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Adventure Island III

While I was not a humongous fan of Adventure Island the second game in the series went a long way toward making me appreciate what Master Higgins had to offer. It also helped that it also distinguished the games from the Wonder Boy series from which they were derived. After a solid second outing Adventure Island 3 came along and to be honest felt really unnecessary. There’s nothing wrong with the game per se other than it bearing too strong of a resemblance to its direct predecessor. Ultimately this is a solid venture but one that feels like a cash grab than a product with some heart behind it.

Adventure Island 2 did a firm job of establishing the mechanics of the series and for the most part this third installment follows its tenets to the letter. The inventory screen makes its return, allowing you to store extra hatchets and helper animals for future use. The lone new additions to the game come in the form of a boomerang which loops around before coming back and a crystal that grants temporary invincibility. Master Higgins has also befriended a new animal as well, a triceratops who can roll into a ball as a means of attack.

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Aside from the ability to crouch and attack however Adventure Island 3 feels like an expansion pack rather than a brand new installment. Level themes are brought over wholesale to the point where if you were to make a quick glance you could very easily mistake this for the second game. The underwater levels in particular are so blatantly copied and pasted that Hudson should feel ashamed of themselves. To an extent you could lobby this same criticism at the Mega Man series as they all followed the same template however each robot master provided wildly different levels with uniquely appropriate traps and enemies. Here the gameplay is so simple and the graphics so identical to the prior game that you can’t help but feel like they didn’t try as hard this time around.

As damning as that sounds however it also means the game is extremely solid. There are smaller mechanical changes that make working your way through the game much more enjoyable. There are less levels per map meaning each themed “world” doesn’t become tired by the time you reach its boss. Adventure Island 2 seemed to pack its islands with far too many levels just for the sake of it so I’m glad Hudson also took note of this as well. Speaking of bosses they also don’t move around the map Mario 3 style if you lose; no more trudging through some of the more difficult stages to get another shot at a boss. I found the length of the individual levels to be perfect as well. They are just long enough to harbor numerous secret rooms and a few tricky platforming areas while also allowing you to breeze through a decent number in shorter gaming sessions.

One area that I found surprising is the game’s challenge. The difficulty curve ramps up pretty quickly and I think will be off putting to anyone not familiar with the series. By the time you reach the end of the second island fruit is noticeably less abundant. Combined with hazards such as rolling boulders and carefully placed moving platforms that require you to slow down you’ll experience quite a few close calls before making it to the exit. Its sets a different pace than the other games and I like it. Boss battles on the other hand are exceedingly easy with simple patterns that offer little challenge.

While I’ve painted a picture of a game that seems to simply reshuffle its predecessor’s assets that would be far from the truth. The forests, caves, and undersea themes are definitely the same but these are joined by deserts, pirate ships, lava, and other standard platforming fare. The game simply doles them out throughout the length of the adventure rather than front loading it. The game has a slightly more angular look that is different but I wouldn’t say superior. For a game released in 1990 it definitely lagged behind its contemporaries.

There you have it. Adventure Island 3 is another solid entry in the series but is also uncomfortably similar to its predecessor. I hate to call any game a lazy cash in as even the most terrible games still require some effort to produce but in this case it definitely applies. If that doesn’t seem all that bad than you could do far worse than AI3.


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Adventure Island

I’ll be the first to admit I was never a big fan of the Wonder Boy series.  It was one of the first Master System games I ever played and it just rubbed me the wrong way.  So it’s really odd that I found myself overly hyped for Adventure Island.  Mind you all I had to go off of was the game’s box art I saw in a magazine and the name.  But that was enough to send my imagination into a tizzy; it’s an island!  Full of adventure!  So did it live up to my imaginary hype?  No.  What does this have to do with Wonder Boy?  They’re both essentially the same game and share the same flaws.

The quick and dirty version: Wonder Boy was created by Westone and published by Sega.  Hudson obtained the rights to create their own version of the game for the Famicom/NES but replaced the title character with Master Higgins, a caricature of their spokesmen Takashi Meijin.  While the Wonder Boy series would evolve into a string of action RPGs (whose lineage gets even more complex when you add the PC Engine games into the mix) Adventure Island remained a side-scrolling platformer until its fourth NES outing and second SNES installment.

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As a platformer Adventure Island follows the Super Mario Brothers mold quite thoroughly.  Both games involve rescuing a princess and both are 32 levels long, split between eight worlds.  They both, uh, star rotund protagonists in red caps too.  I want to say that last point wasn’t deliberate but you can never tell.  However the similarities end there.   There won’t be any butt stomping here as Master Higgins can instead throw stone axes (and eventually fire) once found to defeat enemies.

There aren’t too many power-ups available although the ones present are more than enough.  The eggs scattered about can yield the axe or longer ranger and more powerful fireballs which can destroy those pesky rocks and even boulders.  The skateboard allows you to move faster and absorb one hit at the expense of control since you can’t stop.  The rare fairy grants temporary invincibility but not everything is perfect in Adventure Island.  It’s easy to trip over the spotted rotten egg which spawn a grim reaper that will drain your stamina quickly.

The primary difference between this and Super Mario Bros. is the life bar.  You start each level with a full life bar however it isn’t there to protect you from hits but instead acts as a timer, always ticking down.  The mounds of fruit littering each level will refill it nevertheless the mad dash to collect more never ends.  This in essence makes the game far more fast paced as you can’t really afford to dawdle in one area too long as the danger of running out of health is ever present.

There’s an odd dichotomy between needing to constantly replenish your health and stay on the move before time runs out.  The way the levels are setup it’s more prudent to take it slow as you can never tell if an enemy will come running from behind or the exact arc frogs and bats will move.  It’s very easy to misjudge a jump, land on a rock and bounce into a snake or campfire.  But at the same time your life ticks down fast enough that it is a concern and unless you are constantly throwing axes everywhere to find hidden fruit or items you might not make it to the end on your own merits.

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Overall Adventure Island is pretty solid with frequent checkpoints to chart progress and unlimited continues.  It does have a few flaws though.  The game’s controls are a bit slippery; Master Higgins has a tendency to slide around before coming to a complete stop.  The game is heavily repetitive and recycles its stage themes frequently and as early as the second round.  You’ll see variations of the same forest, cave, and cloud themed worlds up until the end of the game and it gets old fast.  The end level boss of each world is basically the same boss with a new head which is pretty lame.  Some of these same criticisms can be lobbied at Mario however it did set the mold with which everyone else followed and has more variety.

Regardless of Adventure Island’s origin as a Nintendo port of Wonder Boy it laid a foundation with which its sequels would build from.  There’s an old school charm to the game but not one strong enough to overcome its repetition.


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Super Adventure Island

It’s amazing what a graphical face lift can do for a game.  I was never fond of the Adventure Island games on NES or their Master System counterpart, Wonder Boy (the whole lineage between the two will break your brain trust me).  However when the series made its 16-bit debut on the SNES it made me a fan due to its overall presentation.

Super Adventure Island was released in 1992 by Hudson.  While enjoying a date with his girlfriend Tina an evil sorcerer turns her to stone.  It’s up to Master Higgins to defeat the wizard and change her back.  Super Adventure Island was released in between parts 2 and 3 on NES and as such removes some features from both games while at the same time adding its own for its 16-bit makeover.

As Master Higgins you travel through 5 levels, comprised of 3 stages and a boss fight at the end.  Like prior games in the series, 1 hit means death unless you are riding the skateboard meaning you’ll have to be extra careful as you go.  The standard club can be upgraded to triple clubs or the more versatile boomerang.  A super jump has been added to Higgins’ arsenal to traverse the vertical levels faster and make the more tricky jumps.  There isn’t a timer per se, but the bar at the top of the screen serves the same function and can be replenished by eating fruit (I never understood that,  does Master Higgins have diabetes?).

While it comes across a bit simple the difficulty curve is actually finely tuned.  The initial levels are simple enough and give you time to acclimate to the game’s mechanics while steadily adding new challenges every level.  By Chapter 3, you’ll face enemies that dart in from the front and back and will have to look before you leap more often than not.  There are a decent spread of horizontal and vertical levels that present their own unique challenges and switch up the place.  You’ll actually change weapons willingly depending on the situation, something that I almost never did in prior installments.

For the most part though, due to its short length and tuning the game is a bit easy.  Most levels last about 2-3 minutes at most and although there are 20 the experience won’t last that long.    In prior installments there was a constant sense of urgency due to the “timer” ticking pretty fast; that fear doesn’t exist here since there is ample fruit to replenish the meter.  You can inch forward and force the enemies to appear, removing any surprises.

Hudson really rolled out the red carpet when it came to the game’s presentation.  The graphics literally pop off the screen with a vibrancy of color most SNES games around the time of its release could match.  It’s bigger, badder, and better in every way.  It is a bit inconsistent at times, with flat backdrops and ugly color choices at times.  The Mode 7 effects were very clearly tacked on and unnecessary but nearly every 16-bit developer is guilty of it too.  The real star of the show however is the soundtrack.  I’ve mentioned it many times but it bears repeating: Yuzo Koshiro was a machine during the 16-bit era, with Super Adventure Island displaying his insane range.  Hip hop, reggae, rnb, and island themes comprise the soundtrack and match the visual aesthetic perfectly.  You rarely get a soundtrack this eclectic, let alone put together so well.

This is a still a decent action romp despite its age.  The soundtrack is timeless and the gameplay holds up well.  Despite the improvements made in later installments this is still one of the best games in the  series and worth a few hours of entertainment.

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