Review: The Addams Family: Pugsley's Scavenger Hunt (SNES)

The hunter becomes the hunted

Following their release of the first Super Nintendo Addams Family game, Ocean Software’s programmer, James Higgins, gave an interview to Super Play magazine to promote the development of their second, Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt. He highlighted the fact that the arcade platforming feel of this sequel was initially aimed at a younger audience and that it was no longer as freeform or open-ended in design. He also expressed joy at how accomplished their development team had become at crafting visuals on the SNES, with graphical effects which would not be possible on a Mega Drive. After another remarkably short four-month development time, gamers were able to find out for themselves if Ocean had succeeded in creating a superior sequel, or if it was predominantly more of the same, when the game was released later on in 1993.

The most striking difference between Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt and the original SNES game is the brightness of its visuals. The sequel bursts from the screen through its vibrancy, and carries a confidence in character design that was not as evident in the first game, which is largely due to its being based upon the early 1990s animated series by Hanna-Barbera. The enemies are cute and charming, but it is the main Pugsley sprite who steals the show, as he grins insanely, twists his possessed head around and tucks into a sandwich when left standing idle.

The second biggest difference between the two titles is that Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt’s levels are presented in a more traditional manner. There is indeed no longer as much of an emphasis on exploration and freedom, factors that were prevalent in the original. The story sets out a simple mission, with Wednesday challenging her ghastly brother to hunt for six weird objects hidden around the family’s bizarre home. Therefore, both games share a similar hub in the mansion’s hallway, but Pugsley’s game is confined to its six doorways. Each of these paths ends with a fierce boss battle, including one of the most notable washing machine encounters of the 16-bit era, but only four of the levels can be accessed in the beginning. Therefore, this game is notably smaller than original, although this still does not mean that you will complete Pugsley’s adventure in a hurry.

The initial four levels can be tackled in any order, although many gamers will head straight up the staircase to be thrust into Granny’s crystal ball, complete with a superb effect as Granny glares through the glass at Pugsley as he traverses a weird world of medieval knights, speared pits and swinging spiked maces. It is at this point that you realise that the cute exterior and initial kiddie-friendly visual design is a smokescreen, especially as Higgins noted in the Super Play interview that the sequel was designed to address the issue that some gamers inexplicably complained about the first game being too easy. For each level, Ocean’s designers have let their imaginations run wild as Pugsley rummages through a crystal ball, the bathroom, Lurch’s attic, and Fester’s laboratory and unlocks the doors to the basement and ultimately the crushingly difficult final slip ‘n slide freezer level.

Your first experience of the crystal ball stage exposes the game’s rigid design, and you may initially hit a brick wall as almost everything on the screen snatches away one of Pugsley’s three precious heart containers. Even the swaying spiked platforms that you need to jump aboard to progress can damage you, as success is only determined by timing leaps between enemies patrolling below, fireballs flying across the middle of the screen and yet more spears on the ceiling.

Thankfully, you can head out to the balcony and access three other levels, as you search for the game’s most approachable stages in a similar way to a Mega Man game, except here, you do not receive a reward of a newly acquired weapon for your troubles. The only respite in this game is in learning the stage layouts and mastering routes past enemy placements. However, whilst there are still secret rooms and shortcuts to be found through the levels, there is no longer an abundance of hidden 1-Ups or extra hearts for your energy bar, as in exploring in the original title. There are also far more instant death pits to fall into, an issue which was not prevalent in the first game. However, those who relish the reward found from mastering a challenging platform game and have conquered Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and Plok will find that this title is ideally suited to their persistence and determination.

Unfortunately, this game has also adopted controls from its prequel that push its challenge into the realms of frustration. It is still inspired by Super Mario World; you hold the jump button to bottom bounce off enemy heads for extra height, and you can duck down beneath danger, but Pugsley’s physics and inertia have been inherited from his dad, which means that he slides and skids out of most manoeuvres. You now have the option to hold Y to run, however whilst a fast character like Sonic can stop and change direction on a dime, speed makes Pugsley even more slippery, meaning that you will likely choose to use the run button sparingly. Considering that the game presents a multitude of pixel perfect jumps and awkward leaps from dangling chains onto small block platforms, the controls can often detract from the fun.

The game also includes basic puzzles, accessed by head-butting a set of question mark blocks in the correct sequential order and unblocking a passageway. There is also an option to increase your number of start-up lives from five to seven, and it is possible to earn 1-Ups by collecting $100 or by scoring 50,000 points. However, with numerous environmental hazards and a mass of enemies that are eager to deplete those lives, you will wonder if it is Pugsley or the mansion’s wicked critters that are on the hunt in this game.

One of the main incentives to continue playing is the inventiveness of the background visuals and its fantastic audio design. As you ease a shrunken Pugsley past Fester’s Bunsen burners and test tubes, or traverse the gorgeous layers of parallax scrolling bubbles in the bathroom level, it is tempting to forgive the slippery controls. With Jonathan Dunn returning after creating the music and sound effects in the original game, it is pleasing to find that the score is a perfect fit for each background, with such highlights as the dripping flow of its bathroom tune to remind you that this is a slickly designed SNES game.

Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt treads a thin line between being satisfyingly taxing and being borderline unfair, but its charming visuals and upbeat jingles will encourage you to return. Also, it has one of the cutest snorkelling cat “meow” sound effects that you will ever hear in a 16-bit game.

Conclusion

Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt shares many similarities with Ocean's original Addams Family title. The control of the main character is still too slippery for the pixel-perfect jumps required in a platformer, but it captures the colour, charm and fun of its source material, the animated series by Hanna-Barbera. With only six stages, it is smaller and its design is more conventional than the first game, and thus it is not as open-ended and has less scope for exploration. However, it is considerably slicker, particularly in its animations and graphical effects, and its audio is just as impressive. Most importantly, it is far more challenging than its SNES predecessor, which, depending on the gamer, can either be a selling point or a reason to avoid it.

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