Adventure Island (Video Game Review)

Video Game Review
Adventure Island
Nintendo Entertainment System
1988
Developed by: Escape/Hudson Soft
Published by: Hudson Soft

Despite Super Mario Bros. creating a renaissance for games after the Video Game Crash of 1983, it made it almost impossible for good platformers to get their moment in the sun. Why play anything else when there’s Super Mario Bros. available. While Hudson’s Adventure Island isn’t anywhere as good as Mario’s first platformer, it still provides as decent experience in the genre. It does have a few problems such as its difficulty level, the weird continue system, and it’s uninspiring level design. Still, the quest of Master Higgins still provides from some decent platforming entertainment that is good for those who like this type of game to give a try.

Much like all the other games in the genre, Master Higgins goes out to seek his kidnapped girlfriend. Higgins has to traverse through dangerous landscapes that is littered with enemies and pitfalls all around. At the end of every world, he must battle a boss (although all the boss battles are identical). It’s your standard fare for a platformer with a few twists. There are only a few power-ups in the game. The basic one is the tomahawk that Higgins can use to attack enemies. The skateboard allows Higgins to move much more quicker and jump farther but prevents him from stopping (he’s always in a state of motion). There’s also a bee power-up which makes him invincible for a short period of time and another bee power-up that drains his energy. Higgins needs to constantly collect fruit which replenishes his health bar. The health bar doesn’t go down when he’s hit but diminishes as time passes in the game. If Master Higgins goes hungry, he dies. The only thing that’s affected by enemy hits are the power-ups. Once hit, Higgins loses his power-ups. Once all the power-ups are gone, he also dies.

Graphically, the game looks good. The game is one of the best looking platformers on the NES with colourful landscapes and well-drawn sprites. Few games look better on the system and those that do usually have additional chipsets to provide for better graphics. There are some framerate issues when the action gets too fierce and there are some scrolling issues that don’t affect gameplay too much but are still visually annoying. Still, the game looks great despite its age since it’s plenty colourful, the sprites are well designed, and the backgrounds are not entirely bare.

The sound is a mixed bag. While the themes sound good for the first while, they do start to get a bit annoying after so many loops. That’s not to say that the game is played better with the sound turned off but it does little to compliment the game. The sound effects are nothing special; they’re not bad but they could have been better. They sound nothing more than stylized blips and bloops.

The controls can be a bit frustrating. While they’re very responsive, as the game gets more difficult towards the end, it seems like the response time slows. This is extremely problematic towards the end of the game which can be especially frustrating. Playing the game is just like any other platformer for the system (d-pad to move, one button to jump, the other button to run/fire). It’s not complicated to control (not many games on the NES are) but the starchiness of the controls makes for controller-throwing fits by the impatient towards the games end.

That’s fine though since many gamers will never see the end of the game. This game can be quite difficult and requires plenty of skill to beat. That would normally be acceptable except for the fact the game seems to be made intentionally difficult for a reason because there is the ability to continue at the beginning of each world (there are eight of them with four levels each) if the player finds the Hudson Bee at the end of the first level. The problem is that new players wouldn’t know to look for the bee unless someone tells them to and it’s not exactly sticking out like a sore thumb for people to find. Even if you find the bee and you make use of the continue system, the game’s difficulty in the harder stages become a major drag. Power-ups in the later stages are a necessity but are hard to come by. If a player gets game over in the final world and continues from there, they will have an extremely difficult time finishing the game because it requires perfect timing and reflexes to complete without any active power-ups. It’s a vicious cycle that becomes increasingly frustrating.

Even with that though, the game makes for a different experience for those groomed on the Super Mario Bros. series. It’s not entirely different from that style of game that would confuse players yet it offers enough differences in gameplay that makes the game feel unique. The fruit/health system is particularly interesting and makes for an interesting challenge as trying to get fruits in the harder levels becomes a risk/reward system. On one hand you can try and get through the world as fast as possible to prevent dying from not getting fruit but run the risk of making mistakes or taking one’s time to get fruit so that they have more time in the level although that means having to spend more time exposed to enemies and other dangers of the environment. It’s provides for an interesting and satisfying experience.

Hudson’s Adventure Island is a good title that could have used more refinement before it was released to fix the control and difficulty issues. That’s not to say that this is a bad game but it doesn’t compare well against other top-quality platformers on the NES. It’s better than many of the same games of its genre but it’s merely an average game. If you’re hard-pressed to play something other than Mario on the NES, this is a good choice; just be warned that Mario may have spoiled you.

☆☆☆

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2 comments

    1. My experience with Super Adventure Island is very limited. I do remember the controls being tighter which helped things but the difficulty was still high. Even though we sort of look at the NES and think about how most of the games were quite hard, we tend to forget that a good part of the SNES library had some really difficult games too. I was hoping for good things out of New Adventure Island on WiiWare but wasn’t too impressed. Overall, I like the Adventure Island series but none of the games don’t have a compelling reason to be played on a repeated basis…especially with the difficulty curve the way it is.

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