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Hocus Pocus Episode 1: Time Tripping (PC) artwork

Hocus Pocus Episode 1: Time Tripping (PC) review

"The Land of Lattice is overseen by the Council of Wizards, a ruling body with great power and prestige, which you'd like to be part of one day. Fueling your resolve to this end is the matter of Popopa. That's your girlfriend (as if you didn't know!), and you'd like to marry her (Hocus! I implore you to reconsider! Why risk having your powers split down the middle when things inevitably go wrong!)."

Murdering the Mad Monks of Mellenwah

I'll let you in on a little secret. Hocus Pocus is the name of a series of games featuring a magician. What? You already gathered that? Well, perhaps you didn't gather that Apogee, the former kings of Shareware games, decided actually to name the main character Hocus Pocus. Right, you couldn't have guessed they would be that lame. But the story gets lamer still!

The Land of Lattice is overseen by the Council of Wizards, a ruling body with great power and prestige, which you'd like to be part of one day. Fueling your resolve to this end is the matter of Popopa. That's your girlfriend (as if you didn't know!), and you'd like to marry her (Hocus! I implore you to reconsider! Why risk having your powers split down the middle when things inevitably go wrong!). In order for you to achieve the status necessary to hook up with your true love, you'll need to complete a series of dangerous tasks that Terexin, head of the Council, has laid out for you. The first involves ridding the land of the Mad Monks of Mellenwah who oppress the people by imposing exorbitant tolls on them to extort the carousing travellers. This mission is what Time Tripping is all about. As with all of Apogee's Shareware games, if you like the first game, Time Tripping, in this case, they hope that you'll order the other games in the series from them: Shattered Worlds, Warped and Weary, and finally, Destination Home round out Hocus Pocus' bunch.

Apogee's signature is also evident in the way the game plays. Their favourite genre is the side-scrolling action game, and Hocus Pocus does not deviate from this standard. A fixation with small cutesy characters who fire at foes, leap from platform to platform, and collect copious treasures, is aired out here shamelessly, like proverbial dirty laundry. The formula is like a fix for the people at Apogee. From Commander Keen to Duke Nukem, it often feels as if you've played one of their simplistic hits, you've played them all. But there's a certain charming addictiveness to the easy shooting, the gem collecting, and the goal finding, that makes Hocus Pocus, like the others before it, fun to play. Why then, you might ask, is there such an average score attached to this review? It's the Apogee curse at fault—more on that later.

There are nine stages for Hocus and you to explore. There are only four areas, however. Stage one and two, for example, will be played out in the same general area, with the exact same music. Level's three and four introduce a new, second area, and so on. Only the fourth and final area hosts three stages (seven, eight and nine), as the every other area only hosts two. Your goal in every stage is to find the number of Crystals indicated at the bottom of the screen (the status bar there will read 3/5, for example, so that you know how many you've found, and how many remain unclaimed). All other objectives are quite secondary—killing enemies, finding treasure, making good time—none of them matter in the grand scheme of things, so long as you procure all of those Crystals by any means. Of course, if there's a whole row of belligerent alien beasts impeding passage to you obtaining a Crystal, you'll have to get busy with the trigger finger if avoiding them is not an option.

This is where your newly-honed lightning spell comes in handy. It's your only weapon. So you'll have no doubts about what to do when enemies manifest from out of thin air, their impending arrival marked by firework effects in the general area. There will be no bouncing on beasts ass first, or picking up weeds and tossing them, or any other similar, bizarre techniques at your disposal. Fortunately, someone has very thoughtfully left potions lying around the environs for you to find to juice your lightning bolts and help keep combat interesting. Green vials help to restore your health—you'll need them constantly to compensate for your mistakes borne of your laughable platform skills. Or maybe that's just me.

White potions increase the rate of fire of your weapon; Apogee has done a good job at placing these potions right near where you'll find them most vital. It's up to you to get the potion and immediately proceed to that nook or cranny nearby where you'd have been overrun if not for the rapid-fire the elixir grants you. (Incidentally, there will be an uncomfortable amount of button pounding if you don't have a turbo gamepad or joystick like I do. The rate of fire doesn't increase, really—only the white potion will do that—but the game plays a lot smoother with the turbo fire in light of how much shooting has to be done.)

Sometimes walls can be shot and destroyed by your magic, allowing for further exploration. Beyond that, there are blue potions that warp you about the stage, and sets of switches you must throw in a particular sequence to open passages for you to progress (random switch throwing works best, and that's a good thing, since clicking madly is much more fun than planning).

Stages one and two feature a quiet, pastel blue sky tickled by neutral-shaded giant mushrooms spotted with bright colour. Purply-grey blocks are inoffensive underfoot, while the skulls protruding from the walls are anything but. Despite the lack of intensity, this area might well be your favourite—it was mine.

Somber music sets the tone for the second area, home to levels three and four. The environment consists of grey-silver blocks, stained glass windows, and powdery trees standing spectrally outside while the moon gleams in ominously.

Funhouse music greets us somewhat raucously to level five and six. Demon ram heads loom large on bright blue walls lined by checkered blocks and bordered by the igloos and crystalline snow beyond. The ninjas and the stalactites/spikes make this the toughest challenge of the game.

Your ears will be happy, though your spirit will not be, as the final area ushers in the return of the somber instrumental. The morose grey look of area two is blended here with the bright blue background of area three. Finally, the game throws us its first real twist on what has been a very tidy, repetitive contest until this point: enter the Mad Monks of Mellanwah themselves! They're not much as bosses—they stay in one spot and you're best bet is to run up to them and blast away, absorbing their shots, which, admittedly, are powerful, but are hardly prolific.

While each area introduces new foes (level one's dragons, level seven's white ninjas), once a type of enemy has made your acquaintance, you'll see him in subsequent levels. There are three clear-cut enemy job descriptions. You'll face the reconnaissance team, who just patrol platforms hoping to run into you (brown, red-eyed aliens and waddling penguins). Then there is the infantry, who aren't so satisfied with simply bumping up against you; they've brought firepower into play (the aforementioned fire-breathing dragons, and spear-chucking ninjas). Finally we have the air support. Red, winged demons, or giant grey alien flies, will hover above your position, dropping projectiles. The flying foes are the reason you can shoot directly up in the game, as well as side to side (good lookin' out Apogee, you always know just what to do!).

Replay incentives are to get all the point-boosting treasures often secreted will within walls., as well as beating the time the game has set for you as a goal for each level. Beat the time ad collect all available treasures and you'll feel that proud sense of accomplishment you get in any puzzle game when your objectives are 100 percent complete. But the long, repetitive nature of the game takes away from your will to practice enough to reach these goals after you've completed the game once (an afternoon's work, facilitated by the level save feature). Things don't vary enough from level to level for you to want to have a second go through. Perhaps if the game had just one stage per area, and added one or two more areas, Apogee would have had a bonafide winner on their hands.

As it is though, they've got a very good-looking side-scroller (its visuals fit somewhere between NES and Genesis quality), with a good blend of puzzle and action elements that will hold your attention for at least a day of enjoyable, old school play. But if you could track down the other three games in the series (and I don't think you can anymore, either from Apogee or as freeware) you probably wouldn't.

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 14, 2004)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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