Hook Champ is kind of like a mashup of Indiana Jones and Tarzan, with splendid 16-bit graphics and absurd humor to boot. We know what you’re thinking: that sounds like the greatest thing of all time. And, really, it almost is.
You play as a master cave adventurer, armed with a grappling hook and aided by a babe with a treasure map. Your goal is to collect priceless idols located in each of the 20 levels. Every stage is full of ceilings, pits, platforms, and obstacles, which you’ll navigate by using a swinging mechanic straight out of Bionic Commando. Oh, and you’re being pursued the whole time by a demon chomper whose enormous mouth will gobble you up and spit out your bones if you’re too slow.
Walking is sluggish, so you’ll be devoured in no time if you rely on that outdated form of transportation to get to the idols. Swinging is the key; it moves you quickly and is a lot of fun, too. Like many things worth the effort, the swinging mechanic in the game is easy to do but hard to master.
Swing, darn you, swing!
You can enter a shop between levels to purchase better hooks, longer ropes, a shotgun, a loot vacuum that acts as a coin magnet, and a slew of stylish hats. Each item has a humorous description. For instance, the best hook is described as, “Gold hook: Shouldn’t latch, but does. Engineers are baffled.” And they’re right: when you purchase this upgrade, the need for precise aiming diminishes noticeably.
Awesome 8-bit music similar to that of the early Mega Man games plays during the title screen and menu, but for some reason disappears during the levels. The only audio you’ll hear as you swing to victory is an old-school sound effect for latching onto a ceiling and the roar of the chomper it gets close. This seems like a major oversight, as a chiptune for each level would have really added to the game.
Watch out for the lava. Or is it magma?
We also wish there was a little more going on in Hook Champ. The graphics and engaging gameplay are reminiscent of classic Mario games, but the levels are far more barren. There are no in-level power ups, no enemies other than the chomper, and very little to interact with aside from coins and breakable blocks. Some levels have hidden jewels scattered throughout, but you can’t take time to explore with the chomper constantly on your tail.
On the other hand, there are plenty of reasons to keep coming back to levels you’ve already played. Online leaderboards show you how you stack up against the masses, and the store is full of items and upgrades requiring plenty of coins. Also, as you get better equipment and increase your swinging skills, it’s fun to replay earlier levels to see how your skills have developed.
Overall, we had a ton of fun with Hook Champ. It provides a combination of delightfully retro graphics, good-humored dialogue, and most importantly, a fun gameplay mechanic. Aside from the few issues we mentioned, what’s not to love?