I’m not going to lie. I’d pretty much given up on platformers. Look around the site, and you’ll see the evidence – the PC section has overtaken the NES section, the Genesis and SNES sit lonely and neglected. Being bored with platformers almost knocks you right out of a decade of console gaming, and I didn’t even give much thought to that fact as I blasted through another race in GTA4 in a stolen black Banshee.
Leave it to the master of adventure to remind me why platformers are fun.
Hopefully, the Super Star Wars games are prolific enough that I can use them as a verb; JVC and LucasArts took the opportunity here to “Super Star Wars” the Indiana Jones films. The same engine, gameplay, and top-class art style are present here, at an arguably greater value – all three movies are condensed into one cart. The best part of this deal is that there’s no flagrant stretching of content to create levels, a la Super Empire. None of the levels overstay their welcome, and none are pulled from obscure moments in the films.
The bad side is that some scenes that would make fantastic levels aren’t present at all – no truck chase or airstrip fight from Raiders, no young Indy train scene from Crusade. Some liberties also get taken, especially for bosses, so you’ll fight a possessed Belloq in front of the Ark, and endure a moderately silly rumble with Donovan-turned-Skeletor as the final boss. Supporting characters also get culled. The game changes the plots to an entirely solo adventure, so you won’t rush through Cairo to rescue Marion, and you’ll tackle Temple of Doom without Willie as baggage (THANK GOD!)
Compared to the multiple weapon upgrades and elaborate force powers of the Super Star Wars trilogy, this game couldn’t be simpler. Indy can run, jump, and hold A to roll under overhangs. His weapons are his fists, whip, and gun. The ability to toss screen-clearing grenade pickups, and hook his whip on certain objects to swing, round out his entire set of tools. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a perfect approach that uncomplicates everything about this style of platforming, while still letting you do all the moves you’d want to do as Dr. Jones.
Curiously, you must collect your weapons at the start of every level. Indy will always have his punches on the shoulder buttons for close range work, opening crates, or knocking pots into position to reach a higher ledge. You can punch open containers to earn your whip, and only occasionally, find your gun later in a similar manner. This didn’t make sense at first, but it allows the level designer to contain you, or create specific traps appropriate to that section of the level. At the very least, you don’t feel at a complete disadvantage because you don’t have your whip yet.
Also curious is that the whip does much more damage than the gun, but this is probably to keep you from simply shooting your way through the level. The gun still remains useful as it can shoot enemies on the floor, where the whip can’t hit, and has the obvious benefit of range.
Levels are a respectable collection of typical platform challenges. You’ll find Indy climbing up ledges, riding conveyor belts in Temple‘s mine, leaping snake pits in the Well of Souls, hopping across rooftops, and bouncing off awnings to reach powerups. Any complaints would go back to avoiding most of the highlight action scenes from the films. There are still quite a fair share of creative levels – you’ll run from the boulder, chase down a fleeing wagon cart on foot, climb up Marion’s tavern while fire follows you from below, tackle the mine cart chase, and even have a few Mode 7 levels of piloting a biplane and surfing down a mountain on a raft – but not every scene is included, and not every level is a winner.
You’ll spend two or three increasingly repetitive levels doing samey platforming in Cairo, and again with a similar layout in Shanghai. The Nazi levels simply involve dodging or fighting some pretty dense soldier AI. The palace level from Temple of Doom is focused exclusively on navigating confusing secret passages, but mercifully short. My notes inform me that Crusade‘s second castle level “fucking sucks!!” (more on that in a minute). But overall, a pretty fair mix of the spectacular and the standard.
Controlling Indy isn’t too much of a chore, and is again lifted from the Super Star Warseses. He’ll leap a mad hop, shoot/whip on command, and take on enemies with ease. Unless they get too close, that is, at which point they’ll walk mindlessly right through Indy for damage, while he has trouble deploying his punches. That’s what the whip and gun are for, a’course, and both are easy to use as long as distance or angles are on your side. Whipping across gaps is another prominent feature (natch), accomplished by jumping up and diagonally whipping at visible hook points to swing.
This works well for the occasional pit, but repeated use makes it seem like a quick tack-on to the engine. Sometimes the diagonal doesn’t register when you’re jumping, there isn’t much leeway in registering a hit on the hook point, and often the timing just falls apart and Indy drops like a sack of dirt. The only time you really notice this, or when it really frustrates, is in that second castle level I spoke of. After you meet with Dr. Jones Sr. (a proper rescue was written out), you have to escape the burning castle by whipping past exploding windows… consistently, in a perpetual whip, for about three minutes. Indy will eventually not respond to some aspect of the whipping sequence, the tempo gets lost, and he falls to his death. It fucking sucks.
At least the game’s pretty forgiving in other regards. In-level checkpoints are fair, and you’ll never get thrown all the way back to start when you’re just a few screens from the end. You get a password every couple of levels that’s only made up of four easy-to-identify symbols (thank you!), complete with the map travel sequence from the films. You can pick up 100 medallions, jewels, pieces of gold, whatever, for an extra life, as well as find 1-ups off in hidden areas. Pretty standard stuff, and awfully easy-going compared to the “fall to the start of the level” drops of Super Jedi, or “just try and play me, I dare you” of Super Empire.
Enemies do still spawn duplicates of themselves if you get pushed back to a previous screen, there are plenty of bats or flying enemies that aren’t easy to hit, and hearts are spare and don’t add much health when you find them, but overall the difficulty seems just right. Screen-clearing grenades are actually rather plentiful, and can help you out of any tight spots. You also get a full life bar at the beginning of each new level, so if you can just make it to the end, you’ll be in great shape for the next.
The game’s also got the spirit of the series nailed, which helps to keep the levels fresh, and helps make fans smile. It’s little touches that remind you of moments from the film, like ducking from table to table to avoid gunfire in Club Obi-Wan, dodging walls of flame in the Venice catacombs, or fistfighting atop a tank before it rolls off the cliff. There’s even a giant swordsman boss at the end of the Cairo level, who appropriately falls to a single bullet. If you love the films, you’ll love the references. If you just love the platform gaming, I think you’ll still enjoy the variety they bring.
Bottom line, it’s a great platformer. It follows the formula of the Super Star Wars trilogy to the letter, but takes the best parts of each. It’s rarely complicated, often gorgeous, and always fun. Adventure has a name, and his name is worth being stamped on this cart.
16-bit platforming at its finest. Nice mix of levels, everything stays pretty varied, fun throughout.
Rarely frustrating, but controls sometimes act up. Not every great moment from the films makes the game conversion.