Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure DOS review

Like I said last review, today let’s steer clear from action titles and into one of my personal favorite graphic adventures. And since I failed to review a Star Wars themed game this month’s fifth, let’s remedy that with another George Lucas’ former intellectual property. I’m talking about Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure was made by Lucasarts and originally released in 1989 for Amiga, Atari ST and DOS. The following year it was ported to the Macintosh and released in CD-ROM format for DOS and FM Towns. The CD-ROM version was re-released in 1992 for the CD-TV, in 2009 for Windows and again in 2016 for Linux.

The original floppy version features EGA 16-color graphics and the CD-ROM version features VGA 256-color graphics, but no speech whatsoever, unlike other Lucasarts CD-ROM titles.

But before we start with the game, let’s look at the cover:

879-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos-front-coverIt makes sense that a movie-inspired game uses one of the official movie posters as the box cover. For those very few who haven’t watched the movie yet, this cover features the two main actors in the movie: Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones (on the left) and Sean Connery (on the right) as Henry Jones Sr., Indy’s dad. One might ask why include Henry in the cover, but he actually plays a very important role in the game itself (just like in the movie).

And the back cover is equally awesome:

880-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos-back-coverAs you can see, it features the Holy Grail, the Grail diary (very important in the game, as you’ll see) along with some still shots from both the movie and the game. I have to confess I like the back cover more than the front cover. Just add Indy’s iconic hat and whip and you would have an original cover more than appropriate for this game.

But it’s time to whip this sucker:

For those of you familiar with the movie, I don’t think I need to worry explaining the game’s plot. Apart from a few changes here and there, it follows the plot of the movie quite faithfully.

The intro’s based on the movie prologue, where young Indy is running along on top of a circus train carrying the Cross of Coronado, then it cuts back several years later, when adult Indy arrives at Barnett College with said cross and has a small exposition dialogue with his friend Marcus Brody. And it’s here that the game introduces the one element that wasn’t adapted from the movie: a peculiar self-referenced sense of humor that borders on fourth-wall breaking (more than once Marcus and Indy face the player).

While the comedy elements aren’t as big as in other Lucasarts titles, like Maniac Mansion or Zak Mckracken and the Alien Mindbenders, the game is still quite funny and it follows more or less the comedy staple that became synonymous with Lucasarts’ graphic adventures.

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The game was designed using the SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) engine which, as one can see, uses a graphical interface in the lower part of screen where you can find a list of commands and below that, the inventory. Using the mouse, you click the action you wish to perform and then click the object in the inventory and/or the place where you want said action to occur. It’s a very intuitive interface that was used in all early Lucasarts’ graphic adventures.

The interaction with the NPCs is through dialogs, where you choose which line to say and if the correct dialog tree is chosen; you can progress, gets hints, objects or solve puzzles. In some sections where you need to bypass Nazi guards, it’s possible to avoid any fights whatsoever if the correct dialog tree is chosen. But on one particular section (that can actually be bypassed in its entirety if you know how), there’s no way to sweet-talk your way out with the guards, so if they catch you, you have no other choice but to fight.

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The very start of the game.

The fighting sequences (and the dogfight sequence) are the only action-oriented sections you’ll ever find throughout the game. But right at the start of the game, you can practice Indy’s boxing skills with a boxing coach. To fight, you use the numeric keypad, one set to attack, one to back away and the middle to defend yourself (it changes accordingly whether Indy’s is on the left or right of the screen). However, the fighting can be quite complex because there are two bars: one for health and another for punching power. If you start the fighting simply by bashing the attack buttons, you’ll lose punching power fast, so to fight effectively, you need to defend and back away when your opponent attacks and strike when you see an opening in your opponent’s defences. It’s easier said than done, so I suggest a bit of practice with the coach before getting on with the game because if you lose a fight with an enemy, it’s game-over. And your health bar recharges very slowly, so it’s very hard to fight all the Nazi enemies in the game.

But don’t worry about the dogfight sequence because there’s no penalty if you get shot down (remember that’s what happens in the movie). Even if you fight all of the Luftwaffe Air Force, your plane will eventually run out of fuel and crash.

Like I said before, the game follows more or less the movie plot, although it expands some parts (like the Venice part, which is probably my favorite part in the game) and reduces other parts (like Hatay and Salim, that aren’t even mentioned in the game) but it’s still well written and very faithful to the movie’s spirit. As far as game length go, if you go to every area you’re allowed to go, the game has a proper length. But if you bypass certain areas (by solving the right puzzles and/or having the correct object), the game might appear somewhat short. Besides, apart from one hard section (which I’ve already mentioned), there’s practically no reason to avoid areas (especially if you want to follow the movie’s plot as close as possible), unless you’re trying to finish the game fast.

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The adventure starts…

This game even takes a page from Sierra’s graphic adventures and introduces a score points system, called IQ Points. But unlike Sierra’s games, to get the maximum score of 800 points, one needs to replay the game several times and choose different outcomes and solutions for the puzzles. It gives the game poor replayability value because, although I do like the different solutions for certain puzzles, it doesn’t change the plot all that much and there’s basically just one ending with some mild variations here and there based on your final actions. There’s actually no need to replay the game unless you want to see everything this game has to offer and/or you’re a completionist.

And talking about the puzzle structure, the puzzles themselves aren’t too hard nor too easy, just the perfect amount of difficulty. Although in the Venice section, you have to do a bit of pixel hunting at the beginning, but the rest of the puzzles aren’t as frustrating. The most important object (just like in the movie) is the Grail diary (diaries actually), which the in-game version is essential to solve some of the puzzles, while the physical version is incredibly important to solve the final puzzle (whose solution changes randomly in every playthrough). It even features some Indiana Jones’ lore, including some references to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series. In fact, as games extras go, the physical Grail diary must be one of my personal favorites game items of all times and for me, it’s more probably faithful than the movie replica lorewise.

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Ah, Venice…

As far the graphics go, in both the EGA and VGA versions, I think the graphics look great with detailed sprites and good range of colors (even with just 16 colors EGA graphics). The animations are more or less fluid and all the characters have a good range of movements, even during the fighting sections. And both the mouse and the keyboard controls are quite responsive, especially during the action sequences.

The sound effects are okay and you can tell the designers tried to provide a good atmosphere with the sound of footsteps (even muffled and splashy footsteps, depending on the terrain), but just the sound effect without any musical score sounds weird to me. And talking about the musical score, I think the quality of the MIDI music it’s okay, even the iconic Indy theme. If you manage to run the game with a Roland MT-32 soundboard, the soundtrack should be even better but unless you have said soundboard, the only way to truly appreciate the soundtrack in a modern PC, it’s to run the game either through Dosbox or ScummVM along with a Roland MT-32 sound emulator (like Munt). I simply wish that there were more musical themes, although the few that are present, are actually good.

So in conclusion, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a very good graphic adventure, perhaps even one of the best made by Lucasarts at the time, but it quickly got eclipsed by other Lucasarts graphic adventures, like the Monkey Island series and The Last Crusade own sequel, Fate of Atlantis (both of which we’ll review at a later date). Needless to say that I highly recommend it for both Indy and graphic adventures fans.

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No, this isn’t Castle Wolfenstein.

The Mac version is very similar to the DOS version, except for a smaller resolution and better menus and there’s practically almost no differences in the Amiga version. I haven’t played the FM Towns version, but it’s considered the best version due to having not only having VGA graphics but also a CD audio quality soundtrack with some of the themes taken directly from the movie soundtrack.

You can buy the modern re-release here on GOG.com or here at Steam. But I don’t recommend the Steam version because although it is the VGA version, the soundtrack is in MIDI format and it doesn’t bring the Grail diary in PDF format.

So, are you a fan of Indiana Jones? Which is your favorite movie and/or game? Tell us by commenting below or by following us on social media. Next time, let’s move genres again but not very far away. Until then, put on your hat, grap you whip and keep on playing!

Blackthorne DOS review

Well, like I promised last time, today’s review is from a GOOD action PC game and it’s also one of the first games produced by a famous game developer. I’m talking about Blackthorne.

Blackthorne (AKA Blackhawk in Europe) is an action/platform game developed by Blizzard and published by Interplay. It was originally released in 1994 for DOS and SNES/Super Nintendo. It was ported the next year for the SEGA 32X and the following year for Macintosh and the PC-98. It was re-released in 2003 for the Game Boy Advance and in 2013 for Windows.

But as always, let’s look at the covers first:

26863-blackthorne-dos-front-coverWow! With famous comic book artist Jim Lee responsible for this cover art, Blizzard wasn’t pulling any punches when promoting the game. It features our protagonist, armed with a shotgun, posing as the badass he is. With an equal badass title logo, this would be one of the best covers I’ve ever seen, if it wasn’t for the lack of background. Although I kind of like the red colour on our protagonist.

28145-blackthorne-dos-otherAnd yes, this is the type of cover I would like for the gamebox (this is the jewel case cover). Featuring a proper background and even one the enemies you face on the game behind the protagonist. Although some might say that this looks more like a comic book cover than a computer game cover, I think I prefer this one.

And apparently I wasn’t the only one to think so, because almost every other cover had the coloured art version, like this one:

228230-blackthorne-snes-front-coverYes, this is the full cover art and it’s probably the reason why the SNES/Super Nintendo version is the most famous version of the game.

But for the Game Boy Advance re-release, another cover by a different artist was used:

273340-blackthorne-game-boy-advance-front-coverIt’s not bad and the lines look better, but as far as content go, it’s no different than the original cover. They should have used the back cover instead:

273341-blackthorne-game-boy-advance-back-coverNow this look badass! And featuring one of the reasons why this game is famous: the not-looking back shot! Not very practical, but it does look awesome!

But enough talking about the covers and let’s boot this sucker:

In the title screen, you have the badass logo featured in the covers and the traditional options menu, plus a Practice level which is basically a tutorial to learn all the necessary moves needed to play the game and if you select New Game, you’re treated to the game’s intro.

The intro, despite being somewhat small, explains everything you need to know about the backstory: in the world of Tuul, the evil Ka’dra’suul (who look a lot like the orcs from the Warcraft series) led by Sarlac, wage war on the human-like Androthi (again, just like in Warcraft). But as the Ka’dra’suul are raiding Androth’s royal castle, King Vlaros asks the court wizard, Galadril, to sent his infant son Kyle to Earth. But 20 years later while hitchhiking, the now adult Kyle (calling himself Blackthorne) is sent back to Tuul, where he must avenge his father, rescue his people and defeat the evil Sarlac armed only with his boomstick. And if you wish to know more, the manual expands upon the backstory and reveals more about the protagonist.

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Like I said before, you start the game armed only with a shotgun (with infinite ammo), but you can pick up other items like bombs, potions, keys, etc. from enemies or other Androthi you encounter throughout the levels. You can also upgrade your shotgun and raise your health bar in some specific levels. You go through 17 levels divided in 4 areas. In each level, you need to get keys, bombs and other items to open doors and barriers in order to progress to the next level, beating all kinds of enemies and avoiding traps along the way. But everytime you start a new level, you lose all the items you gathered in the previous level (meaning you have to get them all over again) but at least your health bar is recharged back to full.

The combat system is a bit more strategic than most action games. You can dodge attacks simply by pressing yourself against the background (you’ll notice this as Blackthorne gets darker), but your enemies can also do the same. So basically, most combat revolves around dodging attacks until you get an opening to attack. Patience and quick reflexes are the key to victory. You can also run past most enemies but some of them carry items necessary to solve the environmental puzzles. And the enemies get progressively harder and harder, but at least your shotgun and your health bar get upgraded throughout the game.

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Killing an enemy.

And the difficulty also grows exponentially as you progress, but I only found the game  starting to get hard from the 2nd area forward. Luckily apart from the upgrades, you also have infinite lives, so you can try again and again, although everytime you die, you need to restart the level all over again (which can be a drag if you die near the end of a level).

But the gem in the crown is the mix of action and platforming which is very reminiscent from other titles like Prince of Persia, Another World or Flashback. It’s very fluid and fast-paced (but perhaps not as much as the titles I mentioned), but then the combat sections slow that fluidity to a halt (although an experienced player can combine the running and the dodging with the back shot to keep it somewhat fluid). Yes, Kyle can use a back shot by stretching his arm backwards, without looking or aiming. Very useful (and badass looking) when you’re in the middle of two enemies but not very realistic.

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Another great aspect of the game are its graphics: all the levels are very detailed and beautiful, with a fantastic color palette, from the backgrounds to the gothic aesthetic in the last area. And the animation is equally superb, especially during the cutscenes and Kyle’s idle animations (which contribute to the overall atmosphere of the game). Despite the DOS version having a small resolution, the artstyle is top-notch and it doesn’t shy away from some light gore, like blood and exposed wounds.

The level design is very well made and apart from some later levels, you won’t need maps to figure your way around them. Although you might have trouble in some screens figuring out where you can climb up to an upper screen. Although the levels aren’t too big (although you might have to take some long routes in the later levels), the game itself has quite a proper length, mostly due to the puzzles and figuring out where all the items are (and some hidden areas here and there).

Also there is a good variety of enemies from the aforementioned Ka’dra’suul (that come in different colors and respective ranks of difficulty) to other beasts. But I wish the game had boss fights at the end of the last level of each area, apart from the final boss, that is. In fact, when you watch the cutscenes, you might get convicted of the contrary.

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For such an hardcore action game, you might expect an hard-rock soundtrack, right? Well, the soundtrack is actually a bit subdued in contrast with the action on screen. The initial levels have some upbeat themes but as you progress through the game, the music gets more ominous and nerving, but each theme suits its level quite well. I actually found the music a bit relaxing and not a bit distracting. It contributes a lot to the game’s atmosphere. And the sound effects are equally good (especially some enemies’ grunts).

And like I said in past reviews featuring action games, the controls are probably the most important feature for such games and Blackthorne has very responsive keyboard controls. But here lies the game’s biggest flaw: both the original DOS version and the re-released version aren’t compatible with any joystick or gamepad, especially if you’re playing in a native DOS computer. It’s technically possible to remap the keyboard controls with a gamepad if you’re using Dosbox, but I couldn’t do it with the re-release version that comes bundled with Dosbox.

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I love the color palette used here.

So, in conclusion, Blackthorne is probably one of the best action/platform games ever made for the PC, despite being eclipsed by other classic titles in the same genre (like the aforementioned Prince of Persia or Flashback). Still, it’s a very solid game with great controls, gameplay (albeit only through keyboard), graphics and animation. Needless to say that I recommend it for any action game fan!

I haven’t played any of the console versions but I do know that the SNES/Super Nintendo version is probably the most famous one (mostly due to the fact that you can play it using a gamepad!), although the gore is censored. But the Sega 32X version might be the definite version due to its superior graphics and an extra area with 4 more levels. But I did play the Mac version which has a bigger resolution and better graphics than the DOS version and a very similar gameplay.

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The Game Over screen, but only if you choose to give up.

I’m sure you’re already searching through digital stores for this game, but what if I tell you that it’s completely free? That’s right! In 2013, Blizzard re-released an updated version bundled with Dosbox at Battle.net free of charge! What are you waiting for? Go and get it!

And that was the review. Whew, that was a lengthy one! But I did promise to review a proper action title. So I hope you don’t mind if for the next review, I choose a game from a totally different genre. And it’s one of my personal favorites too. Until then, practice your no-scope back shot and keep on playing!

Iron Man and X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal DOS review

The culmination of 10 years of movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has finally arrived at the cinemas with Avengers: Infinity War. And to celebrate such occasion, let’s take a look at the only game released for PC featuring the Avenger that started the MCU: Iron Man (and some other character from Valiant Comics)! I’m talking about Iron Man and X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal.

And yes, I know that Capcom made two games based on The Infinity Gauntlet comic (which inspired the Infinity War movie): Marvel Super Heroes for Arcade and Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems for the SNES/Super Nintendo. But those games were never released on the PC, so they won’t be featured here at Retro Freak Reviews (but they’re awesome BTW!).

Iron Man and X-O Manowar in Heavy Metal (what’s with Marvel-licensed games and long titles?!) is an action game developed by Realtime Associates and published by Acclaim. It was originally released in 1996 for DOS, Game Boy, Game Gear, Playstation and Saturn.

Due to the success of the MCU, everybody and their dog knows who Iron Man is, but unless you’re a big Valiant Comics fan, you might not know who X-O Manowar is. He’s basically an ancient viking who was abducted by aliens, got his hands on an experimental alien armor (called X-O), used it to come back to Earth, but due to time dilation, he came back to modern times. So he became a reluctant superhero while fighting aliens and other supervillains. I love you Tony, but a viking wearing an alien armor it’s just about as cool as it gets.

But before looking at the game, let’s look at the cover:

112457-iron-man-x-o-manowar-in-heavy-metal-dos-front-coverThis cover looks a bit weird in my opinion. Here we have Iron Man and X-O Manowar looking menacing in a typical superhero pose, but what makes the image weird is the background perspective. It looks like both heroes are standing on the side of a building with two other characters behind them (and apparently also behind the glass window where they’re standing on). But then I noticed that the heroes are actually flying towards the two female characters and the background is actually the reflection of said window (still a very confusing perspective).

And the back cover adds to the confusion, even though it makes more sense:

112458-iron-man-x-o-manowar-in-heavy-metal-dos-back-coverIn here, it looks like the females switched places with the heroes and are now standing in front of a window (which is reflecting the heroes this time). The perspective in this image is a lot better than in the other image, that’s for sure. The two females pictured above are Mistress Crescendo from Vaillant and Titania from Marvel. Mistress Crescendo is one of the main villains in the game, which justifies her presence here but Titania isn’t (she only appears once as a boss), although one might assume that she’s a main villain, based on this image alone.

But as always, it’s time to boot this sucker:

I found the intro very lacklustre (although rocking a hell of a theme music) but to find out the backstory, one has to read the manual, which has a rather good comic to explain all of it: Mistress Crescendo and Baron Zemo (not a traditional Iron Man villain by the way) joined forces to try and reform the Cosmic Cube (imagine a Macguffin and a Deus-Ex Machina combined into one) with the goal of using it to take over, not the world, but TWO worlds instead (Marvel and Vaillant). A pretty standard backstory for a superhero game, but it serves the game adequately.

A small disclaimer: I have only played the single-player mode. I have no idea how’s the co-op mode.

You choose between Iron Man or X-O Manowar and have to go through several levels and face down several villains from both comic universes. You go through 7 areas divided in about 3 levels for each area with most of them with a boss (always a supervillain from the comics) at the end of each level. Both heroes control more or less the same; with a melee attack (two for Iron Man and a energy sword attack for X-O), a range attack, a recharge attack that spends one weapon bar and temporary flight (by pressing jump twice). Although both characters move at the same speed, X-O has a little more trouble dodging attacks because he’s bigger (but he can block attacks).

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“I AM IRON MAN!”

Surprisingly, the melee attacks are more powerful than the range attacks, even after fully upgrading them. But at full power, you can even get a seeking attack that automatically targets the nearest enemy, which can be very useful. However, if you lose a life, you’ll also lose one upgrade. The armor bar (which is basically the life bar) doesn’t replenishes between levels, but at least, you keep any upgrades you caught previously. There’s also boost upgrades that extends the flight period, which can be used to reach high platforms or simply fly above dangerous areas (or enemies).

And although you can only move in four directions, there’s a background plane from which enemies can came from but luckily both heroes have an attack that targets specifically the background. You can even blow up background objects to get upgrades and health items.

And speaking about the levels, they’re probably the best part of the game. With great graphics, good design (although the later levels can be a bit labyrinthic), good variation of enemies and no time limits (except for one awful boss battle). And although the game’s in 2D, there’s a pseudo 3D perspective as you move along and even a zoom effect during the boss battles (although it tends to pixelate the bigger enemies when zooming in). The levels can be a bit small, but there are so many of them, that the game is quite lengthy.

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And the boss battles are in their vast majority great. With challenging and not too frustrating bosses (except for the one I mentioned before).

But unfortunately there’s also some drawbacks: the sound effects are okay and the soundtrack is actually quite good (for a game titled Heavy Metal), but the music themes are short and on a continuous loop, which can become a bit grating after awhile. But for me the worst part are the controls (which are both bad, whether you’re using a keyboard or gamepad, although I recommend the latter) and the animation, which is too slow for most of the game. It only speeds up when the screen’s empty. And for such a fast-paced action game, these two elements’ quality should be above all else.

And it’s due to these two elements that Heavy Metal is one of the hardest action games I ever played on a PC. Bad controls and slow gameplay make this game unnecessarily tough, even in the easiest setting.

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Playing with X-O Manowar

So in conclusion, I don’t consider Heavy Metal a terrible game, even with its drawbacks. Yes, the controls could be better and the animation more fluid, but the graphics and level design are good. If you’re a comics fan (especially of these  two characters), you might want to give it a shot, but there are better action games out there.

I haven’t played any other versions, but the Playstation version seems faster and more fluid in comparison with the DOS version. And apparently there’s also an entire mini-series that tells the story of the game (probably where the comic in the manual comes from), but I also haven’t read it.

So, are you excited to see Avengers: Infinity War? I know I am! And I know these two reviews weren’t very positive, but the next review is from an action title that was requested a few months ago by a watcher from my Twitch channel. And I promise it’s a much better game than these two last. Until then, keep on playing!