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CONSOLE: PC DEVELOPER: Moonlite Software PUBLISHER: Apogee Software
RELEASE DATE (NA): June 1, 1994 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Sans Bette Midler.

In an age long ago, I was an avid PC gamer. I used to love goofing around with all those old DOS games; they took up a significant amount of my free time in my youth. Unfortunately, I didn't keep up with the practice once my late teenage years faded away, and I have since, discarded my heavy addiction to action-packed PC gaming in favour of dedicated video game consoles and handhelds. Lately, however, I've begun the process of reforming myself, going back and revisiting humble classics. Hocus Pocus just happens to be one of them! I remember going to a K-Mart when I was young (back when K-Mart was actually a place to go in Canada) and seeing the bin of PC games. Were they of the bargain variety? Probably. I remember snatching a few titles that day: the inimitable and oft-deplored Mega Man for PC, the Arabian-seasoned Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire, and, as you probably have already guessed, Hocus Pocus. And it was Hocus Pocus that I liked the most.

I had already played Hocus Pocus courtesy of the old-school shareware model of offering one episode of a game to play for free and then collecting a fee in exchange for the remaining episodes. This method of advertising games really isn't in practice much anymore, with additional content in the form of DLC or in-game purchases being the preferred method of delivering material beyond the foundation of the game. We got the shareware off a local BBS and... hmmm. BBS. Canadian K-Mart. I'm definitely feeling old now.

Hocus Pocus does NOT have anything to do with the movie that came out a year earlier. That's a good thing. I don't really want to play a game starring Sarah Jessica Parker or Bette Midler. Nope, instead you control a budding amateur wizard named Hocus who wishes to join the Council of Wizards. It is, however, not quite as simple as filling out Form 37B. Terexin, head of the Council, sends Hocus on not one, but four quests to obtain a plethora of magic crystals from, and defeat the menacing terrorists that dwell within, each surrounding land. This serves as a sort of makeshift apprenticeship to hone his magical skills as well. As an added bonus (mainly because Terexin doesn't believe in Hocus' abilities as anything but in pipsqueakery), should Hocus succeed, he will be allowed to marry Terexin's attractive daughter, Popopa. Armed with only his finger tips and the lightning bolts that are emitted from them, Hocus sets out to take on the world.

The game is a side-scrolling platformer divided into four episodes. Each episode follows its own quest as a storyline, but the gameplay is always the same. In each of the nine levels per episode, you are expected to hunt down all the round gray crystals. As soon as you collect the last one, you are immediately transported out of there and you move on. There's also plenty of treasure, so if you want to loot the place, go ahead. Collecting all the treasure will net you some bonus points (as will completing the level by a pre-set amount of time). Hocus will also need to find coloured keys to unlock passages or flip switches (often several together in a specific pattern) to progress.

Hocus fights against every creature imaginable... including the trees! They're aliiiiiiive!

This may sound easy, but enemies can appear out of thin air at any time, so Hocus needs to stay on his toes. Hocus shoots lightning bolts and can do so left, right, and upward. You can only fire one at a time, but by picking up items such as additional lightning bolts, white rapid-fire potions, and gray fireball potions, you can kick your arsenal up a notch. The rapid-fire potion is particularly useful, both against regular enemies and the wild bosses that appear during the ninth level of each episode. Health is calculated by percentage, and depending upon the level of difficulty (Easy, Moderate, Hard), you lose a specific amount of health per hit (up to 16% on Hard Mode). The exception is during boss levels, where getting touched by a boss will instantly kill you, no questions asked, no physical required. Health potions are, thankfully, available, just sitting around in wait.

The game looks... cute. Some enemies may be ugly and the surroundings may be dark and foreboding, but the overall visual style assuredly leans towards the fantastical, the cartoonish. It matches with the humorous presentation of the storyline, which aims to be more comical than serious. I know the tree bosses look ridiculously corny. The music is pretty catchy most of the time. There's usually a unique song for every 2-3 levels, although the songs tend to re-appear in later episodes!

I'd also like to mention that, at times, the game can be a tad glitchy but always in the player's favor. At seemingly random times, I will get the ability to toss three powerful fireballs, a feat normally reserved for when I pick up a gray potion. In one level, I had keys in my possession which I never actually acquired -- they just... appeared! I tried to repeat this phenomenon by following the exact same route, but I could not replicate it. Glitches usually cause trouble and anguish, but if they only serve to aid my prosperity, so be it.

Hocus Pocus may be one of the more obscure gems from the Apogee Games library of the early-to-mid-1990s shareware boom, which included the Commander Keen series, Blake Stone, and early Duke Nukem titles. But you want to see a glimpse into the pinnacle of PC platforming in its heyday, you really need to look no further than into this lighthearted magical affair. It's a pretty simple game, but its multiple difficulty settings can be suitable for any audience. You can actually still buy it from Apogee (now 3D Realms), and it's only $5.99. That's not a bad deal. So go and win yourself the hand of Popopa!

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