If nothing else, JoWood's recently released strategy game, Neighbors From Hell, has an attention-grabbing title. The game has a lot more to offer than just a catchy name, though. Neighbors From Hell's simple gameplay mechanics and quirky theme make it a fun, albeit easy and short, strategy game reminiscent of the classic '80s computer game Spy vs. Spy.
The premise of Neighbors From Hell centers on Woody, who is the star of a reality-based television show. As Woody, you must sneak into the house of your oafish-looking neighbor and play as many practical jokes on him as possible, all while remaining undetected. With each successful joke, the television ratings for that particular show will climb--you'll need to reach a minimum ratings threshold before the mission is considered complete.
With 2D graphics that remain fixed at a resolution of 800x600, Neighbors From Hell isn't the most technically impressive game, but it doesn't need to be. The art style is appropriately quirky and comical for a game based on practical jokes. Fans of the Wallace & Gromit short films will certainly appreciate the look and feel of Neighbors From Hell and its characters, who appear cartoonish, almost claymation-like. The game's sound also gets the job done without too much flashiness; the characters talk in a Sims-style gibberish, while the music tracks and laugh tracks remind you that you're playing a television show.
Aside from the premise, Neighbors From Hell's presentation also takes a cue from Spy vs. Spy. Your viewpoint consists of a cutaway, cross-sectional view of your neighbor's house. This means you can always keep an eye on what your neighbor is doing in the next room or on a different floor as you sneak around in another portion of the house. The developers of the game have also included a useful "thought bubble" feature in the bottom left of the screen that helps you keep tabs on your neighbor. If you're moving about the kitchen and you see the thought bubble change to a cup of coffee, you know you will need to clear out of the kitchen quickly, lest you get caught and beaten up by your neighbor.
Setting up a joke in the game is usually pretty straightforward. You'll wander around the house, opening up drawers and cabinets looking for loose items. You can use these items in some other part of the house in order to set up a gag. For example, you may go into the bathroom and find a bottle of laxatives in the medicine cabinet. You'll need to somehow sneak these into the beer that your neighbor is drinking upstairs in order to complete the joke. However, winning a scenario isn't just about finding all of the loose items in the house and applying them correctly. To maximize your ratings, you'll need to make sure your neighbor falls for one gag after another in quick succession. Doing so means you'll need to observe his pattern of behavior and figure out the most efficient way to lay out your traps.
Getting back to the laxative example, you know your neighbor will head straight for the bathroom after drinking the laced beer. Before mixing the Ex-Lax cocktail, you could grab a wet bar of soap and leave it on the tile floor of the bathroom so your neighbor will slip and fall as he comes running in. If you're ever confused about what to do with an item, you can get hints by mousing over your inventory or by having Woody look at the parts of the house that can be interacted with.
The game's 14 episodes are divided up into three different seasons. In early seasons, your neighbor's routines are simple, and the house remains quite small and easy to navigate. In the later seasons, the basement and attic of the house are opened up, and your neighbor's routine becomes more complex. You'll also have to sneak by pets, such as a dog and a parrot, both of which will bark or cry out loudly if they hear you stomping around the room they're sleeping in. Even with all the rooms opened, and all the obstacles in place, Neighbors From Hell isn't a challenging game by any means--the first two seasons are almost ridiculously easy.
Unfortunately, each of the game's episodes lasts for only five to 10 minutes. Counting in a couple of replays per episode, most players will be done with everything Neighbors From Hell has to offer in around four hours or less. And unlike in its spiritual predecessor, Spy vs. Spy, there is no multiplayer mode in Neighbors From Hell to keep you going, so once you're done with the 14 episodes, there isn't anything else to do.
Overall, Neighbors From Hell is a fun little game that could potentially appeal to both core gamers and a mainstream audience. Watching the hapless neighbor fall for one gag after another appeals to the sadist in all of us, and you'll often feel a little twinge of anticipation as he approaches each trap you've set up. For some, the jokes may wear thin quickly, but you'll still get some thrill out of setting up several pratfalls in the same room and diving under the bed to hide at the very last moment. Despite the disappointment of a rather short campaign, Neighbors From Hell is still worth a look for any strategy or puzzle game fan looking for something out of the norm.