Game and Book Retrospectives

Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures

SNES - Factor 5, 1994

Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures was released around the middle of the SNES’ lifespan, and it feels very mature and slick by SNES standards. The graphics and music are great and perfectly suit the SNES era. The slightly cartoony art style is very similar to that of the Super Star Wars games and there's a reason for that: it’s made with the same engine and structure. If you’re being less generous, you might describe it as a reskin, but more effort was spent than just sprite swaps. Just like Super Star Wars, Empire and Jedi (the latter of which released around the same time as Greatest Adventures), you action-platform around levels inspired by each movie in turn, interspersed with vehicle sections and recreated cut-scenes from the movies.

Cut scenes with photos from the films show in between levels.

On the subject of graphics, I often find the Mode 7 effects on the SNES a bit jarring, but they’re used to good effect here just as they were in the Super Star Wars games. The rolling boulder instantly jumps out, and the vehicle sections also make good use, looking just as good as its sci-fi cousins.

Your trusty whip returns as a pickup item which is available at the starts and at mid-level save points. This means you can lose the whip and revert to fists, and you can pick up other weapons as you progress as well. As well as jumping around on the platforming sections, you can also use your whip for satisfying swings across chasms just like in the Temple of Doom platformer and future 3D Indy games.

Unlike in Instruments of Chaos, these fish don't instakill Indy by flying into his stomach.

Just like the beginning of Tomb Raider, the opening features lots of hazards straight out of the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie. Blow darts from the walls, falling rocks, spikes shooting up from the floor and walls, as well as bad guys and of course creepy creatures. The variation of enemies is decent, but the sheer amount of threats at any moment is quite high compared to other platformers, meaning your health gets constantly ground away. The Super Star Wars games are famously difficult and Greatest Adventures continues the tradition, especially in the set-pieces. The rolling boulder level is absolutely infuriating, giving you barely enough space on the screen to see, and the only way you will complete it is via trial and error, memorising the level. Without emulator save-states you won’t have enough lives to do this, and if you continue after game over then you are back at the last save point on the previous level. The other auto-scrolling levels are more fair, so it’s a shame this one is so early in the game as it may deter people from continuing. At least it has a level select password on the main menu once you’ve beaten it (or once you have looked it up in the latest issue of Nintendo Power magazine).

The famous boulder from Raiders is even more deadly in the game version.

The game evens out a bit after the first few levels, and you’ll soon steadily have enemies exploding into flames (for some reason) in no time. There is a good variation in levels, even in the platforming levels themselves, which keeps you wanting to play. Some levels have verticality, some requiring that you outrun hazards, some familiar boss fights, and so on. A Disney’s Aladdin style marketplace is here, this time based on the Cairo chase scene from Raider’s, along with the brilliant music from the film. There’s clambering up ledges that you can’t quite reach, swinging on poles and bouncing on awnings, all of which really varies the gameplay and is a great example of the levels feeling fresh. I weep for the poor Sega kids who had to make do with Instruments of Chaos Starring Young Indiana Jones on the Mega Drive in the same year while their Nintendo friends played this. You can directly compare the Aladdin rip-off homage marketplace levels, and the difference is night and day.

There are some other good levels, some of which are brutally difficult, especially near the end, and the boss fights can also be really hard. The bulk of the game is dedicated to Raiders, although there are some long caves sections in the Temple of Doom section which again are tough going. The best bits remain the vehicle levels in between though, whether because of their quality or just the variety and relief from the platforming, but either way, save states, level passwords (or cheat codes) are the order of the day. I didn’t try it on easy mode, but that may help somewhat if you are looking for a more relaxing gaming session.

Indy fights the evil Black-Cross-on-Red-Background party.

Like most games of the time, the swastica symbols adorning the Nazi levels are censored, replaced with a black cross instead. In Germany, reproduction of Nazi symbols was banned after World War 2 except for specific circumstances. This included education and films, but up until 2018 it did not include video games, thus most games of the time that wanted to be sold in Germany had to find an alternative. Indeed, this is not the only time this has affected Indy games. Germany is such a large market that a sequel to Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Indiana Jones and the Iron Phoenix, was cancelled during development because the storyline so heavily used Nazi imagery and symbolism. The story was later salvaged and turned into a comic book.

Spear of Destiny is another Indy game that was cancelled and later turned into a comic book, but this time the reason was difficulties dealing with outsourced developers. The worst of the Indy games are those that weren’t developed in-house, and this mashup of the three pre-1994 Indiana Jones movies was co-developed by Factor 5, who would go on to work together with Lucasarts on projects such as Star Wars: Rogue Squadron and the N64 port of Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine. I think they were a safe pair of hands for a co-developed game, the engine and design of which was already sketched out via the Super Star Wars games. Lucasarts generally continues to work with a few trusted developers from the mid-90s onwards, rather than completely outsourcing development to a random third-party, and it pays off.

The vehicle sections are the most fun and, like all the levels, are quite faithful to the films.

Despite the similarities, Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures did not have the success or the staying power of Super Star Wars, and it’s easy to see why. It reviewed well at the time, and is fondly remembered by Indy fans who didn’t have the wealth of games that Star Wars fans had to play with. The wow-factor of those games was starting to wear off, and the Star Wars universe really leant itself to exciting set pieces which capture the imagination, piloting Luke’s iconic X-wing or landspeeder. Star Wars also has a huge cast of enemies to fight, while the vehicles and enemies in Indy are more generic.

I have a soft spot for the right version of Temple of Doom, but being a SNES child, this hits all the right notes. The difficulty hinders replayability and might prevent a fun nostalgia trip, but this is one of the best of the many Indy platformers.

If there was a straight fight in a Cairo marketplace between this and Sega’s Instruments of Chaos, Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures would casually pull out its pistol and shoot.

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