Getting lost takes on a whole new meaning.
To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 12/4/16 – 12/6/16
My Difficulty: 3/10
Video: The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island Longplay
As a rule, I tend to be overly optimistic in my impressions of NES games. Even the worst of the games I have played so far have had redeeming qualities and I have had fun with them. However, even my constant optimism can’t save the fact that The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island is an unpleasant experience. I made the best out of it anyway and now I can share what I feel is the worst NES game I have played yet.
Gilligan’s Island is a sitcom that ran on CBS for three seasons spanning 1964 to 1967. It was created and produced by Sherwood Schwartz. The premise of the show is that a Hawaiian tour boat gets caught in a bad storm and wrecks on an uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean. The castaways work together to try and escape the island only to almost always be thwarted by Gilligan’s antics. The show was reasonably popular during its initial run but it grew in popularity later in syndication. This late popularity is likely what inspired a trio of Gilligan’s Island made-for-TV movies and a pair of animated series all in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island is the NES game based on the sitcom. It was developed by Human Entertainment, Inc. and published by Bandai America, Inc. Released in July 1990, not only was it an NES exclusive game, but it is the only video game based on the show. While not a video game, there was a pinball machine based on the sitcom. Named Gilligan’s Island, the machine was manufactured by Bally Midway in 1991.
In The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island, you play as the Skipper with Gilligan following you along during your adventure. The game is broken up into four levels which are cleverly referred to as episodes. The levels act like a separate episode of the show each with their own self-contained story. Here you explore the island from a side view as you venture out to locate both your fellow castaways and items in order to progress the story to its conclusion.
The game has simple controls. Use the D-Pad to walk around in eight directions. The A button is for jumping, and the B button is used to attack. The Select button pulls up the in-game menu. In the menu, A is used to select the options and Select returns control back to the gameplay. Start is only used to start the game on the title screen.
Exploration is the main objective in this game. You are provided with a map that you can pull up from the menu that really helps. Each section of the map is its own side scrolling area and exits to other areas are located on either the top or the bottom of the screen. Capital letters are located on the map that indicate the locations of one of the other castaways. Typically, you will want to talk to them right away to find out what is going on and what they want you to do. The levels are all timed encouraging you to keep moving along.
The main mechanic in the game is that Gilligan must go along with you as you progress. However, you do not control Gilligan directly, rather he automatically follows behind you trying to keep up with you. The game is essentially one giant escort mission. Gilligan controls much like you expect his character would move in that he bumbles behind you and can often get stuck or left behind in some way. Despite your best efforts, it is assured that at some point you will lose track of Gilligan. When this happens, the clock temporarily changes over to a special two-minute timer. If you don’t locate Gilligan before the timer runs out, it’s Game Over. You need him with you to advance the story, so find him as soon as possible.
One interesting aspect in the game is that the Skipper and Gilligan have conversations that carry on throughout the action. There is a lot of empty space at the bottom of the screen next to the life indicator and timer, so it is constantly filled with scrolling text. The banter is typical of what the characters would say on the show. This also applies to the conversations with the other castaways. I found myself talking to the characters again after each event just to see the different dialog.
There are enemies and traps that stand in your way. Most enemies are wild animals that are annoying. For instance, birds dive bomb you from overhead, and leopards run you over. You can attack the enemies but I find they are best ignored. There are also rolling and falling boulders and other similar obstacles that hurt you. Many screens have rocks that you can jump over, but if you land on one you can trip and take damage that way. There is also running water and quicksand that slows you down instead of dealing damage. In these places, you have to mash the jump button in order to get through. Sometimes you can get swept away to a different part of the map altogether. These places can be useful to jump closer to the next objective or alternately force you to backtrack several minutes.
There are several items available in the episodes. Many of them are quest items that you need to carry in order to progress the story, and these items are specific to a particular episode. One recurring item is the club that gives the Skipper better attack capability and this is often found early in the episode. There are also random item drops that occasionally appear on the ground. The banana restores two hearts of health when used from the menu. The hourglass adds a minute to the timer. A rope is a very useful item as this lets you immediately bring Gilligan back to you if you get separated no matter where he is.
The levels also include a cave system. Generally, you enter the caves by falling down a hole. These can be the biggest annoyance of all. If you want to go through a hole, Gilligan needs to go down first and you must walk around in a way to guide him into it. If you don’t want to go that way, then you should tread carefully so he doesn’t fall in by mistake. There are ladders but some of the holes are one-way without a ladder and that can set you in the wrong direction. Moreover, the caves are not always charted on the map, leading to getting lost.
Each episode features at least one boss encounter. These are simply larger enemies that try and beat you down. You want the club for these skirmishes and you fight them by hitting them before they hit you. The bosses take several hits to defeat and the fights themselves become repetitive and tedious. It’s also tough to tell if you are even damaging the boss or not.
At the end of each episode, you are greeted with a cutscene that completes the storyline. Then you are taken to a score screen where you get points based on your time, health, and items remaining. I have no idea why this game has a scoring system since this is the only time points are visible in the entire game. More useful than the scoring screen is the password screen. The game has only four levels, but they are lengthy enough that passwords are welcome. Passwords are simple sequences of eight capital letters A-P, which are still too long for this game but acceptable.
This was my first time playing The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island. Before beating the game, I had only seen brief amounts of gameplay a few times, so the game was mostly a mystery for me. For collecting purposes, the cart itself isn’t common but not that expensive either. Today it sells in the $10-$20 range. I bought my cart off eBay in 2014 for about $9 shipped. I remember seeing this game at my local game store for I think $18 when I was actively buying. Eventually it sold but I’m glad I passed on it.
It only took me a couple of days to finish the game. I am good at mental mapmaking and so exploring the maps only taxed me a little bit. I was quick to latch onto using the rivers as warps, so that helped me clear the game more quickly. I only had to repeat levels once or twice before I had it figured out well enough to complete it in time. The pathing does get complicated in Episode 4 and writing my own map for some segments could have proven handy if I weren’t so stubborn.
I neglected to take video of my run through the game the first time, but I suppose I felt the need to have it recorded so I sat down and completed the entire game a second time. The length was just barely short enough to justify recording a longplay. The problem with doing this is that all the levels blend together because the graphics are consistent throughout the game. I know that I got turned around a few times and had to resort to the map much more often than I would have liked, but that was a necessity to getting it all completed in one attempt. I ended up dying once in Episode 3 and again in Episode 4, but in retrospect I think that’s actually a pretty good outcome.
The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island is misleading in that it has the appearance of being a decent game. The graphics and music aren’t special, but they are adequate. The character portraits and cutscene graphics are nice, and the theme song sounds fine on the NES sound chip. The writing is probably the best thing about the game. I think the writers nailed the personality of the characters and dialog to the point that it feels like an episode of the show. The boss fights can be a bit tricky, but aside from those the game is easy enough that anyone with enough patience and a willingness to map out the levels can finish it. By all appearances, the game is a competent one.
The failing is entirely in the gameplay. This is the most boring game I have ever completed. The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island is window dressing surrounding a myriad of dull, lengthy fetch quests. You talk to people, you find an item, you talk to more people back and forth, you fight a boss, you talk to more people, and so on ad nauseam. You constantly need to wait for Gilligan to catch up to you lest you leave him behind. Nuisances surround you at every twist and turn. A single misstep can lead to several minutes of tedious backtracking on top of the normal backtracking already required. Death is particularly painful and is most likely to lead to shutting the game off, putting it back in storage, and never looking back. I would only hesitantly recommend this game to someone who is trying to complete all NES games, looking for something with easy difficulty, and possesses either elite patience or a glut of free time. Appreciating bad games would be a plus, too. That subset of people is tiny, and I would still feel bad recommending it even if all those boxes are checked. If you happen to be a fan of the show, just watch the longplay I posted. But if you do, don’t blame me if you come to realize it wasn’t worth your time after all!