Because his lesser adventures were less than great
From 1992-1994, LucasArts recruited Sculptured Software to develop Super Star Wars, Super Empire Strikes Back, and Super Return of the Jedi, a series of Super NES sidescrollers based on each movie in the original trilogy. As they've always done, LEC treated Indiana Jones as priority number two, giving the square-jawed archeologist his due only after they were finished with the space opera adaptations. Developed by Factor 5 in collaboration with an in-house team (designer Kalani Streicher and future Curse of Monkey Island Lead Artist Bill Tiller among it) and released in 1994, Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures is in the same vein as the Super Star Wars trilogy, but instead of being a trifurcated release, it packs all three of the original Indy movies into one slam-bang cartridge.
Like the game itself, an evaluation of Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures should be direct and to the point: this is pure, unadulterated 16-bit sidescrolling goodness. The player will whip, shoot, and jump their way through twenty-eight levels, all loosely based on scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, and Last Crusade. (For the two year old prodigies who are reading this, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a decade and a half away from existing.) Serving as transitions between the levels and filling in the narrative gaps are pseudo cinematics in the form of captioned, bad quality stills taken directly from the movies. It's a little cheesy, but this presentation oddly works and anyway, chances are you boot up a game like this with the highest expectation being that some semblance of a story is even acknowledged.
The gameplay of Greatest Adventures is satisfying and barebones. This is classic, arcade style 2D platforming, which means that it's extremely easy to pick up and play. You start off each level and life with only your fists, but by breaking destructible, abundant background objects you are almost immediately given access to your whip and, when the situation calls for it, your trusty revolver. You can also collect the occasional hand grenade, the use of which eliminates every enemy on the screen. Those come in quite handy when saved up for the really hairy situations. Even rarer are the extra life tokens, and appearing in most abundance are base collectibles in the form of life hearts and jewels, the latter being particularly useful if you're the type who likes to rack up points and be the envy of your friends, specifically the ones who time-traveled from an era where that kind of thing mattered to anyone.
The controls are basic, responsive and intuitive, which is more than desirable in a game like this; it's flat out necessary. The B button is your jump and the Y button is your attack. Indy can whip and shoot vertically and diagonally in order to reach enemies or an object he can lash to swing across chasms. When armed with a weapon, he can still throw punches by using the L or R shoulder buttons. For getting through tight spaces or dodging enemies, he has the ability to roll, an action not unlike the Mega Man slide. By pressing down and the jump button, the player can command Indy to drop down a level from the current platform when applicable, an extremely useful ability wisely borrowed from the likes of Contra. Reliable controls are vital in this genre and fortunately this game gets the mechanics right.
And you'll need to master them with precision if you expect to get stay alive. Even if you don't have the huevos to select the highest difficulty level, this game is as brutal as a bare-chested German mechanic with a grudge. Enemies are plentiful and range from the human (including just about every goon archetype from the films you'd hope to see) to hostile wildlife. The most annoying enemies tend to be the smaller ones, with armed Nazis and Thuggees always seeming far less intimidating than rats, monkeys, and particularly angry birds. Naturally, you can also expect such quintessential Indy dangers as bottomless pits, pools of lava, and gigantic boulders to contend with. These obstacles are such common staples of action sidescrollers in general that it reminds you how much of a natural fit this character and his scrapes are for this type of gameplay.
The levels are straightforward and reasonably varied. By having three full-length movies as source material, there isn't too much repetition in the environments, which faithfully cover most of the major locations from the films. For the year and the platform, which was in its later days, the art and animation are excellent with pleasing detail and nice foreground/background effects. The level design tends to be linear and of the "reach the end in one piece" variety, but there are a few twists here in there, with some extremely light "puzzle solving" in the form of pushing crates and effecting escapes slightly more creative than blowing thugs away.
Some levels are more vertically oriented than others, such the one set in the Raven bar which Indy must ascend before a rising blaze reaches him. One level, which takes place in Pankot Palace from Temple of Doom and involves Indy entering secret passages behind statues, is designed as a flat-out maze. Some of the films' climactic scenes are represented as boss battles, which are easily the most amusing of Greatest Adventures' attempts to translate Indy's silver screen exploits to video game form. The opening of the ark and the dispatching of Donovan in particular are handled with some pretty entertaining creative license. Finally, as was the case with Super Star Wars, there are also a few extremely fun "3D" levels which utilize the Super NES's much ballyhooed "Mode 7" technology. These include the snowbound rafting down the Himalayas, the mine cart chase, and the biplane escape.
The music is all lifted from John Williams' scores for the films, which is great, though it does get a little needlessly repitious in a hurry, as the game is content to use the same handful of tracks throughout. Compare that to the recent Staff of Kings, which cheerfully robbed tons of cues, both the obvious and non-obvious, from the films to great effect, and it's a shame to find that this game doesn't exploit more of William's ample archive, gloriously MIDI-fied. Sound effects are all well suited, with there even being voice samples from the films sparingly employed, the best being on the game's Game Over screen, where Sean Connery's solemn utterance of, "I've lost him" accompanies the silliest picture of Henry Sr. imaginable.
As mentioned, the difficulty level is high, and you can expect to incur a large quantity of frustrating deaths (not a few of which will be caused by Indy flying helplessly backwards into a pit after being struck) before trial and error finally gets you past some of the game's harsher areas. Fans of the genre wouldn't have it any other way, and the addictiveness of the gameplay will likely keep you committed all the way through. And fortunately, Greatest Adventures isn't actively out to piss you off - you're given the standard three lives and three continues, but the game comes equipped with a very fair password system so you'll never have to repeat too much of the game when you've finally cooled off enough from your previous gaming session to resume the masochism.
I guess if I was going to complain, I would say that even more classic moments from the films should have been included. Although I'm here to tell you that the ball was decidedly not dropped when it came time to represent the beloved shooting-the-swordsman gag from Raiders, there are likely scenes from the movies you conjure to be iconic that didn't make the cut.
Additionally, while all of the major and minor villains from the film seem to make appearances here, almost none of the sidekicks do, with Indy being alone in places where he was partnered in the cinematic counterparts - expect no Sallah, Marcus, Shorty or Willie, and look to see sprites of Marion and Henry Sr. only long enough to support a tiny cameo. At nearly thirty levels, it's not like the content is meager, but with the precious Star Wars franchise getting three games with no significant sequence left behind, it is slightly disappointing to see the evidence of a lack of wiggle room here. On the flipside, Greatest Adventures benefits from growing pains learned from over the course of the individual Super Star Wars titles and is arguably a more polished and substantial experience as a result.
Amidst a truly shocking amount of misfires that you're likely blissfully unaware of, Greatest Adventures is, in its simplicity and competent execution, by far the best straight action game LucasArts has ever put out for cinema's favorite fedora-wearing adventurer, so it's great to see it get a re-release on the Wii Virtual Console for those who missed it or who want to relive some fond memories. While Indy's two graphic adventures remain his greatest interactive outings, the quality of Greatest Adventures makes you wonder why the character has had to suffer so many mediocre to god-awful action based titles when he clearly lends himself to the genre so well. This game holds up just fine and is highly recommended to fans of old-school sidescrollers or Indiana Jones, which frankly should cover everyone with a soul. If you find yourself with 800 Wii Points burning a hole in your Nintendo account, there are far worse things you can exchange them for.
Pros: Standard, but solid and addictive, sidescrolling gameplay; levels are challenging and numerous; graphics are great; follows the events of the movies
Cons: You may not find every last one of your favorite Indy set pieces here; soundtrack could have used more variety