Legends of the Hidden Temple Nearly 30 Years Later: The Quest for Olmec’s Missing Point

Legends of the Hidden Temple was one of the several fantastic game shows to come out of the 1990s on Nickelodeon. It showed kids learning about history, engaging in physical trials, and making their way through a maze for prizes. It is high on the list of greatest children’s video games with the likes of Nickelodeon Guts, Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego? and Double Dare.

DefunctTV’s history of Legends of the Hidden Temple.

It was a compelling and fun game show that was appealing to both children and adults, because it was somewhat educational, and the physical challenges didn’t include the campy gross-out gags of the likes of Double Dare. It also had good music, a charming host, a memorable maze, notorious challenges and an iconic mascot. I always wanted a Legends t-shirt when I was a kid (reproductions just aren’t the same,) and I enjoyed the show as a kid, teen, and adult–a major feat for any TV show.

So, imagine my skeptical hopefulness when I heard it was being revived.

Then imagine my increased skepticism when I learned it was going to be a movie.

Okay, not going to lie, bringing back Kirk Fogg was pretty awesome, to me. Also, Fall Out Boy is a band from my teenhood.

All in all, it sounds like a worthwhile film, not amazing, but at least decent quality for a TV movie. Even in the trailer, they demonstrate several memorable segments, and all the iconic ones. It is likely campy, I may give a review of it if I ever come across it, but no matter the case, it was good to know that it wasn’t a “desecration” (to what extent a game show for kids can be desecrated) of the concept.

But then. The CW announced this Legends of the Hidden Temple remake:

Red flags already abound.

Hold up.

Okay, so I gave it a chance. I actually watched it with my mom, who also loved the show in the 1990s. She had even brought it up relatively recently (the last couple of years, that is.) Okay, so, to start. Olmec is still voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, which is a good first. The stories are still history and mythology focused, which is also great. The maze still seems large and appears to have creative and classic rooms, an appreciated blend.

However, that is where things derail, sadly. My first major criticism is one that actually even works against the studio, in my mind. The teams aren’t kids. Why does that matter? Well, adults are much more versed in understanding how to learn, especially short-term knowledge, and aren’t benefiting as much from the value a child experiencing a story in a personal way would. It becomes trivia for trivia’s sake, and less sentimental, in my eyes.

Second, adults are more physically capable, and the challenges don’t seem to be drastically increased in difficulty–almost more like a filler to get to the ads than anything compelling.

Third, the things that work as a challenge to kids don’t work with the same level of intensity. The Shrine of the Silver Monkey was always a sticking point because it was just barely confusing enough to provide issues under pressure. The adults breeze through it in a matter of seconds, as I would expect them to. I can understand a kid being a bit befuddled in a semi-stressful situation by a three piece vertical puzzle–but not an adult.

However, why do I feel this works against the studio? This is already targeting 90s kids for nostalgia, but doesn’t need to. It can easily function on a nostalgic level, while still working as a game show children would enjoy the way I did. I find the format of the show timeless enough to work that way. By putting the teams as adults, it draws in more adults than kids, when it could be a perfect place to coax kids to learn history and enjoy a chance to be on the team.

Second, the prizes to make a show like this compelling for kids would cost remarkably less than the cash prizes that adults want to win. The prize now is $25,000. The prizes for kids were usually something along the line of a trip to Orlando and a nice bike. Even today that wouldn’t break ten grand. Even the first tier prizes being a package of Super Soakers or Nerf Guns that maybe broke a hundred dollars would have had me ecstatic as a kid.

Next, the gameplay variations. A small thing I noticed was that only three, not four, move onto the Steps of Knowledge. I don’t know why this choice was made, but I very much noticed it. That was small compared to a couple other things, though. The biggest glaring issue, to me, is that the Pendants of Life are two whole pendants, instead of one, and two halves. This affects the challenges of the Temple, drastically.

Going into the Temple with one and a half pendants meant there was a significant risk of losing before time even ran out. By making the pendants stay the same, with the same level of Temple Guards, it means that the only setback to the guards is in time, which, while in some ways, builds more suspense, also greatly devalues the point of even having the Pendants.

A View of the New Temple. Image via The CW Network.

However, there’s also the Best-Two-Out-Of-Three format of Temple Games as a result. This means the adult, more physically capable, more likely to have some level of tactical comprehension contestants are better rested on occasion, and further lowers the value of the filler-games that once were a legitimate aspect of the show.

And then one of my least favorite aspects of the new show: the shift from a traditional game show where it goes event, interview, event, interview, event, interview, they shift to a reality show format, where the talking is intermixed and overlaps with the games, and the drama and format is shifted to a way that not only kills suspension of disbelief, but also makes it feel, after decades of suspiciously scripted reality shows, as if things were shot in a way that even if it genuinely isn’t, could be predetermined. It really hurts the way the show flows, and feels far less compelling than the classic Legends.

A cynical person could have nitpicked at the smaller traits far more, such as the uncomfortably cringe way the contestants act to be “larger than life” TV personalities, even if just for a day, or the fact that the temple being outside, instead of inside, really makes the temple feel less like a temple with natural sunlight and a lack of smoke machines crushing the ambiance, but I feel the previous criticisms are the crux of why this feels like a particularly lazy cash grab. It doesn’t stop there, though.

There’s also the fact that Olmec, previously, I presume, formed of foam with properly placed hinges, seems to now be partially of a more clothlike material that leaves awkward wrinkles when the mouth opens.

Legends of the Hidden Temple (2021)'s Olmec
Legends of the Hidden Temple (2021)’s Olmec with his lip wrinkles. Image by The CW via Distractify.

I went into this cautiously hopeful, and really wanted to like it, but I feel some of the overall creative decisions were questionable at best, and cynically lazy at worst. If you want my exact, succinct analysis of the new show, it is a game show wearing an older game show’s (wrinkled) skin as a suit. There is probably entertainment to be had, but I greatly suggest watching the original, instead. It’ll feel more dramatic, sincere, and atmospheric, even if you don’t have the nostalgic bond.

I would happily welcome a remake if it got rid of the adults and made the pendants function the original way, though, honestly, I wish it had more passionate production and a better atmosphere, as well. Regardless, the current show just isn’t scratching the right itch.

So check back on a classic, the original still holds up, and you probably could still learn something, even today.—Tails_155

Interested in passionate media reviews? Check out Origami Vato‘s review of Talk Boy F/X’s Home Alone or KITE0080‘s Discussion of Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

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