When this generation began, roughly seven years ago, publishers had plenty of much-loved classics in their archives to dust off and re-release. Slimmer pickings have seemingly led to them being less choosey. JoWood’s Neighbours from Hell series only ever managed to accumulate a small fanbase, and even then, it was only a moderate success on PC – the console versions flopped. We can only assume something being moderately successful is the minimum criteria to secure a HD re-release nowadays.
Part of that success came from perfect timing – the Neighbours from Hell series offered something different, launching at a time when publishers were often unwilling to release games unusual or offbeat. You play as Woody, a cheeky and disgruntled fellow, who hatches a plan to get revenge on his antisocial neighbour – the lovingly named Mr. Rottweiler. That plan involves hidden TV cameras and a dozen tricks and traps for the bald brute to blindly wander into.
Slapstick humour is the order of the day, placing banana skins on the ground, hiding toilet paper when nature urgently calls, and swapping cigars for firecrackers. Aside from one incredibly jarring incident with a humping dog, it’s all rather Beano-esque. Or The Dandy, if you prefer.
The levels are referred to as episodes, each lasting around ten minutes and featuring a different scenario. Whether he’s celebrating his birthday or trying his hand at DIY, it’s your job to ruin Mr. Rottweiler’s day by sneakily swapping items or placing objects in his pre-set path. There’s just one golden rule – Woody can’t be in the same room as his short-tempered rival at the same time.
Getting caught results in a thumping. Get caught three times, and the jig is up. As such, it’s essential to track his whereabouts, either by zooming into his location or keeping tabs on the ‘thought bubble’ in the corner of the screen. The stakes never feel that high, however – the levels are so small that Mr. Rottweiler’s path only takes a couple of minutes, at the very most, to memorise.
This package brings 2003’s Neighbours from Hell – set solely within Mr. Rottweiler’s crumbling abode – and its 2005’s globetrotting sequel together, complete with improved HD visuals.
Part one is much of a muchness, only adding a few new rooms and a squawking parrot as things progress. The general difficulty is unwaveringly casual. Indeed, there’s a great deal of logic to the pranks pulled, mostly involving swapping similar looking items. Grab shaving foam from the bathroom and swap it with canned whipped cream in the kitchen; switch the white wine on the dinner table with white vinegar. Good old fashion, straightforward, pranks – there’s nothing here to catch you out. Coupled with simple AI routines (if you can even call them that), part one is a breeze. Unless you accidentally overlook something obvious, we’re talking an hour of play tops.
Part two sees Mr. Rottweiler on vacation. New additions dilute the experience somewhat, and it feels far less grounded as a result. Outdated racial stereotypes are unfortunately present too – this is a game of its era and all that it entails. Here, Mr. Rottweiler has a love interest – Olga, with her gravity-defying chest – and he’s brought his equally short-tempered mother along.
The action is viewed from a different perspective and the levels are larger and more varied. You’ll soon notice that there’s a whiff of ‘smoke and mirrors’ to the whole shebang, though – part two’s levels are set outdoors (scenarios include an Indian market, a trip to the beach, and a Mexican tourist trap) yet locations are still split into ‘rooms’ with archways/staircases acting as invisible doors.
These levels are trickier, and for two major reasons. Firstly, the solutions are far less logical – you may have to try placing random objects in random locations to progress. Secondly, Mr. Rottweiler’s mother inhabits key areas – later stages are formed of just four ‘rooms’, yet there are two characters to avoid. This leads to some trial and error. Once again, though, the stakes are never that high – each stage lasts no more than ten minutes, and not every prank must be performed.
When the ending credits rolled, following a CGI cut-scene presented in glorious 2005-o-vision, we had just over two hours playtime on the clock and had unlocked every achievement. Even with keeping the £12.99 price tag in mind, we didn’t expect the experience to be over so soon.
The character animation holds up reasonably well (the number of frames has been doubled, which undoubtedly helps) but the rest of the package feels considerably dated, especially when it comes to problem-solving and the heavily scripted AI routines. Problem is, those are the core mechanics.
Some fifteen years on, the quirky premise remains a draw, but that is the extent of its appeal. The few long-time fans out there will likely find that the ‘good times’ weren’t all that good to begin with, while everybody else will doubtlessly be left scratching their heads as to why this was deemed worthy of a re-release.
Neighbours Back from Hell is out now on Xbox One (reviewed) and Switch.