Author: John Legendoffzelda
The first review of a Super Nintendo game I ever wrote was my hard pan of Super Star Wars. And looking back I see my review was a little vague about what I found so disappointing. You see, the issue is not about how “the only good Star Wars games are the ones that don’t take place on foot”. My erroneous statement actually contradicts what makes the very best video games based on George Lucas’ works so successful.
Those games play off the man’s manifold imagination. By re-contextualizing the iconic elements of his movies, they do far more than extend a franchise. They contribute to histories – those of the fantasy empires Lucas hints at whenever he puts Luke Skywalker or Indiana Jones on the movie screen. It doesn’t matter whether the player is running around on foot or piloting some kind of spacecraft. The ingenious interactive elements included by the developers are what finalize their strengths as video games – every moment allows the player to actively be a part of history.
The Super Nintendo games of Lucas’s works, in contrast, do neither of these things. Rather than expand on the original films, they individually chase after their stories and reiterate them in a literal and reductive fashion. As created by LucasArts and published by JVC, these games can vary in overall quality but they all reduce the source material’s vision into action-platformer corn.
What sets Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures apart from the pack, besides being a game about Indiana and not Luke, is how this time the stories are reiterated all at once. Advanced size capabilities are what likely inspired LucasArts and Super Turrican folks Factor 5 to combine the character’s first three movies into a single gameplay slab. Even though it looks the most cinematic of the bunch and the character’s archetypical design provides at least a standard level of entertainment, those qualities to the game get diminished by monotonous action and a dense pace that doesn’t justify three films’ worth of story.
Through the combined efforts of concept-creator George Lucas, director Steven Spielberg, and actor Harrison Ford, Indiana Jones updated the junky trappings of old adventure serials into some of the most defining entertainment of the 1980s. Indiana’s adventures were pictorial action yarns where the archaeologist used his wits and long leather whip to get out of a series of international scrapes and triumph over those who used supernatural artifacts for evil. His globetrotting expeditions made him a video game hero before the fact, and the game capitalizes on this by remaking those expeditions almost moment by moment.
Avoiding those deadly traps in that Peruvian temple; confronting the evil priest Mola Ram on that rope bridge in India; even fighting Nazi soldiers aboard that tank in the Turkish desert; these setpieces and more are reenacted as part of the game’s lengthy content. At Indy’s side throughout these levels are his two fists, which he uses to fight enemies in close combat and knock down floating boxes containing his two main weapons. Armed with both his whip and a side pistol, the two items both give Indy longer attack range while the whip doubles as a rope for him to swing along special hooks. All the levels require the use of these weapons, which explains the frequency of these boxes and why Indy regularly re-spawns next to one of them after losing a life.
Mixing these regular areas and frequently appearing weapons with some vehicle levels at special occasions, the game as a whole is Super Castlevania IV made straightforward and is more varied in gameplay. Indiana even controls the same way, aiming his whip in multiple directions and jumping with a discipline which makes the general platforming rather easy. But the game insufferably doesn’t go any further with these connections than surface ideas. Unfortunately, it sorely lacks the playful level designs and tightness of challenge that makes Konami’s game so great.
Where Castlevania’s levels are engaging romps, the ancient temples and such Indiana runs through are flat sequences of jumping around and whipping whoever’s trying to kill him. There’s only routine puzzles to thicken the pacing. All of these puzzles are based on pushing heavy items for Indy to use as a stepping stone. Yet despite their routineness, they aren’t what messes with the flow. What affects the flow are the various things which cause Indy harm. For instance the peculiar enemies placed sometimes out of whipping range, and the innate obstacles that outmatch him far too often.
Some of these levels, as would be expected, are based on the fistfuls of self-contained climaxes the movies feature. Among other tasks, Indiana has to outrun that giant boulder, outlast two different walls of fire, escape the guns of Lao Che’s gangsters, and pilot a biplane away from a Nazi zeppelin to safety.
In the moments where he’s running, the oncoming obstacles leave too little room for error by way of interfering with the player’s ability to anticipate. Either hogging the camera (the boulder) or arriving too quickly to react (the fires in the Venetian catacombs), the player can expect not to successfully escape them without many practice tries. Consequently, the same principle applies to the sporadic boss fights, some of which are exaggerated from smaller moments of the movies in that pesky LucasArts style. On the other hand, vehicle spots give a nice change of pace, but due to the even distribution of the game’s middling quality, they don’t have the same refinement as similar parts in the Super Star Wars titles.
This game aspires to retell the Indiana Jones saga, something it does more effectively with its visual features than it does with interactive components. The higher-end graphics recapture the films’ vivid tones, which especially compare to the stills taken from the original movies and programmed into the game to advance the narrative. Those still images look pristine, and their inclusion is beneficiary to a narrative which otherwise glances over major parts of these movies just to keep going.
What should be intense moments, like the Ark of the Covenant being discovered and later unsealed, get trampled over in the rush. And these creative decisions get confusing when the game decides to drag in less important parts. A messy job is done of abridging six hours of film into a two-hour summation when the game skips over vital content and still feels slow. The uniform mediocrity of the action further represents how in over its head the game is with handling source material this way.
Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures doesn’t live up to its name, and in trying to anthologize an anthology, it probably wouldn’t have anyway. If the game tried telling a part of the Indiana Jones mythology other than what we already knew, then the game might have worked on some imaginative level even with the same routine action-platformer business. It’s the level Indiana’s games worked on when he was discovering the Infernal Machine and the Fate of Atlantis on other consoles. But on the Super Nintendo, we’ll never know.
Three out of five stars.
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