Have You Played… Hugo?


Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

I never did. Because playing Hugo involved calling a premium phone number, speaking Irish on live television, and pressing phone buttons to guide the squeaky-voiced troll down a grainy railroad until you made a random mistake and got crushed by an oncoming train. I’m very glad I never played Hugo.

You might have played one of the many spin-off videogames featuring the Danish-born troll, but it’s the original TV game show that fascinates me. Hugo was exported to television channels in 40 countries for the purposes of luring children into a brave new world of flapping phone bills and parental anger. In Ireland, Hugo (or ‘Hiudai’, as his name was translated) won an award for being the nation’s best TV presenter. Twice. This sounds ridiculous. But take two things into account. 1) His only real competition was a turkey. 2) Hugo’s facial expressions were dictated by a real human being wearing this.


Yes. This was a headset designed by Bjarne Sølvason to “transfer an actor’s body, head, and eye movements and facial expressions to Hugo’s character on screen… The actor providing the voice of Hugo wore a helmet which contained sensors that would capture his facial expressions and translate them to the character.”

Perhaps that actor deserved your parents’ money after all.


  1. Deano2099 says:

    I did! At some point I got some random Shareware titles for the Amiga from some mail order company. There were no descriptions, just names, but it was like a quid a game or something. One of the disks was called “Hugo” – I didn’t think it would be at all related to the TV phone-in, but imagine my surprise when it turned out to feature a couple of the mini games from when it was on Going Live or whatever the Saturday morning kids show was back then.

  2. skyturnedred says:

    I tried calling many times, but never got on air.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    Never played it put do remember watching people play this on Swedish TV.

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      I played some Hugo game (wikipedia lists like 30 games in multiple series) on a computer and remember the simple gameplay of going on a train track and steering right or left to avoid dynamite and rocks and whatnot. I also remember the dubbed Swedish voice of Hugo, his voice lines all being simple puns like “det här går ju som på räls” (this thing goes like on rails, i.e. really well).

  4. tomimt says:

    I never did play it, but it was on air in Finland as well, so I did occasionally watch it. Really, the most entertaining part of the whole show was, that despite the host repeated many times, that you needed a dial phone instead of a rotary phone to play the game, there always was someone who called and was disappointed that they couldn’t play with their rotary device.

    • msterofthe says:

      This was the reason why I never played it. As an insult to injury, many of those who got to participate were infuriatingly bad at the game and I would have been so much better, if only…

  5. revan says:

    Never played it, but i did watch it regularly on both Bosnian and Croatian TV.

  6. Slazer says:

    I never made it on the show in Germany, but after it was live for some years a friend had a disc of something like a Hugo christmas calaendar that included some of the games from TV.
    The games were rather lame actually, but I was happy to finally play it.

  7. A_Rude_gesture says:

    We had it in Sweden as well, but at the time my family only had an old rotary-phone so I never got the chance! While we upgraded to one with buttons later on, the whole Hugo fad (at least on telly) was over by then.

  8. ComicSansMS says:

    The show also ran in Germany and here they released a PC version of it which a friend of mine actually bought.

    It came on five 3.5” floppies and the thing I most vividly remember about it is that it actually supported voice output through the PC speaker. Yes, that was a thing. It sounded pretty horrible, but you could make out what people were saying if you listened closely. I never saw that being done in any other game.

  9. Synesthesia says:

    This popped up in Argentina, too! Scourge of daytime television.

  10. Vlad0153 says:

    We had this in my “eastern European” country too. I was quite annoyed as kid watching it, because people really sucked – but then I came to conclusion, that it might be due TV lag? or some shit, makes it very difficult to play.

    .finally, after many years I have registered on paper shotgun.

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    Risingson says:

    And Telecinco in Spain, providing our own dubbing.

  12. Jables says:

    What I don’t understand is, how was this playable considering most tv channels broadcast with a considerable time delay? I mean multiple seconds.

    Talk about input lag.

    • mavrik says:

      Well it was broadcast in times of analog TV, where input lag was significantly lower – most equipment didn’t have buffers to add delay to video signal. Digital TV is way worse in this aspect.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      Notoriously, phone-in video games of this nature were almost completely unplayable. Even if the commands went through, the lag was so huge that everyone calling in died constantly and appeared to the viewing public to be completely rubbish at video games.

  13. Kaljatonttu says:

    Why yes. Yes I have. Plenty.

    …. It had a chapter where you flew a biplane. … Red Baron was better. SWOTL was the best. X-Wing made them all obsolete.

  14. Honigsenf says:

    the complete hugo universum in a 8 minute mini docu, most surprising part for me is that it had more versions and lived longer then i thought

  15. Catchcart says:

    I am so sorry. I opened this article thinking
    “That was an international thing? Right, I wanna know who’s to blame for this abomination” only to find out that he’s homebred. Yikes.

  16. fuggles says:

    Never mind this, they had magic pockets as a phone in!

  17. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Speaking on behalf of North Americans everywhere…


  18. darkside says:

    Yep, we had this abomination in Brazil too.

  19. Evan_ says:

    We didn’t have that, but my country had a phone-in version of Super Mario. That was in the early 90’s, and I’d be surprised to find that they had the license. Don’t think anyone knew where Japan was at that time in East Europe.

  20. haldolium says:

    Wow it really was popular apparently.
    I watched the show a few times back and the lag was so horrendous that I never even remotely thought to try it.

    Didn’t care much about the actual game releases either since other games were better.

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