For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a fascination with oddball video games. You know the ones — the games that flew under the radar, failed to garner much mention and quickly faded into obscurity. One game that fits this description is Harley’s Humongous Adventure. I was immediately intrigued by it when I first saw it 24 years ago (!) in early 1993. It took me over 20 years to finally play it, and in 2015 I scored an interview with its programmer. That interview can be read at the very end of this review. Harley’s Humongous Adventure will never win any awards but it’s a surprisingly decent little (har har) game. It deserves the spotlight… even if only for a brief moment.
THIS ONE’S FOR THE LITTLE GUYS
Video game magazines were thriving back in 1993. It was a boom time for the industry. One of the best was Electronic Gaming Monthly, or better known as EGM. I’ll never forget issue #43 (February 1993). The cover immediately jumped out at me, grabbing my attention. Bubsy was hyped to the moon as the next great mascot platformer. The bold red and orange colors sucked me in. Best of all? This issue featured a 59-page (!) preview of SNES games recently released or coming soon. I wasted hours browsing those 59 glorious pages over and over again. There were so many intriguing games I wanted to play. Sadly, many of them I never did when I was a kid. One such title was Harley’s Humongous Adventure. I often say one of the best things about this hobby is the ability to play these long lost games once and for all. There’s something gratifying about putting a childhood curiosity to rest — even moreso when the game turns out to be decent or better.
There was something refreshing about this game. Maybe it was the claymation. But I think really it’s the fact that Harley wasn’t out to save the world, rescue a princess or even battle his bitter long time rival (hell, the boss is his pet rat). He simply wants to return to his normal kid size before getting devoured by a hungry ant or tick. It’s a simple “small-scale” (pardon the pun) adventure that works in its own weird way. I love epic games but there’s always room for niche ones too, and this filled that role quite nicely.
Saturday morning. 4th of July, 2015. 1 AM. I was staying up late to catch the special “Beast in the East” event live on the WWE Network. I had roughly 90 minutes to kill so I mulled over my collection to pluck out the next title to play. My eyes landed on Harley’s Humongous Adventure and right away I knew. Don’t you love that feeling? When you’re wondering what game to play for the first time ever next and once you see a certain title you just know. It was one of those moments for me. It was time to find out, once and for all, after over 22 years of curiosity. I spent the next hour or so traversing Harley’s madcap world and eventually beat the game later that weekend. While it wasn’t anything mind-blowing, it certainly was memorable. After all, few things are better than beating a game you never played before (but always wanted to) in one sitting. Plus I even got to interview the programmer of Harley’s Humongous Adventure, Brian Greenstone, the very next day. That interview can be read at the end of this review. It was the perfect way to cap off a 22+ year curiosity — beating the game and interviewing its programmer!
THE STORY GOES…
Harley gets shrunken down to about six inches. AY CARAMBA!
HARLEY FIGHTS BACK
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
I’m just tryna make it back home by Monday morning.
I swear I wish somebody would tell me OOH THAT’S ALL I WANT.
[That says 45 seconds, not Four Five Seconds, ya git! -Ed.]
After defeating your pet rat a third time, Harley restores balance to the world. Er, his world, anyhow!
IF YOU NEED A BOOST BEYOND THE JET PACK
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Harley’s Humongous Adventure earned mediocre to solid reviews. EGM gave it scores of 8, 7, 7 and 6. GameFan gave it ratings of 80, 77, 69 and 65%. Super Play rated it 69%. Interestingly enough, both EGM and GameFan reviewed the game on two separate occasions. EGM’s sister publication, Super NES Buyer’s Guide (a bi-monthly SNES-exclusive magazine that ran back in the early-mid ’90s) rated it 8, 8 and 7. GameFan reviewed this game in its very first issue, giving it marks of 85 and 78%. It holds the distinct honor of being the ONLY Super Nintendo game to be reviewed on two separate occasions by both EGM (technically speaking) and GameFan. At least Harley has that “claim to fame.” Sure, he’s no Mario or Sonic but I think there is a place for guys like Harley. He’s that lovable underdog. The uhh, ahem, “little” engine that could.
As I sat there admiring the preview in EGM some 20+ years ago, something told me this game probably wasn’t a humongous adventure. But I also had the gut feeling that it was a fairly decent one. Fast forward some 22 years and I’m happy to say I got one right. This isn’t a great game by any means. Perhaps not even a good one. But it’s playable and enjoyable. It’s sprinkled with some interesting gimmicks and enough levels to entertain you for a weekend. It’s not particularly hard, although a few stages require some trial and error. I love the various weapons you can use, and switching them on the fly with the shoulder buttons is smooth and seamless. Harley controls reasonably well enough, except for jumping while running and turning on a dime. It takes him a second to turn around — in the heat of the moment that could lead to unnecessary damage. Visually, the game has a striking look thanks to its claymation. Although it’s a bit hampered by its somewhat bland backgrounds. Animation is hit or miss. Enemies animate smoothly while Harley could use more frames of animation. The tunes aren’t memorable and are kind of just there. But the game does have this unique quirky charm that reels you in. Well, at least it did to me. As always, your mileage may vary.
There’s a solid variety of things to do besides the usual. There’s a level where you command a tank. Another level sees you soaring on a jet pack. Other levels have sections where you parachute your way down, or even catch a ride on a bubble. There are 18 stages in all. None are overly long and you can beat the game in one sitting. Truth be told, I kind of miss games like this. You know the ones: little weird niche titles that were made on a tiny budget that didn’t set out to be anything more than quirky and amusing. You really don’t see games like this anymore in this day and age, for better or for worse. I guess there’s a part of me that will always long for the 8 and 16-bit generations where these countless above average platformers littered the shelves of rental stores. No, they’re not world beaters or anything but they’re fun in their own right, competently made, charmingly quirky, and can occupy you perfectly fine for a night or two. All in all, Harley’s Humongous Adventure is not a must-have game but if you love the genre and you’ve already played the best on the SNES, then this is worth a look. It’s not good enough to be classified as underrated. Nor is it a bonafide “hidden gem” but it certainly has an odd little atmosphere that is in some ways second to none on the SNES. If you like the idea of being shrunk while fending off giant bugs and dealing with normal everyday objects then this game is right up your alley.
Me: Harley’s Humongous Adventure was your first SNES game. You created and programmed its gaming world. Do you still look back fondly on this experience, or is it one of those things where you’re more ashamed than proud of how it turned out years later?
BG: I consider that time the second Golden Age of video games. The first was the coin-op days in the late ’70s / early ’80s when Galaga, Dig Dug, Pac Man, etc. were huge, but the second Golden Age was when the Super NES came out in the early ’90s. It was a lot of fun, and very challenging to develop back in those days. The development devices were usually hand-made and held together with duct tape. All of the programming was straight assembly code, and every cycle and every byte counted. It took really skilled programmers to make those games — it’s not like today where pretty much anyone can make a game.
Me: Describe the origins of this game: how did it come about, what ideas inspired you, and how much of an influence (if any) was Honey I Shrunk the Kids?
BG: My boss at Visual Concepts came up with that idea, and I’m sure Honey I Shrunk the Kids played some role in there, but I think the original Incredible Shrinking Man had more to do with it than anything.
Me: How did the design of the Harley character come about? I find him to be a bit interesting: the spiky hair, the cool sunglasses, heck, Harley even had the letter “H” etched out in his haircut! (Not seen in-game but seen on the box art).
BG: The art design was all up to the artists, and we had a lot of very talented ones working at Visual Concepts. I believe Colin Silverman did the art for Harley, and he was one of the best that I ever worked with. I actually still have a huge framed Harley’s Humongous Adventure poster over my desk right now. I look at it every day, and it’s been here for the last 19 years, so that funky hairdo with the “H” carved into it is always staring me down. Now that I look again, he does seem to have a very late ’80s / early ’90s look.
Me: How long did it take to make this game from start to finish? What were some of the setbacks or challenges?
BG: If I remember correctly, this was about a 9 month project. That’s generally how long it took to make one of those games back then. The main challenges were getting the development devices to work properly. We even had one of the guys at Visual Concepts write a compiler for us since the ones provided were so bad. The company that published the game, Hi Tech Expressions, was a Korean firm that was pretty new to this, so working with them was a bit challenging as we kept trying to squeeze more money out of them.
Me: You used a unique look for the time: (partial) claymation. You might have been the first to use claymation on the SNES. What made you want to do this kind of look? I remember as a kid it definitely stood out in the gaming magazines I read back in the day.
BG: The claymation ideas was my boss’, and the company that did that also did claymation for several of our other games. The best SNES game I did was called Claymates, and it won some awards but unfortunately EA’s decision to name it that killed it. That was not the name we wanted, and “Claymates” sounded idiotic, so it flopped. Also, we did Clay Fighter which ended up being a big hit.
Me: The jet pack was a pretty neat idea. Any inspiration behind this?
BG: The Jet Pack is what Alfred Hitchcock would have referred to as a MacGuffin — a plot tool used to get the character out of holes that the writers got him stuck in. I’ve used Jet Packs in many games, and they’re great for helping the player out of situations that you can’t find any other solution for. Plus, they’re fun!
Me: The game features 18 levels. Was there one you personally enjoyed most? I was particularly fond of Harley’s room due to the fact that you can climb some of his Lego sets.
BG: In all honesty, I can’t remember much of any of them. I do vaguely remember the bathtub, mainly because it’s on the poster over my desk, but also because it had some interesting ideas with soap platforms and such. I know we put a lot of neat things in the game, but having not played the game in over 20 years I can’t remember most of it.
Me: How many copies did the game sell?
BG: The game did OK but not great. I don’t actually remember the sales — for some reason the number 40,000 sticks in my head, but that might not mean anything.
Me: Were you and your team personally satisfied with how the game turned out?
BG: Yes, I was very proud of it, especially considering that it was my first professional game out of college.
Me: Was a sequel ever planned?
BG: I don’t think so. Hi Tech Expressions, the publisher, promptly disappeared.
Me: Why wasn’t Harley’s Humongous Adventure also made for the Sega Genesis?
BG: As hard as it was to develop for the SNES, the Genesis was actually even worse. Plus, the Genesis didn’t have the customer base that Nintendo had, so we stayed focused on SNES work.
Me: What other SNES games were you involved with, and do you have a personal favorite?
BG: I also did Claymates and Lester the Unlikely for Visual Concepts. Then when I went to work for Mindscape I did three Mario Early Learning educational games based on the Nintendo Mario character. My favorite was Claymates, however. It was all claymation, and was a really neat idea.
Me: Do you still keep in touch today with Scott Patterson, John Manley, Richard Robbins or Greg Thomas?
BG: No, I haven’t heard from any of those guys in over 20 years. I know Greg went on to be some bigwig at EA, but I don’t know what happened to anyone else.
Me: The ending credits were pretty neat. There was a list of people you liked, which was standard fare, but then there was a list of THINGS you guys liked, which gave me a chuckle the first time I saw it. It was different.
BG: I think we were inspired by the credits in the Jim Abrahams / David Zucker movies like Airplane. They would have crazy stuff in their credits like recipes and such, so we did the same in our game.
Once again I would like to thank Brian Greenstone for taking the time. I love hearing about and discovering all these obscure facts about obscure titles like Harley’s Humongous Adventure. It isn’t the best game around but it has its moments. It’s a relic of gaming’s past… you just don’t see games like this anymore.