Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Released in 1989 by Seta Corporation after development by WinkySoft, the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) video game Adventures of Tom Sawyer was based on the classic book of the same title, as written by Mark Twain. Would the mischief of a boy in ol’ Mississippi translate well to a gaming experience?
Adventures of Tom Sawyer is mostly a two-dimensional side-scrolling platforming game that also scrolls vertically in portions. There are also parts that resemble a shoot-’em-up, in both scrolling orientations, taking place on a river level and a sky stage. There are six areas in total, with boss fights after each, mini-bosses strewn throughout, and plenty of enemies and precision-jumping challenges along the way.
Fortunately, Sawyer is armed with an infinite supply of generic ball-like projectiles, possibly rocks. He throws these with the B button, while the A button jumps. The balls are not thrown straight forward; no, they have a modest arc, and drop quickly, much like his body upon each of his bounds. Every once in a while, Tom may pick up a slingshot, which enables firing perfectly straight forward for a limited time, although it is often just as well not to bother picking up this supposed upgrade.
There is no hit-point system, no health bar, no armor setting, purely a scenario in which a single hit kills Tom Sawyer. He begins with three lives, though he does have unlimited continues, and all levels except the final have a checkpoint system at which he can reclaim his adventuring spot from there. In two-player mode, the second player plays as Sawyer’s friend Huck Finn, with alternating turns much like the Super Mario Bros series.
The entire gameplay has a strange, slightly “off” feeling to it, somehow. Maybe it is the standard-breaking discrepancy in the fact that most of the bosses are rather easy, while some parts of the levels are frustratingly difficult to get past without utilizing tedious trial-and-error learning methods. Perhaps it is the opening cutscene, which places the entire game supposedly within a dream, which may explain why the settings seem to try and match the real-life era, until the life-likeness is spectacularly broken by the appearance of an impossibly giant alligator or outright dinosaur creature.
Warning: There are cheap deaths in Tom Sawyer’s little Adventures. Enemies with erratic movement patterns, enemies that will actually appear right on top of the player if the player is proceeding too quickly, enemies with strangely behaving projectiles, etc. Even for a video game, the creative liberties taken with the laws of physics are truly something amazing to behold. That, and the river level is just friggin’ annoying.
Yet play proceeds without major issues. Even if some parts are annoying, it is rare to feel truly helpless. The ability to duck is a niceand very necessary touch, even if Sawyer can do little else but climb ladders and grab the occasional helpful pelican or red balloon. The boss fight with the enormous zeppelin is a visual spectacle, yet other levels display drab one-color backgrounds. There is minimal flickering or slowdown, but the scrolling is a bit odd in some particular sections, when the screen pauses the action to take a moment to catch up with Sawyer’s movement.
This a polarizing title, seeming to match of its faults with a stroke of benefit, each of its flashes of brilliance with a mind-numbing design decision. The pace shifts between sudden bursts of frantic panic and moderately long trudges through duldrums. Tom Sawyer is vulnerable, but nimble; the levels tough, but passable; the bosses easy, but captivating; this game is decent, but underwhelming.
Judging the visuals of this game is an odd endeavor. The first level seems bland, with its vast swaths of plain sky, straight-up weird “pirate” archetypes, and other lacking touches; but throughout the game, there are many pleasant surprises, ranging from the massive purple gorilla boss to the seemingly gradual adding of background detail. In the end, once the smoke of dying characters has cleared, this is neither a graphics powerhouse nor an ugly beast. This check-and-balance dichotomy seems to be the theme of the game. The cutscenes are actually pretty darn nice.
But the soundtrack is bad. The music, even if at a couple points reaching an admirable level of compositional depth and finally utilizing all of the NES hardware sound channels, is terribly repetitious, with melodies that are minimally pleasurable to begin with. Listening to this game’s music is an exercise in brazen masochism. The sound effects are okay, but typically not memorable. A bloop here, a pop there, a boomf over somewhere else. Conclusion: “Meh.”
Okay, well, the source material is undoubtedly an intriguing choice to form an 8-bit video game from. The boss designs are utterly zany. The levels hit a nice variety, even abruptly changing entire genre mechanics at a spot or two. The physics of Sawyer’s projectile weapon are a signature not really replicated elsewhere.
But: When boiled down to its base elements, what we have here is an average platformer. While it is somewhat skillfully programmed and would be difficult, at parts, to replicate on the homebrew scene by a small team, nonetheless is the playthrough simply not very fun or visionary in its execution, resulting in its rating of two and a half stars out of five.
Overall score: 2.5/5 stars.