The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
In 1991, the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was released in North America, heralding a new age of video gaming, where the home console machine was now a legitimate industry enterprise, and edgy new company Sega placed its Genesis system into heated competition, pittingSonic the Hedgehog against the famed Mario franchise.
The next couple of years would see a rapid-fire stream of new classics enter the video gaming fray, while the former 8-bit consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System would gradually phase out of production and first-party support. In the twilight years of the NES, developers had by then largely mastered and exploited the limits of the hardware, but demand was decreasing for their cartridges, no matter how excellent their gameplay happened to be. Perhaps sadly, a few gems were lost in the shuffle, and are nowadays somewhat rare. One of these titles was The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, based on the television show and general mythos of the Indiana Jones films, and happened to be a solid game in its own right, as published in 1992 by Jaleco.
The player controls Young Indiana Jones, a courageous, adventurous protagonist who has an appreciation for history and a taste for dangerous situations. The game, interestingly enough, actually begins with a cutscene of an older Indiana Jones offering to tell the player about his younger glory days. The festivities then start in Mexico, where Indy gets involved in helping the villagers combat the oppressive regime of Pancho Villa.
Like any good platformer, the A button jumps while the B button attacks. Indiana begins with his trusty whip, which has a decent range as a melee attack. By attacking crates, he may potentially find other weapons; in fact, there are eight different weapons for his weapon slot while he adventures on foot, such as the knife, pistol, rock, and grenades. Each differs in their projectile characteristics; for example, the rock can bounce down across the ground, while the pistol fires its rounds straight forward across the entire screen, and the knife slowly descends with gravity after being thrown.
Along with the weapon slot, Indy also has a shield slot, though taken by headgear such as his classic hat, or the gas mask in France and Germany. While held, it allows Indy to take one hit before dying; and, if found when Indiana Jones is already wearing one, grants an extra life, hopefully adding to the three he begins with. Last is a slot for helpful items that have a temporary effect, like the enchanted necklace that grants invincibility, or the lamp that lights up the dark caves of the silver mine.
The game provides a decent pace of action; not quite Ninja Gaiden or Mega Man, but a respectable clip nonetheless, while traversing through the historical context of such areas as World War II-era Germany. There is even a flight level where Indy participates in dogfights with enemy planes, zeppelin, and even fights the Red Baron. Touches like that add to the appeal as Indy ends up killing a few actual historical figures; though, in classic NTSC-region censorship, there is no outright reference to Nazis or swastikas to be found.
Overall, this is a very solid platformer, worth playing, and as implied earlier, a hidden gem of the late-cycle NES library. Although the biplane stages in the middle of the game seem a little out of place and not as well done as the straight platforming, the overall experience is still worthwhile, enjoyable, and appropriately challenging.
The areas are presented well, with each level and their sub-stages richly detailed per their location. The backgrounds are rendered very pleasantly, though perhaps the underground portions are easy enough, given their blank black background. The foregrounds are done well too, though, as are the animations. The sprites themselves are nice, but perhaps a little large, or could have at least done with more detail; this is one of those NES games that seems to have One-Color Character Syndrome, a disease with the symptom of all the characters being drawn in basically one color. Even the Super Mario Bros. had a two-color protagonist and some multi-hued enemies, but for whatever reason, many 8-bit platformers drew their heroes and bad guys in one dominating shade.
Otherwise, the game certainly looks like a 1992 release; good for the console, but not stretching its limits beyond what was fairly standard for the time. The cutscenes that pan from one character to another are perhaps the most polished element intact, not to mention the iconic sight of Indy cracking his signature bullwhip.
Honestly, the background tracks and sound effects are not memorable. But they are composed with more punch than many titles, with the music providing the atmosphere needed for a world-spanning adventure. The explosion for the grenades and dynamite is nice; but, beyond the fun grandeur of the title screen, with its clever flame-fill of the logo, there is nothing here that qualifies as an ear-worm, although there is nothing venomously annoying, either.
The two-frame whipping animation looks suspiciously like a certain Belmont character’s stroke from the Castlevania series, and this game is based on a pre-existing media license. Otherwise, though, the three item slots, multitude of weapons, historical context, and just-plain-good platforming action set this apart as a worthy cart. One notable highlight of the gameplay are the physics: The way the rock weapon bounces a few times down inclines, or the brief time it takes to stop when running, even if some players would prefer a lack of inertia altogether.
In the end, this is a fine job by Jaleco, in the footsteps of Shatterhand, and a pleasant departure from the inundation of their sports library. Although it probably deserves something more like a 3.75, the quirky “why?” behind the flight level and a more-than-normal tendency to glitch out make this a three and a half stars out of five sort of game.