler for a chop without your mask on, he'll chop off your head. Very good, sir.
With your head still intact, it's time to head out the back door and enter the old shed. But wait! There's a combination lock on the door! Crikey! Now what do we do!? Well, if you're like me, you wonder why you just typed "crikey" when your name isn't Steve Irwin, and then you remember the "333" that was scribbled on the bathroom mirror. Bingo! The lock opens up and you venture into the shed to collect an oil can.
From there, you head back inside and enter the room to the left of the kitchen where that psycho dog, who mauled us earlier in the game, is currently hanging out. Since the dog moves fast, you have to be quick here, so what I always did was type "give dog chop" just before I went into the room, and then hit the enter key as soon as I saw him charging at me. Now that the dog is distracted by the tasty chop, you lift up the carpet and discover the secret door (which many of you will now get the reference I made to this in my "Trick-Or-Treat Adventure Quest" game) and use some oil to loosen up the lock. Sadly, you no longer need to wear your monkey mask in the game, so it makes you throw it away. Personally, I'd feel safer exploring the depths of a haunted house with the monkey mask on. It got me this far in the game, what suddenly gives Hugo the foresight to realize he'll never need it again, anyway? Oh plot holes... how we love thee.
After heading down the trap door, you find yourself in a basement which appears to be a storage facility for large boulders. There's also an iron door which you can see your girlfriend, Penelope, locked inside of. Of course, if you try opening it, the game makes fun of you for thinking it was gonna be that easy, so you have to keep searching around the room for another way to reach her. Since we don't share Hugo's visual perspective, we eventually wander between the two boulders in the center of the room and suddenly end up in a bat-infested cave. Don't question the logic, just go with it.
There's an opening on the other side of the cave, but those bats will get ya if you don't act quick. Fortunately, science reigns supreme, and their "sonar-like hearing" is messed up when you blow on your whistle. I guess psycho dog was still chowing down on the steak chop to care about coming to find you down in the bat cave. Well, the dog was nothing compared to this next enemy:
If there's one thing in the game that annoyed me, it was The Mummy. Correction: Mummy on Speed. As far as classic horror movie depictions of the mummy go, he's usually seen as an extremely powerful, but slow, supernatural force. Much like zombies, if you can move a little faster than they do, you're generally gonna be ok unless you get cornered. That's not the case with this mummy. He's insanely fast, and I still have nightmares about how he would say "Gotcher!!" whenever he caught Hugo, so your only hope is to use the AI to your advantage by strategically making him get stuck behind boulders in the room. If you get him to follow you in a counter-clockwise path, he'll end up stuck behind the boulder on the far left, where all he can do is sob as he watches you steal all his treasure. Stupid mummy... can't even figure out how to move around a rock.
In the next room, we find a small lake with a boat floating in it and an old man fishing on the opposite side. Hugo either doesn't care about Penelope enough to just swim across the water, or he simply doesn't want to get wet, because the only way it allows you to get across that water is to use the boat. Problem is, there's a hole in the boat. If only we had some way to plug that hole. Hey, wait a minute! I've got just the solution!
Yes! That's how you plug a hole in a boat... with a goddamn RUBBER BUNG! Oh rubber bung, where would we be without you? We'd be absolutely lost, that's where we'd be.
With your boat hole properly bung-plugged, you can cross the dangerous 10 foot wide lake to see what the deal with the old fisherman is. Apparently, he's a jerk who won't let you hop ashore unless you answer some of his trivia questions. Hugo, being a total pacifist, decides to answer the old man's questions instead of just picking him up and throwing him in the lake (something I wanted to do many a time).
Keep in mind, this was before the advent of Google, so if you didn't know how to solve a question about the Chronicles of Narnia, you were gonna have to ask other people for the answers or do some reading. Yep, back then, games made us actually use our brains! Now you know where the "horror" part of "Hugo's House of Horrors" really comes from. Once you've answered all of his questions, including the incredibly difficult "Are you sure you want to rescue Penelope?" (which I'm still not sure about to this day), the old man allows you to pass into the final area. Remember, he warned us that there were dangers through yonder passage? I was expecting some horrible mummy-dog hybrid that would kill me in an instant, but as it turns out, the old man was talking out of his ass.
Yep, no real challenge awaits you, just a badly sunburned moustache man who, like Igor, has a penchant for purple underwear. He also has a penchant for treasure, and it only takes one gold coin to get him to step aside so you can finally go rescue you beloved Penelope. Believe it or not, that was your big final challenge... bribing a sunburned guard with a nice moustache. House of horrors, indeed!
You walk through the doorway and find Penelope, sitting behind a desk. For some reason, she only appears as a shadow on this screen, but I'm sure that's just to keep the mystery of her identity hidden from us until we get a close-up shot of her. Oh wait, no... it's not that at all. We don't get to see her face at all, all we get to see is hugo spinning around doing a crazy celebratory dance followed by this:
That's it. No explanation as to who kidnapped Penelope, no explanation about what evils plans were taking place, no explanation about where the mad professor stormed off to, and to top it all off, we never even get to see the face of Penelope. Wait, now that I think about it, this is actually a horrible ending. Look at Hugo! Penelope apparently sucked all the life out of him and turned him into a shadow just like herself! Turns out the real horrors weren't inside that house at all... they were in his marriage! Whoah, talk about an unforseen surprise ending twist!
Well, if you ask me, it's not all bad news. Maybe I'm just a hopeless romantic at heart, but I like to think that there was one truly happy ending to this tale...
It may be a small entry in the history of PC games, but Hugo's House of Horrors had a big influence in getting me interested in creating games of my own. With that in mind, I'd like to extend a hearty thanks to David P. Gray for all the hours of entertainment, the laughs and the inspiration that this little game gave me back in the day.
Again, if you'd like to support this old indie game, it has been re-released for Windows in a pack that includes both Hugo sequels as well for only 10 bux. You can buy it here. Well worth the wave of classic PC monster game nostalgia it brought me, and I'm looking forward to trying out the sequels too. I still think Igor deserves a game of his own though. Come on David, isn't it time to let Igor shine?
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