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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (NES) artwork

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (NES) review

"Mothers, lock up your daughters and put the cows out to pasture, because what is this we have here? Why, it's a game based on the Mark Twain novel about a boy named Tom Sawyer and his adventures along the mighty Mississippi! I don't know who decided that classic 19th-century American literature is good source material for a video game, but it's a relief to see that at least someone was willing to explore the possibility. Now that Mark Twain has been dead for nearly a century, however, he has no ..."

Mothers, lock up your daughters and put the cows out to pasture, because what is this we have here? Why, it's a game based on the Mark Twain novel about a boy named Tom Sawyer and his adventures along the mighty Mississippi! I don't know who decided that classic 19th-century American literature is good source material for a video game, but it's a relief to see that at least someone was willing to explore the possibility. Now that Mark Twain has been dead for nearly a century, however, he has no control over the licensing fate of his brainchild Tom; in fact, I would dare say that the very thought of putting Tom's face on commercial products never touched his mind with a thirty-foot pole. Nevertheless, it is in this video game that Tom Sawyer embarks on an entirely different adventure than the pages of his book will relate to you. Unless there is an unedited author's cut of the book that I am unaware of, Tom never did battle with a giant octopus in the bottom decks of a steamboat with an infinite amount of pebbles at his disposal. Nor do I recollect that he ever took to the skies in a circular cloud and shot diamonds at an enormous armored zeppelin. I haven't read the book since my sophomore year of high school, so my memory might be a tad fuzzy, but I am almost entirely positive that neither of those events was in the book.

You should be able to tell by now - thanks to those two incredibly off-the-wall examples - that the events depicted in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Seta, 1989) stray an insane distance from the Mark Twain story of the same name. No longer does Tom's epic journey start as the result of a day of hooky gone horribly awry. Instead, Tom is actually in school at the outset of the game, but true to his infamous underachieving form, he is asleep at his desk using schoolbooks as pillows. I consider this a good opening, because it is the only way, aside from the use of certain substances that I cannot in good conscience list here, that you can account for the messed-up things Mr. Sawyer sees in his dreams. Though the first two levels are tenuously related to the book in at least one way, the later stages delve into territory so crazy that there is no way in which a person would ever equate Tom Sawyer with any of the things they will see. There are only six quick and easy stages, so if you end up hating the game, you can take consolation in the fact that you will have only wasted approximately one-third of an hour of your life subjecting yourself to its twisted visions. But for some strange reason, I rather enjoyed the (very heavy) poetic license taken with the protagonist and the book, and in fact if you forget that the game is even about Tom Sawyer at all but rather just follows the antics of some nameless rube from the boondocks as he dukes it out with gigantic creatures from the deepest recesses of phantasmagoria, it's even better. Surely I jest, right? I mean, look at all the mediocre and even somewhat low ratings this game has received from my reviewing colleagues! Has my mind truly departed from the fibers of my being this time? I'll leave that for you to decide, good reader.

Tom Sawyer's gameplay is simple to pick up on; I am sure that even small children will be able to grasp its most basic concepts. Of course you are Tom himself (a second player is aptly christened Huck), and your dream has placed you on a quest to save your girlfriend Becky Thatcher from an unspeakable evil. What evil is that, you say? Normally I would spare you the revelation of such intense detail, but I get a feeling that you need a good laugh today. Therefore it does not instill within me a sense of guilt to tell you that your girlfriend has been abducted by an Indian riding atop a Plesiosaurus (or, for the four of you out there who are still 100% politically correct, a Native American riding atop a Plesiosaurus). That's it. That's the entire plot of this game in one sentence. Any bad mood, no matter how sour, can be lifted by this statement alone. As you traverse a wide variety of locations beating bosses and seeking out the light of Tom's life, you will see sights of similar blatant idiocy that will make you laugh out loud for nothing's sake. Under normal circumstances, there is nothing inherently funny about a white palm tree set in the background of the heavens. But when you see it in this game, where it is so out of context that you will cut your head open scratching it, it is absolutely hilarious. And I for the life of me cannot explain why this is. It just ..... is.

And of course you have a narrow array of power-ups to collect - one of them being the trusty slingshot that a guy like Tom would be known for. However, instead of serving as an upgrade the way it intends to, you will actually feel less comfortable with that temporary item than you will with the infinite supply of rocks the game provides you. It's weird to say, but it's somewhat graceful how Tom lobs them the way a girl playing softball pitches underhanded to the batter. The feel of them is just more natural than the straight-pathed slingshot, which you will find soon worms its way out of your regular weapon rotation. Also up for grabs are ''T'' icons that give Tom an extra life when he accumulates twenty, a dreaded skull that steals ten of those if touched, and a heart which provides Tom with a fair time chunk of temporary invincibility when retrieved. None of these are really necessary since the game ends up being beaten roughly eighteen minutes after you turn it on, but they just add to the overwhelming whimsy of the game and the thought that this game wouldn't have worked if it had been taken so seriously.

Take for example the second level: a spiritually uplifting raft ride with a penchant for disaster and an overhead view to boot. Tom encounters a few real obstacles that would have been easily imaginable in the story (driftwood and land), but also present are some semi-dangerous typhoons and other hooky-players on shore shooting slingshot ammunition at you. It continues in this fashion until you meet the final boss, a giant alligator with a weak spot located in the back of his mouth. He doesn't perform the duties assigned to him by nature by turning your raft into sawdust with his mighty molars though. It's the little whirlpools whizzing down from up ahead that you have to make sure don't drag you off-screen as you ferociously attempt to toss rocks into the part of his mouth that will score a successful hit. Though the bosses are far too easy to defeat, most of them provide at least a small laugh. Whoever thought Tom Sawyer should go up against a large statue that can summon blue flying beasts probably said in the drawing board room, and I quote, ''This is just crazy enough to work.'' For anyone looking for a game that would never in its wildest dreams take itself seriously, that's the secret password. Tom Sawyer is fast, fun, and good for a laugh, and easily worth popping into the NES or looking for cheap in a dealer's shop.

The bosses, which are the graphical highlight of this game, feature the best looks and constantly upstage the protagonist, sometimes making you forget he is even present. The rest of the land forms and sprites are loath to follow suit though, and feature minimalist detail at best. The Tom sprite wears the typical overalls and straw hat that come to most people's mind at the very mention of his name (but the straw hat is frayed! That's so funny!), while his enemies are mostly small animals with the occasional medium-sized miniboss to mix things up. The locales you traverse are simply namby-pamby, run-of-the-mill stock backdrops that most games contain. Despite neither of them being the first level, the plains and forest combine to make their obligatory appearance and play host to a narrow array of woodland creatures that are more of a nuisance than a threat. Nothing aside from each level's final guardian is so captivating that it will make you do a double take, and it seems as though the less important a tile is, the less consideration it is given in terms of detail. While the design and end result come out awfully generic, there is nothing overtly negative to hold against them, and in fact they often end up quite humorous without ever actually intending to - an added bonus that makes this game all the more a sleeper classic.

Sawyer also plays host to some decent control. Jumping and being able to pitch stones are the only skills needed to play this game, though it takes a bit more of an expert to deftly command the straight-shooting but yet also paradoxically awkward slingshot. When you want to jump, you'll jump, and when you want to throw something, you'll throw it. Maneuvering around the enemies is easy, and even more so since many of them do not make an active effort to track you down themselves. Though a feeling of docility rests like a blanket over you as you trudge through the six venues the game has to offer, there is relatively little wrong with the control.

Or anything else in this game, for that matter. It has a tendency to come across as mediocre but is in fact quite commendable for a game which did not require any reference back to the original source. No one here is whitewashing fences for Tom so that he can fall asleep with a fishing rod between his toes waiting for a bite, and there is none of the social commentary and adept use of Southern dialects that make the book the game is (very very VERY) loosely based on such a classic, but it is good decent fun that should satiate anyone looking for a good platformer for a couple of minutes. If I may let go of my inhibitions for a second, ''I reck'n that yotta play this hee-ur vidja game, mm-hmm. It's as fine as a messa flapjacks smothered in maple surp on a summer mornin'. A right fine vidja game, it is.''

Now that I've alienated half my reader base, it's up to you to go out, find this game, and grab up a copy today while it's dirt-cheap.

snowdragon's avatar
Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)

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