Harley’s Humongous Adventure is an incredibly forgettable 2-D platformer for the Super Nintendo. It’s not the worst game on the SNES, and it’s nowhere near the best, it’s just kind of… there. I’m sure I’ve just forgotten any references to it in the meanwhile, but, to my memory, I don’t even recall HHA appearing on any of the myriad of “Super Nintendo Lists” over the last two decades. You know, all those “Top Thirty Most Boring SNES Games” or “The Worst of the Worst: The Worstest Worsting Worsts of Worstever”? I don’t think Harley gets mentioned even once. Harley’s Humongous Adventure seems to only be “that game I rented that one time and never thought about again” to most people.
Which is a shame, because Harley’s Humongous Adventure has one decent idea that seems made for video games… but we barely ever see it.
Harley’s Humongous Adventure is a groan worthy pun thanks to the central plot of HHA: Harley, boy scientist, has been shrunk down to the size of a thumb, and now must navigate his home and surrounding area to assemble an antidote (or de-shrinking device? Something?) to reembiggen himself to his normal size. Harley has one shrunken tool available, a personal jetpack (that, incidentally never has fuel when you need it), but the rest of Harley’s arsenal is comprised of mundane (now “huge”) objects, like nails, thumbtacks, and sticks of dynamite (I think that one’s useful regardless of size). The monsters are predominantly stylized insects (the fire ants are literally on fire), and the environments are commonplace locations that have now become stadiums. You can drown in the bathroom sink, or get lost amongst the colossal boxes of the attic. Harley is small, the world is large, and dust mites are now a threat.
And you’d think this would happen in video games more often.
Of course, it’s not like this never happens. Breath of Fire 1 & 2 both feature an unusual amount of shrinking, whether you’re climbing into a mouse hole or exploring the bloodstream of a fat princess (don’t ask). Snowboard Kids and Mario Kart both used the concept for a couple of interesting tracks. Okami became flea-sized, and Final Fantasy 3 used mini to the max. Probably the best example in gaming is The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, where Link constantly switches between normal and “Minish” size, where dew drops might dwarf evil wizards. It’s a rarity, but teeny tiny gameplay does randomly show up in video games.
But think about all the franchises that could be enhanced with a mini segment (or entire installment). My first impulse would be to consider God of War. Kratos, rage monster and slayer of an entire pantheon, must now battle his way from one end of the living room to the other. Scale the entertainment center! Burn the carpet! Battle the great and terrible Mr. Mittens for supremacy! Don’t forget to score a 100-hit combo on that group of ants. They have ferocious mandibles! Maybe they killed your tiny family!
Actually, thinking about it further, it seems like 90% of video games is blowing micro monsters up to macro size. You play video games? How many giant spiders have you slain? You watch out for snakes, or is it fearsome hydra that haunt your nightmares? The great and mighty Cerberus is just a puppy that grew to a significantly larger weight class (and maybe got a few heads in the process). In a way, we’re already making our heroes as miniscule as shrunken Harley, it’s just through making every other creature grow up.
But then you lose the fun environments that are only possible with shrinkage. Harley’s Humongous Adventure, unfortunately, is one of those 16-bit platformers that took all its cues from Sonic the Hedgehog, and the general level layout of any given stage is pretty haphazard. Actually, I want to say that this isn’t even at Sonic 1/Sonic CD level, this is much more in the vein of my old friend Bubsy. Levels that aren’t straightforward (like vehicle stages) loop around and spiral in ridiculous directions, causing lame level design like the ever-popular “the goal is on the opposite side of this wall, and you can see it, but it’s time to circle around the whole stupid area and hope you eventually hit your objective.” It’s a waste of a great concept, because the typical “shrunken hero” can explore a very different environment from what is available to the common protagonist.
Really, there’s the possibility here for one of my favorite video game “tricks”. No, I have no great interest in being shrunk down and exploring my own couch from a fly’s perspective, but I love the video game model of exploring a “familiar” area in a new and exciting way. It’s why time travel in a video game is almost always a good time (oh, look, this dungeon degraded over 400 years). It’s why a crashed space ship/satellite is always a great place for bounty hunters (aw, I remember when this place was right-side up). And, ultimately, it’s why shrinking should occur in more games. I’ve got a general mental image of how my sink and plumbing are shaped, so a level based on “that area” could be very interesting, assuming the hero was the size of a fingernail. Trekking across the game room could be fun if there was the possibility of being crushed by a SNES cartridge, and seeing the mighty couch in the distance would provide all the level scale necessary. There are a million options available, and, like how video games use other techniques to modify the perspective of a player, shrinking could be a worthwhile one in a worthwhile game.
So, Harley’s Humongous Adventure, you might be forgettable, but thanks for reminding us all that there are different ways to see the world. You might have made a small impact in the gaming world, but sometimes smaller is better.
FGC #123 Harley’s Humongous Adventure
- System: Super Nintendo, exclusively. Didn’t even get a Genesis port.
- Number of players: Two, alternating. Because God forbid you don’t get to share Harley’s Humongous Adventure with others.
- Rats off to ya: The main antagonist for Harley is a mutated pet rat that… ugh… unpleasant to look at, so he must die. Also, you gradually tear off the rat’s limbs through every boss fight, so maybe not the most animal friendly game in the universe.
- Clay Fighting: Like Claymates, this was another of the clay-based games released during the 16-bit era. As a result, the graphics are at least fairly unique, with monsters that truly appear to be monstrous. Also, congratulations to the producers for not shoehorning a clay pun into the title. That would be puttiful.
- Ever hear of Chibi Robo? Oh yeah…
- Did you know? The Japanese title for this game is “Chemist Harley’s Stormy Life”. Are scientists more popular over there than here? I want to say our only “hero” chemist didn’t appear until Breaking Bad…
- Would I play again: Nope. When you get compared to Bubsy, you don’t get a second play.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Intellivision Lives! … I wasn’t responsible for that exclamation mark, it’s part of the title of the game. The game that is horrible. Ugh. Please look forward to it.