Indiana Jones and the Archives of Inconsistency

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I’ve seen ’em all. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The amount of fan adoration this franchise receives is unlike many in modern Hollywood, rivaling that of the Star Wars franchise or many of Disney’s animated classics. Because of this, many are subject to a very heavy bias when looking at this franchise through an objective lens. While I was made aware of various scenes from Jones’s adventures through parodies and references in other media, never have I actually sat down and watched the films until about a month ago, so there’s no nostalgic bias to be found here (for once). With the occasion of finishing the franchise (until 2020), I felt it’d be interesting to share a fresh perspective as to the weight of these (mostly) ’80s classics. And as the title implies, the theme here is inconsistency.

Referenced somewhat recently here, I did not care much for Temple of Doom. While user ratings for the film are fairly divided, with the more general perspective being positive, I found it to be a fairly insipid viewing. The inclusion of Short Round and Willie completely tampered any potential the film may have had if it didn’t focus so keenly on gross-out humor and silly popcorn theatrics. They ultimately had no place in the film, provided little chemistry with Jones himself, and had as much depth to their personality as characters from Sesame Street. This harshness towards these two characters specifically is due to their influence on the film’s tone, providing more of a comedic approach instead of a serious one. This would be excusable if the comedy was at all funny, but it’s not.

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Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gets a lot more backlash from fans for “ruining” the franchise. Critics gave it decent marks, but user score is typically fairly low, and it was even desecrated on an episode of South Park. Once again, this bunny with no nostalgic bias watched the film with an open mind, and while I think the film is bad, I thought Temple of Doom was worse overall. I thought Temple of Doom’s second act was better than Crystal Skull, but its first act was so horribly misguided that it nearly destroyed the whole experience for me. Crystal Skull has a sort of quality that almost hides behind the greatness of its prequels while trying to be so over-the-top that no one would ever accuse it of being so similar. It’s this absurdness that brings its quality down for many trying to take the film seriously, which it does a decent job at in the first half. Still, with enough references to fill a house, it can’t quite shake the foundations of a soft reboot, catering to newcomers while titillating fans of the franchise.

In my mind, two of the films in a four-film franchise are bad. Two out of four; that’s half the franchise. Not only that, but they’re the second and fourth films, respectively, causing a wave-like effect of turbulent highs and lethargic lows. One is good, one is bad, one is good, one is bad. Without the perspective of a diehard fan that grew up on the films proclaiming Crystal Skull to be the black sheep of the franchise, one can say that the series has always been flawed to some degree, and its consistency is seriously questionable, both in terms of overall quality and the pace of such within each individual film.

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What made the Indiana Jones films so enjoyable was the constant focus of thrilling action, the wonders of adventure and mystery, and the human drama that came with the characters along the way. This is fairly common knowledge to many, but pulling this off effectively is no easy feat. Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade have a good number of things in common, including the factors mentioned above. With lots of semi-realistic action, lovable character interaction, and a nose for gritty attitude, they both accomplished a mixed tone of light and dark that boded well for characters to behave as well as they did, with a lot of focus on memorable scenes and noticeable, subtle development. Not to mention, the bond between characters in both pictures, specifically Jones and Marion, as well as Jones and his father, almost single-handedly carry the torch for emotional appeal, seeing as both pairs have some friction between them. There’s a potent humanistic element that makes the adventures feel real and all the more grand for it.

Any more on Temple of Doom would be ad nauseam. Crystal Skull harbors a little character enthusiasm, though struggles to find any balance with the realistic qualms of Jones’s antics. Surviving a nuke by sitting in a fridge. Killer ants with a penchant for human flesh. Aliens. It goes above and beyond to entertain, however, it becomes more of a chore to take any of it to heart when it feels so jadedly superficial. The Indiana Jones movies were always somewhat silly, but Crystal Skull takes it to such levels of ridiculousness that Kali-Ma! seems like a morning stroll in the park. Everything about each scene feels so forced, so maniacally enthusiastic about being able to appeal to everyone that it loses some of its identity. In this sense, I can understand how the latest entry “ruined” the franchise to many. For me, the franchise couldn’t be ruined because it was never a stable library of greatness in the first place.

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Wrapping up, there is an indistinguishable charm that the Indiana Jones franchise manages to capture half the time. Even in the worst of times, there’s enough of a semblance of good merriment to hold over any person not so sternly idolizing of the whole product. I suppose the point of this post made into simplest of explanations is that the franchise isn’t perfect prior to a certain point. It’s important to look at things as single products, then add the outside context later on. How much this context influences one’s opinion is dependent on the individual, but one shouldn’t disregard one or the other entirely. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn’t great, but neither was Temple of Doom, and some didn’t even care for Last Crusade. Whatever shoots the sword-slinger is for anyone to decide. Just don’t be so picky.

Metroid: Rogue Dawn (V. 1.10) Review

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Almost half a year after the rise and fall of AM2R, another Metroid fangame has made its way into the living world. Metroid: Rogue Dawn is a game that was in development, from what I can find, since 2014. It was released late last month, but I hadn’t found out about it until just a week ago. This delay allowed me to play an updated “1.10” version with fixed bugs and mishaps, which probably benefited my overall experience. The lead designer, Grimlock, is already whipping up plans for a “1.20” version with a little bit more content involved, so this is a currently evolving product that I happen to be reviewing this version of. The updates come with the enthusiasm of replaying to spot the differences and make the game all the more invigorating, though the product now needs little work in terms of pure gameplay.

The most impressive thing about this hack is that it pays homage to the original Metroid down to the ‘d.’ Everything you could possibly love (or loathe) about the original Metroid is on full display in Rogue Dawn, from the pixelated graphics to the controls. While glossier in its finish than most games within that timeframe, to the inexperienced eye, the game could genuinely be mistaken for an NES game made back in the ’80s. In recent years, the demand for retro and retro-styled games has risen exponentially, almost to the point where it’s become trendy. Rogue Dawn has enough of a backing to justify its design choice while also satisfying the desires of those who wish to be transported back to simpler days.

It’s set as a prequel to the original Metroid, with the player starring someone other than Samus Aran. It takes place on the traditional setting of planet Zebes with an unknown human worker under the command of Ridley. Her mission is to steal a Metroid from within the Federation’s base and bring it back to Space Pirate headquarters. The lone woman’s name is Dawn Aran. Herein lies one chief problem with the manner of the game’s execution combined with its plot: why make her name that? Throughout Rogue Dawn, very little is given in terms of who this woman is and how she may be related to Samus. In fact, she’s never given any dialogue or personality to speak of, reclaiming the role of Samus in games of old, silent protagonist to the stars. It isn’t until the end of the game that she makes any direct thought at all, which may come across as random to some. I feel the extra intrigue with making her directly tied to Samus leaves too much to be desired with as little story is told about her, specifically. The creator could’ve named her literally anything else and it wouldn’t matter to the story whatsoever.

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This isn’t to say there is no story in Rogue Dawn, as there is quite a bit, both told through dialogue and environment. I liked the simple aesthetic foretelling that Rogue Dawn incorporates to drive the feeling of isolation that Metroid is known for. Skeletons being littered throughout the planet, old Chozo statues being placed everywhere with empty item shells, etc. These little changes don’t seem like much, but it subconsciously paints a mood for the player as they travel throughout the lands of Zebes. Dialogue is painted on the screen in individual rooms, which seems silly at first glance, but is a nice throwback to the way video games used to be before advanced textboxes were created. It gets the job done and is able to convey enough emotional feedback from characters to set the mood further, but only that.

While Rogue Dawn does do a great justice in those looking for a true Metroid “sequel,” there’s a great injustice that I feel needs to be addressed with these homages. Gameplay-wise, the controls are solid and very rarely fidgety, and the sprite animation is fluid and nice to look at. However, perhaps because it is a direct hack of the original Metroid, it still contains many of the problems that plague the source material. Horrid knockback. Enemies phasing through doors as the screen loads the next room, hurting the player. Bosses being defeated by spamming one button. Lag with a large number of moving sprites onscreen. Limited enemy variation. These included are some objective faults of the game, but don’t assume more subjective complaints won’t follow suit.

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For as much as I love the Metroid franchise, I was never a huge fan of the original game. While excluding Metroid II, as I’ve never played it, my experiences with its games gives the impression that they perfected the formula with Super Metroid. Some of the issues I have with Metroid is that it’s too vague, too unfairly difficult, and too simplistic in its design to really leave a lasting impact. Rogue Dawn, as the point of an homage, incorporates all of these things, to varying degrees.

It is too vague. It took me a total of ten hours to fully complete this game. I’m not blaming the game for my lack of directional skills or intuition, but there are times when the environment holds too many different passageways to too many different areas, leaving the player to occasionally forget completely about one of what seems like ten different secret routes. There are subtle differences to tell these secret routes, usually, but there are also times when the player must experiment with newly-acquired items. Backtracking, while also trying to guide oneself in the right direction, can drag the experience out for far too long. Not to mention, there are no incoming updates, hint systems, or Chozo statues telling where one needs to go. One must explore, trial and error, over and over in various areas until they can conceivably find a lead. God help whoever happened to miss a key item along the way.

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On a narrative scale, the vagueness can also dull the impact of the story, as it becomes rather heavy later on. One is likely not to care about Dawn, as the only intriguing feature about her is her name and position. It almost seems, despite its best efforts, that the story is a rather safe route into the “Metroid lore.” By game’s end, nothing really changes, nothing really is set up for future updates. It feels like one of those one-off bonus specials for fans of a main source. Like an OVA to an anime series, or a mini-series to a hit film. While the presentation of a new character with an intriguing backstory is presented within Rogue Dawn, the hack does nothing with it. It could’ve attempted to give her an occasional interaction or two with others within the base or otherwise, but the decision to keep everything quiet backfires in this case.

It is too unfairly difficult. This one can be different for anyone, though I feel one can sense it within Rogue Dawn, especially within the last area. Certain enemies bounce around with absurd precision. Bosses have a ridiculous amount of health to them, or unbreakable patterns. Trap rooms give way to hurting the progression of the player. Not to mention, that glitch where enemies can phase through doors. To be fair, the difficulty with bosses only concerns one in the forest area (as I traveled there too early in the game) and the final boss. Speaking of the final boss, the entire final area is so frustratingly annoying and targeted to infuriate the player that one would likely throw their computer at the wall if not for save states. It certainly had its intended effect on me (My laptop is okay). But is that fun? Does that “sense of accomplishment” really come through upon beating it and overcoming a tough trial? It can, but in cases where the game isn’t throwing eight different projectiles at me and expecting me to fail the first twenty times. A more strategic approach is enough to quell my frustrations with a feeling of elation, somewhat like the final bosses in the Donkey Kong Country series. Having a hundred enemies onscreen at the same time trying to kill you isn’t strategic. It’s padding.

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It is too simplistic. Purists will likely harp on me for criticizing the game for being too similar to Metroid in simplicity, but the point doesn’t matter. The fact is that it’s still too simplistic. I can understand not wanting to be handheld and experiencing the thrill of adventure on your own. There are two extremes to one subject, and I feel the coddling of recent games is only balanced by the relative abandoning of games of old. Much like Rogue Dawn. Much like Metroid. It is without a lot of narrative intrigue. It is without a number of items to make the experience much different. It is without a lot of different enemies to combat. It is without a lot of everything that made future Metroid titles much better in comparison to the debut member. One could conceivably see the game as simply going from one place to another, collecting things and blowing up baddies, and that’s all. I’d argue there’s more to it, however the amount present on the surface is bare. The most interesting thing about Rogue Dawn is that it’s a fan project and the environments look spectacular.

Even with the flood of negative attributes, there’s a lot to adore with a fan project such as this. As I previously stated, the environments and design look spectacular, amazing even. One would likely play the game based on aesthetic embellishment alone. It sets the tone magnificently and the intrigue of what’s to come keeps the player going. The final area is a particular favorite of mine that embodies everything about the creepy atmosphere the Metroid series adores indulging in. Artistically, Rogue Dawn is the pinnacle of a true-to-form Metroid fan project. It also features a decent amount of changes to the environment to make it more visually exciting, as well as more foreboding than the occasionally silly sprites of Metroid. This is one area where the fan project exceeds the original. Then again, this was made thirty years after Metroid.

If one really, really loves Metroid, then they’ll feel right at home with Rogue Dawn. The amount of effort put forth (and still ongoing) is shown in the work, which alone could make the game worth playing. Unfortunately, one would also have to fight with all the outdated design flaws that come with the original game; not to mention a disappointing lack of entrepreneurship with a supposedly new and fresh storyline.

Final Score: 5/10