Review - Hodj 'n' Podj (Windows 3.x, 1995)

Once upon a time . . .

The name Steve Meretzky is usually associated with humorous adventure games, and has been since his days with Infocom a decade ago. But lately, Meretzky has been stretching into new areas of the gaming universe. A few months ago, he combined the standard Legend adventure with role-playing game mechanics and, of course, his trademark twisted wit, and came up with a unique product, Superhero League of Hoboken. Now, Meretzky has his own design company, Boffo Games, and is continuing to expand his creative horizons with Hodj 'n' Podj, distributed by Virgin Interactive.

Hodj and Podj are identical twin brothers who are in search of the twin princesses of Po-Poree, Mish and Mosh. These equally beautiful redheads have been kidnapped by the evil prime minister, Salamagundee, and are hidden somewhere in the kingdom. Whichever of the brothers manages to return the princesses to the grieving King Medlee will get to pick one of them to be his wife, and will get to join them in ruling equitably over the land.

If this sounds like a children's adventure game, think again. Hodj 'n' Podj is truly a game for all ages, with a sense of humor similar to that of Jay Ward's Bullwinkle. The kids might not get all the jokes, but they'll be having such a good time that they won't care.

Despite what it sounds like, this isn't an adventure game at all. The quest takes the form of a board game, complete with a spinner to decide how far each player goes, and spaces where you win or lose turns and money. You don't see those spaces on the board, but the results are narrated to you by a delightful British voice. The playing field is full of colorful place names like the Glacier of Giddiness or Cape Chuckle. Hodj 'n' Podj navigate this humorous terrain in serious competition with each other, and this can either be done with two human players or one person playing the computer. If you choose the latter, you can not only adjust how hard things are on you, but how smart your opponent is.

In order to find the princesses, you must enter some of the buildings in town and play mini-games. These are not adventure puzzles that you solve once and then never want to look at again. They are very replayable games ranging from poker to the traditional island game of Mankala to a word search. There are even arcade classics that have been adapted to the medieval scenario, like Space Invaders and Pac Man. If you do well in the games, you will receive either a cash reward, a special item or information on where the princesses are hidden or what items you will need to retrieve them.

When the hostages have finally been released by one brother or the other, they must be returned to the castle before the game is over. Before that happens, the opponent can try to meet his sibling on the road and challenge him to any of the 19 mini-games. Whoever wins gets to take the princesses. But after this takes place, another challenge can be initiated, and so on and so forth until somebody finally makes it back to the castle, merchandise in hand.

While the board game element is delightful, one of Hodj 'n' Podj's greatest strengths is that a player can choose to ignore this structure entirely, and just play the mini-games. You can either take a grand tour of all of the games, one round each, in alphabetical, geographical or random order, or just pick your favorites and play to your heart's content. There are many hours of gameplay in this package even if you completely discount the princess plot.

Meretzky's sense of humor finds release in a hilarious introductory cartoon explaining the storyline. There's also a lot of atmosphere in the narrations that explain the happenings in Po-Porree as the player travels the board. Even the instructions to the games will evoke a chuckle. But one of the best secrets of Hodj 'n' Podj is a number of graphic and audio "Easter eggs" hidden around the mini-games. At first glance the minis appear to be framed by a pleasant picture. But if you click on the elements of that background, you'll be floored at some of the things that happen. For example, the Riddles game is set against a Roman style ruin with a lake in the background. The game all takes place in the foreground, but clicking on the lake will bring out the Loch Ness Monster and a water-skier. Great stuff!

It's hard to imagine someone being disappointed by Hodj 'n' Podj. This disc is so diverse that there is literally something there for everyone. This is the best game pack yet devised for the PC, and will hopefully be a success for Meretzky and Boffo.

Download the demo for Hodj 'n' Podj