On the 12th of June 1981, the world was introduced to Indiana Jones. This month marks forty years since Raiders of the Lost Ark was originally released in cinemas and so, I’m doing a huge, multi-article celebration to mark this anniversary. Through June, I’ll be publishing a different Indiana Jones article exploring various aspects of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones in general.
The year following the release of Raiders, and the first Indiana Jones game was unleashed. For the first part of my (huge) Raiders at 40 celebrations, I’m going to take a look at every Indy (that’s Indy, not indie) game released. I’m setting myself a handful of rules though. Official Indy games only, no Facebook or mobile tappy-tap games, no Young Indiana Jones titles either (though there will be a quick mention of these at the end). The games don’t have to have been based on the movies, they just have to star adult Henry Walton Jones Jr. No fan-made games, officially licenced Indy games only. Looking at my list and notes… There’s a lot more than I originally thought. This is gonna be a big ‘un, so I’m just glossing over the games and not going into too much depth. I’ll post links to YouTube playthroughs of the games, if I can find them, so you can see as many of the games in action as possible. Just give the main titles a clicky-click. An advanced thanks to any YouTubers I link to.
And with that out of the way, here is my Indiana Jones games retrospective.
As previously mentioned, Raiders of the Lost Ark for the Atari 2600 was the first-ever Indiana Jones video game. Some even say it was the very first movie tie-in game too… though I have doubts over that claim (read my new gaming book for more details). Anyway, Raiders was really quite revolutionary at the time as games back then were just about getting a high score. But Raiders of the Lost Ark actually had an ending to reach. It very loosely followed the plot of the film and had you playing as Indy trying to find the Ark of the Covenant. Full of puzzles to solve and really got you thinking like Indy himself. A true revolution in terms of gameplay back in the day and the grandfather of action-adventure games.
Even though the next film in the franchise was released in 1984, an entirely new and original game was released before the one based on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom hit shop shelves. Released on the Commodore 64, this one told the story of Indy having to try to retrieve an artefact to unlock the mysteries of the civilization that once lived in the titular lost kingdom. Set over six different rooms, each with its own set of very tricky puzzles to solve. Notoriously hard and massively unfair. The box proudly boasted on the front that: ‘Nobody told Indiana Jones the rules. And no one will tell you’. You know what, that box wasn’t lying either. The game came with no instructions, no hints, no rules,… Nothing. You just had to play and work it all out as you went. You had to use logic to solve each of the rooms and their puzzles, a bit like Indy I guess?
This arcade hit only used the finale of the film for its action. Split over three different gameplay styles/levels. First up, you have to save the enslaved children while whipping the crap out of Thuggee guards and snakes in a multi-directional scrolling stage. Next, it’s the famed minecart chase from the flick. Using an isometric viewpoint, as Indy, you have to navigate the mine track while smacking bad guys with your whip. Then it’s on to the final stage where you have to grab one of the Sankara Stones. Repeat this three times, increasing in difficulty every time, and the fourth playthrough sends you to a bonus stage set on the bridge from the flick. This one was simple but really fun arcade action that saw a lot of ports to pretty much every popular machine at the time. The NES version added a few bells and whistles, but also removed a lot of the arcade gameplay due to the limitations of the NES console.
Released on the Apple II computer and MS-DOS, this game featured box art that used images from the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom flick, but had nothing to do with the film at all. This one was a text-based adventure game No graphics here, just pure text from start to end. If you like black screens and a lot of white text, then this is the game for you. When done well, text-adventure games can be really damn great, see Zork as proof. Indiana Jones in Revenge of the Ancients is very, very, very ‘meh’ at best. These text games were quick and cheap to make, which is why there were so many of them back in the early eighties… Only this wasn’t the early eighties. For a game from 1987, this felt very dated. Perhaps that was the Revenge of the Ancients that the title alluded to?
Things are going to get a little confusing now as there were multiple games released based on the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade flick… yet several of them were very different. I’m starting with this action game which was released on pretty much every 8 and 16-bit console and home computer over several years. Set over only four levels, which are loosely based on scenes from the film. Starting out as young Indy trying to obtain the Cross of Coronado as a boy scout. The game then jumps to the Venetian catacombs where older Indy searches for Sir Richard’s tomb, from there, Indy has to climb Castle Brunwald in Germany… That’s not two different levels by the way. You go from Venice to Germany via a simple bit of rope climbing in one level. The third stage has Indy onboard a zeppelin trying to find pages of the grail diary before escaping. Then it’s on to the final level in the Grail Temple as Indy tries to nab the Holy Grail. Overall, this was a very average action-platformer with some pretty large difficulty spikes.
The second game based on the third film in the franchise, only this is no average action-platformer, this is Lucasfilm Games point ‘n click adventure greatness. Once more, this was released on multiple platforms over a few years. Following the film very closely, but also throwing in a bit of creative license too. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure is just sublime. Lucasfilm Games were kings of the point ‘n click adventure games and this was one of their finest. This featured multiple different paths you could take and different endings too. You could follow the film really damn closely, even using exact dialogue from the flick, but you could also take a slightly different route and experience things not seen in the film too. One of the best point ‘n click games as well as one of the finest Indy titles.
Supposedly released in 1991 according to all sources, but the credits screen for the game states 1990. Anyway, this is the third game based on the third movie. Just like the first one, this too is an all-action title, but only released on the NES. It’s also very different from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Action Game, as in it’s actually pretty good. Following the film far more closely than that other action game. Featuring pretty decent cutscenes (for the NES) with the likenesses of the actors from the film. Plus multiple choices to make in terms of the levels for which order you play them in. A very short game with only four stages, with a mix of platforming action and some (very) light puzzle solving. This is not as great as the previous point ‘n click adventure game, but it’s a damn sight better than the action game though.
At the time, it looked like there would be no more Indy films. But while his cinematic adventures seemingly came to an end, Indiana Jones still had plenty of life in video games in the guise of all-new adventures. This one was an isometric thing that involved a lot of walking around while punching and whipping people in the face. I’m not sure why this was called an ‘action game’ when it featured less action than previous action games. This one is bad, really, really bad. So bad that most Indy fans have long forgotten about it or just blacked it out from their memory. It can’t get any worse, can it?
Oh yeah, there was another one. Same title, same year… same shit? Thankfully no. This was another one of those classic point ‘n click adventure games. But not just another point ‘n click adventure game. The greatest, most sublime, fantastic, beautifully crafted point ‘n click adventure game ever made. With three different paths to follow that takes you on three varying routes through the game, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is the absolute pinnacle of the graphic adventure genre. The game met with massive critical acclaim too, garnering 90+% and 9/10 scores from reputable gaming magazines. For me, this is the best Indy game ever made. Wonderful characters, a brilliant plot, three different routes to take and most importantly, it feels very Indiana Jones.
Taking all three of the then Indiana Jones trilogy flicks, and balling them all up into one game. Platforming action, mixed with a little bit of vehicle usage and even a smattering of puzzle-solving. Then all linked via, digitised from the films, cutscenes. This is one of the best platformers on the SNES, all of the major scenes from all three of the flicks are represented and represented really well too. Famed for being devilishly hard but it really is one of the best Indiana Jones games of its time. Very much recommended as a wonderful slice of 16-bit platforming action.
There were a couple of these ‘Desktop Adventures’ games, the other one was based around Yoda from Star Wars. Anyway, this was the first one and it was a cute little distraction of a game. Everything was randomly generated each time you played, and the game boasted that there were ‘literally billions of games’ contained in this one title. Each adventure would last around an hour or so and they were crammed with puzzles, characters and more to discover. Aimed to be played when on a break from work, etc, much like other desktop games such as Solitaire or Minesweeper. Very much aimed at a more casual gamer, Indiana Jones and his Desktop Adventures was a great little distraction.
The Tomb Raider series that catapulted Lara Croft into the gaming limelight was massive in the late nineties. A lot of studios wanted to get in on that popularity and Tomb Raider clones began to appear. Even LucasArts wanted a slice of that Tomb Raider pie when they made this game. Of course, the fact that Tomb Raider was massively inspired by Indiana Jones in the first place kind of makes things come full circle. But yeah, this is basically Tomb Raider with Indiana Jones, it’s an okay game, above average at best. Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine feels a little clunky at times and some of the platforming elements feel a bit janky. Still, it is worth a play.
More third-person, Tomb Raider-like action again. This one plays far superior to the previous Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine though. Indy controls better and far smoother, there are more moves and interactions, the levels are less blocky and more interesting. Really, Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb is rather good all told. It feels very Indiana Jones, it respects the franchise and its fans. The whole game feels and sounds very authentic too. Plus there’s a really good fight mechanic where you can kick bad guys in the nards.
I really do love these Lego games. I know they are all basically the same thing but with a different IP, yet I still find them really damn playable. This one covers the first three films of the franchise, all done with a brilliant sense of humour. Famed scenes from the films are re-created using the Lego models and given a new, funny spin. With a tonne of secrets and characters to unlock, there’s a lot of game here to enjoy and a lot of fun in two-player too.
This was another one of those Tomb Raider-like titles, a very average one at that too. Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings had multiple different ports and all of them had slight differences. While the basic gameplay and story was the same, each of the ports had a few little differences. The ‘best’ version of the game was on the Nintendo Wii, not because it was a great port but just because it included the Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis graphic adventure as a bonus. A far better game given as a bonus in a very average one.
Yes, the Lego blocks are back and yes, this is pretty much more of the same… but it’s still damn fun. This game uses Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as its main setting and plot, yet it still includes levels based on the first three films too. Still with that cheeky, tongue-in-cheek humour and simple but enjoyable gameplay. Much like the previous Lego Indy game, this one is worth playing too.
And that is it for the main Indiana Jones games. As of writing, it has been twelve years since there has been a major Indy game, until… this.
Bethesda and Machine Games are working on an all-new Indiana Jones game. Very little is known of what the game will be about or even what genre of game it will be. Info on the game is harder to find than the Holy Grail. Still, with the team that rebooted the Wolfenstein franchise, really damn well too, I’m hoping this untitled Indy game will be well worth the more than a decade wait.
Now, I did say in the into that I would give a few other smaller, non-main Indiana Jones games a quick mention. So here we go.
There were a few games based on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV show. There was The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992) released on the NES. It was typical 8-bit, side-scrolling, platform-action fare, a bit Castlevania-like I guess, it was okay. Instruments of Chaos starring Young Indiana Jones (1994) was released on the Sega Mega Drive. A rather below average and very clunky platformer. There were a few educational Indy games included with The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones (rebranded from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles) DVD box sets. These included The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Revolution, The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Special Delivery and The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Hunting for Treasure. All released on PC between 2007 and 2008.
Yes, there was even a game or two based exclusively on the fourth flick too. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) was one of those tappy-tap mobile games. The trailer can be found here. I never played it myself, but from what I gather, it was terrible. Indiana Jones (2008) was released on the Didj Custom Gaming System. This was a handheld console aimed at kids, mainly used for education, mainly teaching maths. I couldn’t find much about the game itself, but I know it was based on the fourth film.
Indiana Jones and the Lost Puzzles (2009) was another tappy-tap mobile game. Trailer right here if you really want to see what it was like. Then the last Indiana Jones game released to date was Indiana Jones Adventure World (2011). A Facebook-based social game that was just a rebranding of a previous Facebook game. Yes, here’s a trailer too.
Indy had had quite a career in gaming over the last thirty-nine years. From that first digital adventure with Raiders of the Lost Ark on the Atari 2600, way back in 1982, to that Facebook thing Indiana Jones Adventure World thing. The games have differed vastly in quality and content, with more missing the feeling of being Indiana Jones than understanding the character. As I already said, the Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis adventure game from 1992 is still the best Indy game there has ever been. LucasFilm Games have remastered and updated a few of their classic point ‘n click games recently. So if you don’t mind LucasFilm Games…
As for the new game from Bethesda and Machine Games? I’m being quietly optimistic. Machine Games really did a fantastic job of rebooting the Wolfenstein franchise. I think the Indy IP is in more than capable hands. I just hope this new title isn’t just a FPS as that would be missing the tone and character of Indiana Jones by quote a fair bit. I hope for an action-packed, puzzle-filled adventure game. But I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.
Well, this is the first in many Raiders at 40 articles I have written to be released through June for the anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark. See you in the next one where I explore the most famous ‘plot hole‘ in Raiders.