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Adventures of Gilligan's Island: A shipwrecked video game

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Adventures of Gilligan's Island Video Game

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How far can progress march in a 15 year span? If one compares any video game released today with Bandai America's 1989 offering, Adventures of Gilligan's Island, the answer should be measured in eons. It must be justified up front that the only reason to play this single-player game is not just to experience but to see how long one can endure intellectual torture. A player cannot fully appreciate how far programming has come and how brilliant game scripting has advanced, unless one immerses fully into the world of Adventures of Gilligan's Island. This title is particularly poignant for this reviewer, as I was part of the team that helped market the game. The price was set at $49.99, perhaps the ultimate insult to one's intelligence, beyond the actual game itself. To be fair, a Sherwood Schwartz license didn't come cheap -- and Bandai America acquired the rights to the title because of the upswing in classic sitcoms from the 1960s. It was, in essence, a good idea gone bad. Programming was done by the now defunct Human Entertainment, a Japanese developer, that originated the hugely popular Fire Pro Wrestling games. So... this was an inherited piece of merchandise with a trending angle: Gilligan's Island as a video game? Why not? As a broadway musical... hey, now wait just a minute!

Adventures of Gilligan's Island is a game of hide 'n seek, where you wish Gilligan would hide as he tails you (assuming the persona of the Skipper) throughout the course of the game. The labyrinthine structure of the game is lame and tame. But then, if the game was designed to emulate the sitcom of the 1960s, maybe this is the perfect send-up for the iconic series. A closer look at the storyline, told episodically through game levels, reveals a darker and disturbing side to the play pattern. Here are some highlights, which are really lowlights, but there's nothing that transcends these moments, so you gotta go with what you're served. Plus, sadly, there's no Ginger.

Gilligan gets into trouble, forcing you as the Skipper to waste time to rescue him. So the game has heart. Personally, in hindsight, I would have left Gilligan in the tar pit; I would not have thrown him a rope; I would have allowed him to be pulled limb from limb by the gorilla; I would have partaken of the native soup made from his boiled head... indeed, I would have let Gilligan drown, set the table for the cannibal to eat him, and made sure the monkeys and snakes had their fair share of his gamey body. If Gilligan were a Tamagotchi, I'd never feed him or clean up after him. Get the picture? But that's not the way the game is supposed to be played.

The fact that the game has elements of cannibalism, featuring a headhunter you can clobber with a club, a wild gorilla you can beat with a club, a wild boar you can pummel with a club, and yes, even Gilligan who you can bash with a club, you instantly know the level of programming you're dealing with in this mis-stewed, half-stirred offering. I cannot recall one episode of Gilligan's Island where the Skipper runs around the island toting a club -- and using it on whatever comes his way. Unfortunately, as much fun as it could have been, the programmers did not make it possible for the Skipper to club Mary Ann, the Howells, or the Professor. Having dined with both Dawn Wells and the recently deceased Russell Johnson, I'm actually glad that the digital version of the Skipper is not allowed to club these nice, wonderful folks.

From the get-go, players should know they're in trouble with this game when the task at hand is to build a hut -- and Mr. Howell declares, "A Howell never does any work that requires manual labor. Go find a contractor and be quick!" Though the throughline of constructing a shelter is ambiguously conceived, along the convoluted pathway to achieve the goal, the Skipper must outmaneuver wild boars and avoid monkeys and snakes, all while eating bananas for nourishment. After crossing through mud swamps, a non-perspective waterfall, and enduring flat, uninspired written dialogue (remember, this was 1989 on the Nintendo 8-bit platform), the Skipper is then tasked with locating Lovey's wedding ring, which apparently gets lifted by a bird and taken to its nest. Along the journey, Gilligan repeatedly declares that he has a really bad feeling about things. As well he should.

The Skipper compels Gilligan to climb the tree and fetch the ring. Gilligan is rewarded by Mr. Howell with a "jar of caviar" -- a necessary item to have later to complete the adventure. Of course, the Skipper must club the gorilla that has purloined the transmitter. But as sitcom irony would have it, Gilligan then steps on the transmitter. A key in the nest is also found by Gilligan, which will be used to unlock a treasure later in the game.

But the real treasure is in the plentitude of trappings from this sitcom's tropes that are plundered relentlessly by the programmers: as the Skipper progresses to future episodes (levels), the castaways encounter annoying natives, pitiful pitfalls, voodoo curses, and a heinous headhunter. Nowhere, though, does one encounter the curious Japanese soldier portrayed by Italian actor Vito Scotti, or the obliously adorable Jungle Boy, played by Kurt Russell. Along the way, the adventure offers up the wonders of walking through mazes, solving mind-numbing puzzles, and overdosing on verbose Gilliganisms. Consider the characters' speech is texted onto the screen, you'd think the phrasing would be kept to a minimum. But it spews forth vapidly and voraciously. You may wonder, where is all this leading? Well, it's leading to grave disappointment as the Skipper beats a walking skeleton with a club while the skeleton beats the Skipper with a femur. That's the big battle royale on the island. After beating the skeleton to a desiccated pulp, it transforms into a treasure box wherein is revealed the missing stone statue, which holds mystical wishing powers that can get them off the island. But of course.

As you'd expect, the Professor knows the chant to get the wish to work: Guni Guni Gugu Sarumo Ochiru! But as fate would have it, Gilligan wishes for ice cream and declares that he could eat a mountain of it. The game concludes on an existential chord: In the lagoon, a giant floating ice cream cone appears, surrounded by a flock of seagulls. The game dares to pose the ominous question: Will the castaways ever get off the island? Stay tuned! Stay tune, indeed. No one of sane mind would return to this game, so one must assume the castaways are forever lost in their lame-game limbo.

For anyone who would care to passively watch this game be played (which has to be more than a 3-hour torture versus interactively working through the game), this mighty morsel of a movie of the game play can be viewed on YouTube -- because everything esoteric is on YouTube. If you doubt this assertion, click here.

There's one jewel of a text line that appears repeatedly throughout the game, which resonates philosophically: The scenery would look better if we weren't shipwrecked. Could any empathetic soul ever tell the castaways the truth? That the scenery would look heavenly, even shipwrecked, if they existed in an Xbox 360 version.

Here are the people responsible for Bandai America's Adventure of Gilligan's Island for NES:

Produced by Takeshi Yasukawa
Executive Produced by Bert Schroeder
Game Designer Hiroyuki Itoh
Main Programmer Hiroshi Haruna
Sub Programmers Sun Shu Fai and Koo Wai San
Programmer Tohru Hayashi
Graphic Designers Hiroyuki Itoh and Taka Saito
Music by Masaki Hashimoto and Takahiro Wakuta

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