Superhero League of Hoboken
Apparently, America of the future isn’t as bright as everyone expected it to be. In fact about the only bright spots is the glowing, radiated wasteland that it now consists of. Society has blasted themselves into a new dark age but amid the flooded, polluted ruins a new kind of hero has emerged. These mutations have decided to use their incredible powers for the good of mankind and so the Superhero Leagues were born. Unfortunately, your predecessor did a pretty poor job of running the Hoboken branch and consequently, they now lie at the bottom of the league table. You are the Crimson Tape the new leader and along with fellow heroes like Mademoiselle Pepperoni and Tropical Oil Man plan on turning things around and earning a little respect along the way. It’s not going to be easy though. The competition is fierce and your arch-nemesis the evil Dr. Entropy is on the loose but no one said being a superhero was going to be easy.
As you might have gathered from the goofy storyline this game doesn’t take itself too seriously and this is one of the things that make it so refreshingly different. SHLOH actually consists of three distinct parts which make it hard to classify but basically, it combines elements of role-playing and adventure games for something completely different. While exploring the huge map of your surroundings you travel around in a top-down view with your party represented by a red dot. Unexplored areas of the map are dark and as in games like Civilization, you slowly uncover your surroundings as you wander around. The overhead graphics aren’t that hot but like I said there is plenty to explore and this is only one part of the game. While exploring you might trigger a random encounter with enemies and this is where the combat mode kicks in. Encounters are resolved in turn-based fashion and should be familiar to RPG players. Your enemies are anything but ordinary though and consist of the weirdest bunch of freaks ever found in a computer game. Don’t underestimate these guys as you can be killed. If you are in over your head you can always try to flee or depending on the greed and compassion of your foes bribe them or beg for mercy. You have a handy gadget that will show you how dangerous the area you are traveling through is so if you get your ass kicked it’s your own fault. A nice touch is that you can actually clean out all the enemies in a sector giving you a nice experience point bonus and making it safe to travel through in the future. Exploring every square of a sector will also net you a bonus.
The reason that there are Superhero Leagues though (besides making sure Superheroes can find a date on a Saturday night) is to fight crime so at the start of each level you’ll get a couple of really weird missions to tackle. It’s usually up to you to decide in what order you’ll do them but some need to be completed first to find items needed in other ones. Dr. Entropy is also usually up to some harebrained scheme and only after solving the other mission will you get to face him. With quests like stopping a flock of rabid sheep that are terrorizing the populace or stopping a petty warlord from declaring war on Afghanistan, you’re going to have your hands full. Every time you reach an important location on your map the game switches to adventure mode which will be familiar to Legend fans and those who played their previous games like Companions Of Xanth. With a nice hand-drawn picture of your location, a list of verbs to the left and your inventory along the bottom this mode is where you’ll be solving the games myriad of puzzles. There are a few slightly obscure ones but overall the puzzles aren’t that hard and although funny at times won’t hold you up for long. It’s usually a matter of traveling around until you find the right item needed to solve a simple puzzle. Even easier are the missions where you simply let one of your heroes use their ‘amazing’ powers to complete the mission. Who knew the power to ‘refold roadmaps’ and ‘eat really spicy food’ would ever come in handy? Some superheroes are only useful for one or two puzzles but feel free to experiment since you can’t waste or misuse items. The missions are really cool but easily completed so it’s a pity that there’s not much in the way of side quests. There’s also not much conversations or interaction with other characters apart from a few occasions.
Starting out with only three heroes in your party by the end of the game you’ll have up to nine to manage. There are usually more heroes around than you can fit in your party so you’ll have to pick carefully as the rejects are left back at base lounging in the lunchroom. Scattered about or found in some shops is different colored isotopes which when drunk will give you new powers or boost existing ones. Food like beef or fish can also be consumed to increase stats like brawn or intelligence. Your biggest priority is finding the various colored tube passes which will give you access to the train stations dotted around the map. This is the only way to reach some locations vital to your quest and there are loads of the things to be found. Thankfully you can save at any time and rest on any of the adventure screens. You can only rest after combat though and will need to return to base or a hostel at some point to stock up on food but there are a lot less tedium and repetition than in most similar games. The audio fits the game nicely and they’ve really gone to town with the whole superhero theme thing. I would have liked a bit more sound effects but overall I have no major complaints in this department.
As with any good game SHLOH also has a few annoyances but nothing that seriously detracts from the gameplay. The wacky, over the top humor, isn’t going to appeal to everyone’s taste but I think it makes a nice change from all the serious doom and gloom RPG’s out there. I mean how many other games let you visit a brothel for experience points. For all the cool weapons and powers (a trained Doberman, chainsaw, swarm of hornets and much more) you never actually get to see them in action although I have to say the amusing attacks certainly make combat a lot more interesting. If you like your games injected with a large dose of humor then I heartily recommend this one. It’s loads of fun while it lasts and you’ll be playing through it with a smile on your face.
*Review originally published in 1994.