Retro Scope: Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine (Nintendo 64)

The temple of fun.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 09/06/2017 19:00 3 Comments     ShareThis

Of George Lucas’s two biggest pop culture creations, Star Wars and Indiana Jones, the latter has never quite caught on as a regular staple in the video game industry. As a kid, I loved Indy and his adventures on the big screen, so it was with a lot of enthusiasm that I met Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine. It was Indy! In a video game! In 3D! Crazy!

Infernal Machine has an interesting development history. It was produced by a fairly small team for Windows 95 and 98. The game’s creator, Hal Barwood, had conceptualized Infernal Machine as a sequel with the Soviets taking the place of the bad guys rather than the Nazis. Along with that change, he also envisioned an adventure involving aliens! If that sounds a bit like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, know that George Lucas thought much the same thing.

At the time, the fourth Indiana Jones movie was still but a twinkle in Lucas’ eye, but he knew enough about its plot that giving the green light to an Indy story featuring aliens would conflict with his own future endeavor. Barwood was thus sent back to the drawing board, where he came up with the idea for the titular “Infernal Machine” and the Tower of Babel that both became integral to the game.

The title eventually landed on Windows in 1999, but versions for PlayStation and Nintendo 64 were also planned. The PS1 version of Infernal Machine never saw the light of day, but the N64 one proceeded forwards. Development of the port was spearheaded by a studio that many Nintendo fans will remember fondly—Factor 5! Yes, the group responsible for the beloved Rogue Squadron series of games handled Infernal Machine on N64.

The small team at Factor 5 had to do a lot of digital wrangling to adapt the game to Nintendo 64’s unique infrastructure, including mapping controls to the console’s iconic controller. One of the boons of the home console release of the game was that it adopted a spin on Ocarina of Time‘s unique inventory system. By 2000, Infernal Machine was ready to launch… with a catch. Rather than go to the typical stores that sold video games at the time like Kay-Bee Toys and Target, Infernal Machine was only available at Blockbuster Video!

As a kid this was a major letdown. An awesome new Indiana Jones game for N64, but I couldn’t go out and buy the thing. To date the events of this even further (yes kids, there used to be stores where people walked in and rented movies and games!), when I finally did get to play Infernal Machine, it was because my aunt and uncle waded into the then-mysterious waters of the internet to purchase the game.

At the time, that was a nerve racking undertaking. It’s hard to believe that 16 years later I’m sitting in a Peet’s Coffee typing this as my Switch downloads Sonic Mania in the background. The times they do a-change. Infernal Machine is quite indicative of that. Its controls are notoriously rough. While the storyline and visuals were solid, getting Indy from point A to B was tricky, to say the least, but now it feels even more so. Still, they’re not broken by any means, and if anyone is able to track down a copy, it’s worth the investment.

Infernal Machine is reminiscent of Tomb Raider. Indy solves puzzles and shoots at baddies as he makes his way around the globe to uncover the secret of the nominal McGuffin at the heart of his quest. The emphasis here is more on puzzle solving than Lara Croft’s series, but there’s also a healthy amount of platforming to partake in, too. It’s here that things can get unwieldy; the twitchy controls make landing some of those jumps a lot harder than it should be. Still, it’s nothing insurmountable. It just takes a little getting used to… which, admittedly, not everyone will have the patience for.

I loved it as a teenager, though, and going back to revisit it was surprisingly fun. The story is also very well crafted and executed. It’s amazing how the plot that Barwood had to improvise is a million times better than what Lucas came up with for the fourth movie. Sometimes, necessity truly is the mother of invention. If you have the means to scrounge up a copy of Infernal Machine and a working N64 to play it on, definitely track the game down. It’s also worth checking out the Game Boy Color version of Infernal Machine, which made impressive use of the portable’s hardware.

3 Responses to “Retro Scope: Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine (Nintendo 64)”

  • 676 points
    OG75 says...

    ” Infernal Machine was only available at Blockbuster Video!”

    Actually it was also available to purchase from Lucasarts website at the time. I bought two copies and played through the game (still have the other one sealed).

    Great write-up!

    Thumb up 0
  • 366 points
    geoffrey says...

    Got a copy at a comic convention for like $15.

    I’ll play through it one of these years… maybe…

    Thumb up 0
  • 21 points
    SleeplessKnight says...

    I never got to play this game and I’m a huge Indiana Jones fan. One thing about playing games on N64 now is that the controller (albeit revolutionary at the time) just flat out doesn’t hold up today. Not so much the fact it doesn’t have dual analog sticks but that the analog stick itself is so stiff and slippery compared to today’s rubberized sticks.

    Thumb up 0

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