Game and Book Retrospectives

Indiana Jones and his Desktop Adventures

PC - Lucasarts, 1996

Fire up Steam, GOG or any other gaming storefront in the 2020s and you can’t move for graphical roguelikes. A genre with its roots in the ASCII art games of the 1980s, hundreds of hours of my misspent youth was lost in Nethack despite never having seen the end. So I was very excited as a youngling to find Indiana Jones and his Desktop Adventures.

Indy's lowest resolution adventure yet.

This much hated Windows game was intended as an alternative to Minesweeper or Solitaire, and sold at a budget price. A timewaster made for Windows 95 and all who procrastinate upon her, complete with a little ‘boss button’ which will minimise the window if you get caught playing at work. The quests and levels are randomly generated just like in modern roguelike, with a different overall goal and artifact to procure each playthrough. Exploration and basic combat sits alongside puzzles such as sokoban, item fetch quests, and other basic RPG-style situations which are chosen randomly from a decent selection behind the scenes. Each game doesn’t change much from one to the next, and it's not as dynamic as its Star Wars sequel. Indy adventures have always been one big fetch quest in exotic locations, so it fits better as a theme than Star Wars, but I do prefer Yoda Stories overall.

It belongs in a museum! (in its country of origin, of course)- old-games.ru

Aside from the random generation there are other similarities to roguelikes such as permadeath, but it doesn’t have the emergent gameplay or interacting systems that a true roguelike would have. Creator Hal Barwood (also of Last Crusade and Fate of Atlantis) pegs Rogue as his first gaming love and it shows, despite it being scaled back to what he describes as a “desktop toy”. Still, the genre is so broad now that while it wouldn’t have qualified in the 1990s, it would in the 2020s.

It’s not the first time we see Indy in Mexico, the Commadore 64's Revenge of the Ancients sees him in the Mexican jungle, and he will take part in the Mexican Revolution in an episode of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles years later. This time he is on the hunt for artifacts at Site R, a secret Nazi base.The tone is playful, more Fate of Atlantis than Raiders of the Lost Ark, as he goes up against swarms of banditos and Nazis.

A couple of familiar characters pop up from game to game along with some nods to the movies, but it doesn’t add much if you’re interested in the lore of Indiana Jones. The sound effects are burned into my brain from years of playing this and Yoda Stories, but the franchise isn’t known for its recognisable sound effects like Star Wars is. Pixel art doesn’t age, so it looks as good as you consider it to have looked in the 90s. I love the style, personally, coming from the golden age of the Super Nintendo at the end of the 16 bit era. It’s cute and functional, and better than a lot of tilesets you’ll find for roguelikes nearly 30 years later.

Bandits with the ultimate military strategy: standing on a diagonal so you can’t get them.

In a game with such simple controls you would think movement and combat would be reliable. In turn-based ASCII roguelikes of old, unpredictable control would be unforgivable, with every move a deliberate decision on a complicated chess board. Movement and attacks are performed on the arrow keys or numpad, but you can also look and shoot in the direction of the mouse cursor and move or attack with the mouse buttons. Enemies can attack diagonally but you can’t. The controls occasionally don’t seem to register, especially if you’re moving a different direction to your cursor. So you’ll be relying on a mix of mouse and keyboard. To add to the turmoil the tile-based, but not turn-based, movement means you jump from tile to tile as enemies do the same, mostly randomly, leaving you attacking a suddenly empty tile.

The map lets you visualise the layout of your current game's tiles.

Still, it’s fun to see what combination of quests you’ll get next time around. The Indy Quotient from Last Crusade and Fate of Atlantis is back in the form of a score at the end of each game. In keeping with its role as a quick timewaster, the IQ score emphasises speed, which isn’t very helpful in a game with lots of backtracking, where critical path routes and buttons are often obscured deliberately or accidentally. But as with the point-and-click adventures, this is just a fun extra for bragging rights.

Screwdrivers. Why'd it have to be screwdrivers?

Desktop Adventures is a mystical artifact of its own, an ancient embryonic roguelike years ahead of its time. It may be the innocence of this cartoonish version of a beloved franchise, or my fondness for certain boring old things however imperfect, but I still enjoy playing it today. I did at the time as well, so it’s not just nostalgia. On its own terms it was a casual timewaster in 1996, and it still passes the time just the same as it did then.

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