The Strange Story of Hellboy: Asylum Seeker
Retro gaming is a weird thing. I am currently in my retro gaming arc, looking high and low for old games to play. I’m looking for experiences that I may have missed as a child, and also revisiting some of my favorites. I’m also a huge fan of Hellboy; the big red hero of the comics of the same name, created by Mike Mignola. As a child who was afraid of pretty much everything, it was comforting to know there was a hero out there who fought back against the things that went bump in the night. As an adult, those old fears fell by the wayside, and I suppose I could thank Mignola and his creation for the person I am today, in part. So when I was browsing PlayStation 1 games that I might want to pop into my Batocera library, and saw something called Hellboy: Asylum Seeker, I was overjoyed. I was already familiar with Hellboy: Science of Evil, the third person action game for the 360, PS3, and PSP. I had enjoyed that game, and was excited to check out it’s forbearer.
Hellboy: Asylum Seeker started its life as Hellboy: Dogs of the Night on the PC. This was in the halcyon days of the year 2000. It would be years before a Hellboy film, but there was this strange late-90’s rush of video games based on comic properties. You had a deluge of Spawn, Spider-Man, and for some reason X-O Manowar games. Hellboy was a logical choice in 2000; a big, lumbering guy with a stone fist and a custom revolver cutting through the things in the dark. It’s a premise that begs to be a game, and in future installments, it worked really well. Hellboy: Asylum Seeker…didn’t work well. The PC game it was ported from was already poorly reviewed in 2000. It didn’t help that the publisher sat on the PS1 port until 2003, right before the release of the first Hellboy movie. I understand that makes sense in a business way, but sometimes that’s not the best way to go about doing things.
I sat down to play Hellboy: Asylum Seeker and was immediately put off. It’s a fixed camera, tank controls, slow combat survival horror game. Hellboy, to me, is none of these things. Hellboy works best when you can embrace the physicality of the character. He’s big, strong, and gruff, and Asylum Seeker makes him some kind of shirtless weirdo, slowly wandering through the environment hoping in vain that the monsters will just leave him alone. You know that giant stone fist that Hellboy has? The right hand of doom? In Hellboy: Asylum Seeker, it’s not even his primary attack. You punch with his regular hand, which other than being red, is just a normal dude’s hand. You can punch with the right hand of doom, but only if you hold down the attack button and hope it shows up somewhere in the following combo, which it often won’t. In the second level you get Hellboy’s iconic revolver, but it is about as useful as farting in an empty auditorium. Enemies don’t care if they get shot, and you’ll find that you’re actually better off punching them with your wimpy hand.
Hellboy: Asylum Seeker initially seems repellant. I was constantly shaking my head in disappointment, until I realized I had been playing the game for about 3 hours. It was weird. The story was kinda bad, but I was slightly engrossed. The puzzles were interesting and the graphics, while muddy, were still kind of fun to figure out. Once you get into the titular asylum, things get a bit confusing. There is no map in this game, and you’re expected to remember the layout of this massive area where the game takes place. I checked online to see what the consensus was on Hellboy: Asylum Seeker. For the most part it’s forgotten. Those who do remember either hate it or love it. Some consider it the worst PS1 game made, while other people see it as a forgotten masterpiece of the survival horror genre. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. I think it’s an interesting experiment. It came out too late in the PlayStation’s life cycle to make a splash, and its inherent clunkiness was off-putting to most.
These days, it’s very hard to even find a copy. Hopefully somewhere like GoG or Night Dive will polish up this release. Until then, there are ways of getting hold of it that I won’t discuss here. It’s out there for those willing to try. As a Hellboy fan, I’m glad I got to play this game. As a game inspired by the comics and not the movies that came after, it’s in this weird spot where comic fans don’t know about it and fans of the movies don’t care about it. It’s relegated to a footnote. A trivia question to throw people off during a pub quiz. What was the first Hellboy game? I feel like a lot of folks will get that one wrong. Except for you. You now know about Dogs of the Night, later Asylum Seeker.
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