When I was younger, I spent most of my free time in my parent’s basement Rec Room. This was my safe haven, home to all of my video games and my vast collection of sitcoms. Arguably, the game I dumped the most time into was Spider-Man 2 on the PlayStation 2. The combination of an open world and the fantastic swinging mechanic made it easy to get lost in Manhattan. I still remember that game fondly as the closest I’ve ever come to being Spider-Man.
The man behind the acclaimed swinging mechanic, Jamie Fristrom, went on to start his own company, Happion Labs. Now, his company has released Energy Hook, the “Sports Game of the Future!” In essence, the game is the swinging mechanic of Spider-Man 2 placed on a current-generation console. That’s all I needed to hear — sign me up.
But Energy Hook is not the game I or most other fans wanted, and I couldn’t be more disappointed. The concept is sound: A futuristic sports game with swinging, jet-packing, and awesome tricks. But the game is empty and borderline broken. The environments have potential, but feel outdated. The game looks about as good as Spider-Man 2 did 12 years ago. And the swinging…the gameplay in general…is bad. Really, really bad.
You play a character with a jetpack and a grappling hook who takes on skill and time-based challenges across different maps. Props to the development team for making the protagonist a black woman, though this fact is overshadowed by the game itself. There is a large amount of customization of controls and settings, and certain settings can be changed or altered by unlocking more throughout the game, but nothing ever really feels right.
The main character constantly glides across the ground like she’s running on ice. Jumping is tedious. The camera either aggressively follows the character through a swing or doesn’t move at all, which becomes a serious (or nauseating) issue. I messed around with the settings for hours trying to find something that worked, as the default ones definitely did not. I eventually found a set-up to at least get me through the game, but it was never ideal.
As I mentioned, the game is also empty. Desolate, even. There aren’t a large amount of challenges and they’re generally uninteresting. Run/swing through the rings. Land in certain spots. But nothing is really alive or even moving in any of the worlds. You’re the only thing there. Everything is static. It’s depressing to brokenly swing through an empty world, and extraordinarily boring.
I spoke to Jamie Fristrom on The BagoCast prior to this review. He’s a great guy who has a passion for games and for the swinging mechanic he helped design. When we spoke, he said the most important thing with Energy Hook was that it “felt good.” The game isn’t about winning or topping the leaderboards, in his eyes. Rather, Energy Hook is about the satisfying feeling of swinging through a world. I remember that feeling from Spider-Man 2, and I couldn’t wait to re-live it.
99% of the time, that feeling is not here. Sure, every great once in a while you get a swing that feels just right, and you land feeling satisfied. But the bottom line is that this game does NOT “feel good.”
This got me thinking: Was Spider-Man 2 REALLY that good? It came out over 12 years ago. Perhaps I’m comparing this new game to something nostalgic and rose-colored in my memory. So, just to be sure, I ran out and picked up a $5 used copy of Spider-Man 2, dusted off the old PS2, and gave it a shot.
Spider-Man 2 is a GREAT game.
No, the graphics don’t really hold up at all, but the gameplay is timeless. The swinging feels infinitely better than Energy Hook. The camera swings along behind effortlessly. And the world is vibrant, full, and alive. People swear at you when you land in front of their moving car. Challenges have you interacting with baddies. Simply climbing up walls is an aspect that’s sorely missing from Energy Hook.
Energy Hook is not Spider-Man, and I’m not trying to say it should be. But there are serious technical and fundamental issues here that a 12 year old game got right. Perhaps Happion Labs simply tried too hard to change the formula, or thought that they needed to differentiate. I don’t know that Energy Hook even needs that much more in it. But, in this day and age, you simply cannot release a broken game, or even a game that feels as bad as this. There are too many other games out there.
A PS4 review copy of Energy Hook was provided by Happion Labs for the purpose of this review