With the fourth Indy film due out at the end of the month, I took a retrospective look at the games that had come out in the last few decades celebrating the exploits of the Man in the Hat. While the films have taken us to the corners of the world in search of fortune and glory, the games have also tried to do the same thing with varying success.
This is just a light tour of the titles that had come down through the years since his debut in Raiders and while I had fun with most of these, a few of them made me thankful that Indy can take as many punches in gaming as he does on the silver screen.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
I remember this gem on the 2600 being crazy hard, in hindsight, probably because it was trying to do a lot of things that we take for granted today using the extremely limited resources on the console. It’s something of a triumph to even think that it actually worked well enough as a game.
It came with an inventory that you had to manage, clues that you needed to find, and a bizarre sequence in which to do it all in. It also used both joysticks, one to control Jones, and the other to control his inventory. There was a store in the game with key items and it didn’t exactly follow the story, but back then, a lot of 2600 games didn’t really have a story to tell. I can remember stumbling around most of the game just trying to figure out what to do, buying stuff, avoiding men in black, and using a parachute to jump off of a cliff and hook myself onto a branch sticking out from the side. Indy’s whip was a tiny dot on the screen, aside from what it looked like in the inventory, and there was no Belloq to steal your thunder or truck chase to get shot in the arm with. Basically, once you found the place where you had to dig, the game was over when you found the Ark and then were rated with an ambiguous score. As a kid, though, I loved this stuff.
(1984) Indiana Jones in the Lost Kingdom
Here’s a game on the C64 that didn’t have anything to do with any of the films but was spun off as a separate adventure. The cover of the package the game came in bore the artwork from Temple of Doom which came out that year and the game apparently left the player with little to actually go on. I barely remember playing this one, only that it really did leave you with nothing more than a puzzle you need to somehow figure out on your own without any clues.
Apparently, Indy is busy tracking down another treasure and discovers the Lost Kingdom where it might be found in. The Lost Kingdom looks like it’s made up of doors, floaty platforms, and staircases making it one of the strangest places around, but it was a game with the name “Indiana Jones” on the cover and a bunch of pixels onscreen that actually could be mistaken for our favorite adventurer.
(1984) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
This game came out when arcades were still king and consoles and the accelerating pace of PC advances hadn’t yet stolen the thunder from their hardware. It would also see a ton of multiple releases which is kind of weird since I thought Temple of Doom is the weakest of the series. Raiders should have gotten some serious arcade love, but I guess it may have been a little too early to start picking on Nazis leaving mysterious, foreign thugs that eat bugs and monkey brains as the next best thing.
The arcade version came out from Atari with Mola Ram mocking the player thanks to a digitized voice, there would be flaming hearts flung at them, and there was even a minecart sequence that was almost unfair to the player since you would often take a track only to end up on a dead end stretch before you knew it. Three doors were available at the start of the game to determine what difficulty level you wanted to begin with, although they were all pretty hard. Indy could only whip his guards, knocking them senseless, which would keep the player running since they’d recover pretty quickly. Still, there were a few things that were fun about the game. You could steal the Sankara stones from the altar while avoiding falling into a pit of hot, molten, lava and you needed to rescue the kids locked up by those evil Thuggee guards. Fortunately, you didn’t have to deal getting stuck in the back via voodoo…which doesn’t make much sense since you’re in India.
Temple of Doom would also see a lot of crazy love as it would be ported over a score of platforms over the next few years. That’s right, YEARS. Today, gamers complain about sequelitis. Back then, it was all about milking the franchise for as much as it could be worth with the same game even if it wasn’t all that great to begin with in the arcade.
From the poorly received NES version from Tengen which I remember was almost as bad as when Pac Man was brought over to the 2600, to it’s final batch of releases five years later, here’s a list of the platforms that Mola Ram and Indy would fight over following the arcade game:
- 1987 – Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64
These appeared to be faithful reproductions of the arcade game given the limitations of the technology at the time. The Amstrad version simply looks godawful but you have to hand it to someone taking the time in programming it for release.
- 1987 – MSX, ZX Spectrum
This version was released on cassette tape for the Spectrum. I couldn’t find any screenshots of this one, but it actually does exist. It was also released for the MSX computer by U.S. Gold with a green Indy.
- 1988 – NES
This is the infamous release by Tengen which tried its best to emulate the original arcade version even though nearly everything looked like it was formed out of Play Doh. The mining levels were made horizontal as opposed to isometric with pink conveyor belts and the mines were vastly expanded. Whipping Thuggee guards still didn’t kill them, although you could swing on an invisible whip from ledge to ledge while rescuing kids. Points were also awarded by picking up swords and keys and finding stuff on each level. One neat thing was that you could jump out of the minecart and rescue more kids or go through doors to find stuff or more mine levels.
Yes, those are pink conveyor belts. Hello Kitty is waiting somewhere on this level to tear your heart out.
- 1989 – Amiga, Apple II, DOS
The last iteration of Temple of Doom would come out on these three systems thanks to prolific publisher Mindscape with the DOS version coming closest to being almost like the arcade. It’s amazing that it even came out on the Apple. Fortunately by this point, the Temple of Doom udder was finally as dry as a desert. If any franchise tried to do this today, you probably would be able to see the flames and pitchforks via Xbox Live!.
(1984 – 1985) Indiana Jones the Roleplaying Game
TSR cashed in on the popularity of the franchise with a licensed game based on his adventures complete with a rule system and plenty of examples in how to run a pulp flavored period piece. Cardboard cutouts, character bios, and an introductory adventure would round out this unexpected game from TSR’s gaming scribes. The module for Raiders would even go so far as to describe what would happen in a PC decided to touch the Ark after helping Indy find it in the Well of Souls (ZAP) or if they decided to keep their eyes open at the end instead of keeping them shut (BLINDNESS!!! AGGGHHH!!!).
Several modules were released over two years based on original adventures that had Indy chase after relics such as the Fourth Nail from the Cross to recovering the gold idol that Belloq had stolen from Indy just before he headed off to his adventure after the Ark. One interesting thing about that adventure, named “The Golden Goddess”, was that it was a solitaire affair that hid the normally DM only material in a colored mask that would only be revealed using a “Magic Viewer”, kind of like the red plastic slip used for the Transformer bios. It even had a fold out seaplane which, thankfully, didn’t have a snake sitting in the pilot’s seat this time around. Several of the other modules that I’ve seen make use of the Magic Viewer gimmick which, unfortunately, didn’t help in making this as popular as it could have been.
(1987) Indiana Jones in Revenge of the Ancients
This was a text-only adventure released by Mindscape for IBM PCs as it cast Indy in another plot by the Nazis to seize an ancient power in order to conquer the world. Even in interactive fiction, Indy comes in swinging his way through a jungle and into an ancient temple to save the world armed with the power of an intelligent parser.
(1989) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Two versions of this were released for IBM PCs and the Amiga: the action version which had you punch and whip your way through Nazis and other dangers, and the adventure version which ran just like your typical adventure game where you would pick commands and search for clues to solve puzzles. In addition to this, the IBM PC adventure version came in two graphical flavors, one catering to 16 color EGA and another for those lucky enough to have a whopping 256 colors with VGA. Thankfully today, we just have to worry about whether our graphics cards will be obsolete or not in six months.
The adventure version also came with a copy of the grail diary filled with clues to help you get past the puzzles in the game. The adventure game followed the movie pretty closely and you could even get the diary signed by der Fuhrer himself and use it to get past a checkpoint as one entertaining liberty taken with the source material. As it came out during the period when Lucasarts was in the adventure game business, the game easily shows off the studio’s storytelling acumen. In 1990, the Macintosh would also get the adventure version of the Last Crusade.
The action version of the franchise would see a much wider release across multiple platforms over the next few years owing to its simple take on the film with a few liberties taken with the basic design depending on the platform it would be found on. It would see release across the following:
- 1991 – Game Gear
- 1992 – Genesis
- 1993 – NES
- 1994 – Game Boy
…before this udder would finally run dry. While the action title’s run wasn’t as bad as the Temple of Doom’s across everything that had an electronic pulse, it was still basically the same game being milked for nearly more than five years. Madden had nothing on Indy once he got his game on.
(1992) Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
Undeniably one of the best action adventure games to grace PCs, this adventure would cast Indy in a new adventure as he trotted across the globe with sidekick, Sophia Hapgood, in a search for Atlantis before those dastardly Nazis found it for their own evil ends. It would also be released for the Amiga and for the Macintosh.
This is one of the my favorite adventure games and it was packed with an innovative system that split the narrative along three major paths. Choosing to solve puzzles with your head than with your fists would take you on the “Wits” path. Using your fists instead would take you on the “Action” path, and teaming up with Sophia would orient the game towards the Team path. The main story would stay the same, but certain puzzles and situations would only come up depending on what path you decided to take adding to its replayability.
Puzzles included tricking a U-boat crew to shift positions on the sub to get to where you needed to go, scaring someone into leaving behind a valuable artifact, and visiting far flung places such as Crete and Iceland in your search for clues. A CD “talkie” version was also released with the actors doing a pretty good job in bringing the characters to life. This is probably as close as players have gotten to a new Indy outside of an official film.
There was also a pure action version of the game that was released, although it is not as well known, which took players into an isometric adventure.
The action version would see release in the same year on the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and the ZX Spectrum in addition to the DOS version, but would not be remembered in the same hushed tones and whispers that its adventure oriented sibling would in the years to follow.
Despite the huge push to popularize the game and inspire sales across as many platforms that both versions found themselves on, it would not be followed by another major chapter until Infernal Machine. A sequel was being planned and a comic, Indiana Jones and the Iron Phoenix, was drawn up around the story. Unfortunately, Lucasarts quietly canceled their plans for it.
(1992) The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
This one was released exclusively for the NES and wouldn’t make as much of a splash as its predecessors, a far cry from the Indy gaming mania of the past few years following the films and books.
With the success of the Last Crusade, a new series was launched on television that would take fans back to Indy’s days as a young adventurer involved in WW1 and globetrotting against the forces of the Kaiser while rubbing elbows with people such as Mata Hari and Teddy Roosevelt. It was probably inevitable that a game would be created around the series but while one did come out on the NES, it apparently wasn’t very good. I haven’t played this one, but I was like a lot of other fans hoping for another epic along the lines of “Fate” or “Last Crusade”.
(1994) Indiana Jones’ Greatest Adventures
Arriving exclusively on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Factor 5 (Rogue Squadron, Lair) manages to cram all three films into one cartridge with plenty of action as the player uses his whip, trusty fists, jumping ability, and a grenade or two in seeking fortune and glory. Digitized stills from the movies along with a few voices add to the title’s rendition of each adventure which was a lot of fun.
The controls were easy to get used to and the action is reminiscent of the kind found in the Super Star Wars series by Sculptured Software. Plenty of 2D action sees Indy in iconic scenes such as running from the giant boulder before he gets squished. It’s pretty exciting stuff and a joy to play if you still have a soft spot for classic gaming.
(1994) Instruments of Chaos: Starring Young Indiana Jones
Young Indy got one more game on the Genesis/Mega Drive which pits him against the nefarious schemes of the Kaiser around the world as Germany sends agents to procure the latest weapons technology and scientists to build the ultimate war machine. This is a side scroller allowing the player to pick from several locations on the map to start their adventure from and then shoot, grenade, and jump their way through one challenge after another to foil their plans. There are plenty of environmental dangers to fall into and the whip looks more like a pixelized string than something threatening on screen, but hey, it’s Indy!
(1994) Indiana Jones the Roleplaying Game…Redux
This time, it would be West End Games that would revitalize the series and bring the pulp role playing experience out from mothballs although it wouldn’t last very long, either. A few modules and updates came out to support it and you can still find bits and pieces of this series out there on sites such as Ebay and Amazon.
(1996) Indiana Jones’ Desktop Adventures
Indy would find himself shrunk down and made into a desktop game, similar to Pinball or Minesweeper, for gamers on the go who can’t get away from their work. It would randomize objectives and enemies and then send the player into an adventure that could be finished before the end of your lunch break. It took a top down approach and came complete with an inventory and some action with simple puzzles to figure out and areas to explore. It wasn’t “Fate of Atlantis”, but PC gamers had little recourse but to wait a bit more until he would return in another, original, epic adventure.
(1999) Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine
Indy debuts in 3D with this action adventure title that takes place after WW2 and pits him against those dastardly Soviets…wait, SOVIETS? If you’re thinking “Kingdom of he Crystal Skull”, you’d be right as this game also foresaw the need to move beyond the Third Reich and give Indy something more to worry about. This time around, he’s teamed up once again with Sophia Hapgood from “Fate” and is on a search for the pieces to a mysterious machine related to the Tower of Babel. Unfortunately for him, the Soviets are also after the same thing and are determined to seize the secret spread across the world for themselves.
I didn’t much care for this game thanks to the awful PC controls, dated graphics, and the generally bland story with the bizarro ending that accompanied the gameplay, although the controls were supposedly polished for the N64 version. The game was still marketed with the same quality that “Fate of Atlantis” had received with beautiful Indy-styled box art and it still had its moments, but not many of them.
(2003) Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb
When a new Indy title was announced, little was spared in making it a big splash on the Xbox where it would debut as a part of the next-generation at the time. Artist Drew Struzan, no stranger to either Star Wars or Indy, would paint the box art for the game. Even the manual was dressed up as a beaten piece of visual candy written in the language of the time in describing the game mechanics complete with bits and pieces taken from Indy’s notes promoting the atmosphere the developers wanted to create.
Taking place in 1935, just before “Temple of Doom”, Indy heads off to China in search of the tomb of the First Emperor of China before the Nazis can seize the treasure that lies within it. I thought that this was a pretty fun game even with a few rough edges. The ending certainly left a lot to be desired along with the voice acting, although the voice actor for Indy could easily double as Harrison Ford and most of the story leading up to the end wasn’t too bad. Lots of action, and fantastic music, are packed into this one.
A new Indiana Jones was announced in anticipation of the film that would be coming out. Lego Indy will be out in June to take advantage of the fans leaving the theaters following the release of “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, although a full adventure epic is still somewhere under the radar.
Lucasarts doesn’t have much to say about it yet other than it will be using the Euphoria animation engine and that Lucas himself will be overseeing the story set in 1939, but you can bet that once more stuff is revealed…such as an official site…the floodgates will open up.
If you really have a need to get back into the swing of things with the world’s greatest adventurer, you might want to check out what the fans are doing in order to keep the adventure flame burning on PCs:
- Indiana Jones and the Fountain of Youth (in progress)
A demo is already out for this game to show off some of what these fans have put together as Indy goes off in search of a missing professor while dodging the agents of the Third Reich determined to discover the secret that he was searching for. There’s plenty of original artwork that’s already been created for the game from what I can see in their gallery and it looks like it will continue the same feel for adventure that “Fate of Atlantis” had raised the bar with. If you want to check it out by clicking on the title link above.
- Indiana Jones and the Crown of Solomon (in progress)
This is another fan project pitting Indiana Jones against the Third Reich in a follow up adventure taking place after the Last Crusade. Racing against time to discover the Temple of Solomon and the secrets within, Indy must contend with another ancient mystery as well as keep its secrets from the hands of the Nazis. There haven’t been too many updates to this project in awhile but I hope that it’s still on track in some form. You can check it out for yourself or lend some support their way by clicking on the link in the title.
If you want even more Indy trivia to chew over other than the games, you can check out the following links for even more adventure as these were very helpful in building this list:
Until then, let’s hope for more Indy!