Review - Montana Jones

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Review - Montana Jones

Post by goldenband » Sat Jul 24, 2021 2:57 am

Another day, another out-of-region 3DO game beaten and now reviewed. This time it's Montana Jones, a Japan-only licensed release based on an anime series of the same name.

That series lasted for a year, with 52 episodes total, and apparently got localized into a ton of different languages. (One of them was supposedly English, but I have no memory of seeing it pop up in the US.) Set in the 1930s, it looks like a hybrid between a furry version of Indiana Jones and, say, TaleSpin. The characters and their antagonists are big cats of various sorts, though the female protagonist, Melissa Thorn, is essentially human except for a cat nose.

The 3DO game is clearly targeted to kids, though it's not edutainment as such. After an intro that combines animation from the show with clumsy CGI, Montana Jones presents you with a world map consisting of seven locations marked in English: Peru, San Francisco, Tibet, "Soviet", and so on. Select one of these, and you're presented with a simple animation of a gramophone that plays a Mission Impossible-style briefing. Naturally, it explodes at the end. The briefing is entirely in Japanese, as is all of the game's voiced dialogue, but occasionally words like "Excalibur" are discernible.

Then you fly from Boston to whatever place you've chosen, and go through a sequence of tasks that are more or less the same for each location. First is some simple point-and-click work that has you nosing around until you find the right place to trigger an action sequence. You can also trigger minigames, though these don't seem to be necessary to complete the level (more on this later). The presentation is very basic, with minimal animation and no visual flair, though the voice acting seems competent.

The next step is typically some kind of first-person navigation as you search for the treasure associated with your location. Sometimes these are mazes, with cheap-looking CGI of Montana; at other times, your task is more akin to a point-and-click adventure. In either case, there's no penalty for messing up, so you simply have to persist until you find the right path or clickable location.

Once you've done this, you have to clear one or more side-scrolling platformer levels, culminating in a boss encounter. These are very short and basic, with bare-bones animation and a substandard frame rate, and the controls and collision detection are pretty questionable.

You have a rather large health bar, akin to a gas gauge, at the top left of the screen. Running into enemies or falling objects will damage you, as will falling into pits. Getting hit by a falling object will also send you back to an earlier part of the level. If you finish a section low on HP, you're likely to see Melissa waiting for you in the next area, and you can regain health by kissing her.

In between the 2D platformer levels there are sometimes 3D action sequences in which you run down a tunnel, being careful not to hit the walls. These are vaguely reminiscent of Galaxy Force, if you know that arcade game (or Saturn port), and while the gameplay is extremely simplistic, they're the only thing in the game that seems to use the 3DO hardware. The twisting, curving hallways look very nice and scale smoothly, though only at 15fps.

Each boss encounter is preceded by a decent-looking CGI render that shows its name and stats in English. These are giant robotic animals of some kind -- a polar bear, a dragon, a "mechanic mole", and so forth. Since you have no attack of any kind, winning is a matter of running to the end of the level while dodging the boss. Sometimes you have to duck at the end so that the boss runs over you and crashes into a wall. After the boss dies, you get a short animation with the antagonists in some state of humiliation, and then the location you've cleared is marked with your best time (except Soviet, for some reason).

If you fail in a level, be sure to select the second option to continue from where you just were. (I believe the first menu option restarts the stage from the beginning, which seems unnecessary.)

In between levels you can save your game to one of five slots, which seems wildly excessive (and takes up a lot of save memory, since the slots are automatically allocated). The weirdest thing in the entire game is this save screen, as it features wildly inappropriate "dark ambient" music that sounds like howling voices -- and when you save your game, it emits a horrible scream! What on earth is going on there?

Finish all seven available levels, and you unlock the game's final level, a platforming stage with multidirectional scrolling that's the longest in the game (but is still relatively short). Get through that, and the credits roll in English.

As mentioned earlier, you can find a handful of minigames in the game's various locations. Some are versions of well-known warhorses like Whack-a-Mole, the Tower of Hanoi, or that favorite of lazy developers, a sliding-tile puzzle. There's also a skeet-shooting game, a driving minigame I didn't trigger (but based on YouTube it looks janky as hell), and a weird encounter in San Francisco's Chinatown where you pick from a tray of fortune cookies and get a large block of text in a mix of kanji and kana -- one of the few examples of written Japanese text in the game. (I tried two cookies and got the same fortune twice.) Since that's six minigames over seven stages, there's probably at least one more I didn't find or have forgotten.

The Tower of Hanoi and skeet-shooting games offer some modest challenge, but none of these minigames appear to have any effect on gameplay, so there's no particular reason to bother with them. In fact the whole game feels lazy and phoned-in, and on a technical level, Montana Jones seems more like something you'd find on the CD-i than the 3DO. Only the tunnel sequences have any technical flair.

If you want to sit down with a 3DO game for a few hours (or sittings) and know you'll emerge with a win, I guess you could give Montana Jones a whirl, as I did. It's also possible that, if I could understand the dialogue, it'd turn out to be incredibly witty. But as it stands, it's just shovelware that's unlikely to appeal to anyone but fans of the show -- who will probably be disappointed anyway by the cheap presentation and low-quality animation capture.

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