PUBLISHER: U.S. Gold
DEVELOPER: Tiertex Design Studios
Master System: 12/90 – (EU)
Game Gear: 10/92 – (US), 1992 – (EU)
Genesis: 11/92 – (US), 12/92 – (EU)
The glittering “Lucasfilm” logo and the infamous “Indiana Jones” theme may make you needlessly excited for this awful interpretation of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Once the adventure starts, you’ll quickly notice that Indiana Jones is a wimp who can’t help but hurt himself. Everything damages this man: falling from short distances, hitting your head on ceilings, running into enemies. Your life bar might look long, but it only takes a couple hits to make Indy collapse on the ground.
The immediate lesson is “be careful” when playing Last Crusade. But when has Indiana Jones ever been careful? It’s his success in spite of his recklessness that makes him such a wonderful character. And anyway, it doesn’t matter whether you play Last Crusade recklessly or conservatively. The game’s overbearing construction will prevent you from moving beyond the first stage.
Indy controls more like the stiff grumpy professor from “Crystal Skull,” than the strapping hunk of beef from the original trilogy. Jumping is necessary to reach ropes and avoid crumbling walkways, but Indy’s jumps are more like pained leaps that rarely hit their mark. Indy can’t run, so he walks casually through each level, despite the aggressive time limit. His punch – the only form of attack he has at first – is slow and has a short range, so enemies have to get right up on you before you can hit them; by then, their light touch may have already drained your health.
About that punch. Why does Indy have a punch at all? Why doesn’t he have his iconic whip or even a gun with limited ammo? Well, Indy’s whip is in the game, but you can only collect five lashes at a time via a golden whip icon. Ridiculous! Next to Indy’s trademark hat, the whip is a defining element of his character. While the weapon was likely limited to make the game more challenging, the game’s challenging enough without being forced to go out of your way to grab whip icons while a timer that no one asked for counts down to your inevitable (temple of) doom.
Screw that timer too. Each of the game’s six levels gives you an extremely limited amount of time on the clock, and the only way to complete the levels is to gather hourglasses that replenish your time. If you go off the direct path – say, to gather some whip or to collect treasure – there’s a strong chance you won’t reach additional hourglasses before your time is up.
All of this may seem like minutiae, but these are the issues you’ll be wrestling with every step of the way. If you memorize where each enemy will appear, where all the items are, and progress with extreme caution, while keeping an eye on your waning time, you might be able to move beyond level 1. Not me. Even in extremely hard and/or poorly developed games, it’s rare for me to not at least complete the first level. With Last Crusade, I couldn’t and not for lack of trying. Even with Indy’s whip at the ready, those gun-toting assailants were too quick to either shoot or walk into me before I could hit them.
A person can only die on the first level so many times without thinking, “Is it me? Is this what I’ve become?” No, friend. It isn’t you, and it isn’t me. Like a parent who enforces a ton of rules on their child’s playtime, then expects them to enjoy themselves, The Last Crusade‘s restrictions – limited whip, extreme time limit, stiff controls – suck all the life out of a potentially enjoyable adventure. This game may star a fedora-wearing sprite that slightly resembles Indiana Jones, but the freewheeling spirit of the titular character is nowhere to be found.
*thanks to MobyGames for the screenshots of levels I never reached.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade isn’t as difficult on Game Gear as it is on Master System. This is strange because it’s the same exact game, and the Game Gear’s smaller screen actually makes it harder to see what’s coming next. You’d think the latter would ruin the game, but Last Crusade actually runs better on the handheld. Indy walks and jumps faster here, which makes the time limit less of an issue. Also, if he gets hit, he blinks for a couple seconds and followup attacks can’t hurt him. These concessions don’t make The Last Crusade a good game, but they do make it slightly less frustrating.
Praises be, The Last Crusade is more fair to players than its 8-bit counterparts. The level layouts are larger and completely different, the time limit is generous, and Indy starts off with a healthy amount of whip lashes that regenerate over time. There are chests scattered around each level that contain additional health, time, stronger whips, and more. There’s even an Options Menu that allows you to change the difficulty, control layout, and listen to some blatty sound effects.
Indy controls better this time around too. Simple movement and jumps are far more fluid and graceful, despite his hunchback sprite. He doesn’t lose health when he falls anymore. Combat is still a little wonky (the hit detection is awful), but at least you have the option to punch or use your whip.
Tiertex and U.S. Gold more or less resolved the issues I had with the Master System/Game Gear versions, but they added a new one. In the first level, you reach a point where you have to use your whip to swing across a pit of water. Every time I cracked the whip across the knob, the whip failed to cling on. Taking a leap of faith while whipping towards the knob landed me in the water, which is instant death. Many continues and a couple Youtube videos later, I still didn’t understand what I was doing wrong.
The potential for an authentic Indiana Jones experience exists beyond Last Crusade‘s insurmountable whipping section. I’ll never see it, but those of you brave enough to heed John Williams’ rousing clarion call should go search for the Holy Grail. You never know what you might find.