That's a really good 3rd choice! I think that would work out much better for me. I will think on it for a bit and see what kind of design I can come up with. The game is sarcastic in nature so I may figure out a way to have the 'hub' area somewhat small - but traversing it requiring completion of the entire game.
OK so what I'm thinking is the hub area is a town. From the get-go the player doesn't want to be there - thankfully he is told he can simply leave the town. The problem is to exit the town he has to cross a body of water (you can't swim) that he can't cross because the bridge is out - so the entire game he's trying to find pieces to put the bridge back together. Each 'house' is a map of its own (stages will take place in these 'houses') and will have a set of objects to meet (get to the end in X time, collect X coins, find X item) - and when all prerequisite objectives are completed, the final objective of finding the bridge piece is revealed (ala mario 64 I guess?).