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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 II

As much as I wanted to like Adventure Island it skewed a little too closely to the platformer archetype laid down by Super Mario Brothers. It was also a reskin of Wonder Boy, a game I was never too fond of. However while it was fairly unremarkable there were the kernels of a good game and Adventure Island II makes good on that initial promise. Adventure Island II goes a long way toward giving the series its own identity and is the game the first should have been.

Master Higgins has succeeded in saving island princess Leilani however her sister isn’t so fortunate. The surviving minions of the Evil Witch Doctor have kidnapped her and so Master Higgins sets out to make his girl happy.

Where the Wonder Boy series would eventually evolve into a series of action RPGs and confuse the shit out of gamers and the press alike with its numerous ports under different names Adventure Island has remained a pure platformer. Not much has changed with Master Higgins but his mechanics have been refined. The annoying high jump from the first game has been changed so that now Master Higgins will always reach the same height. The depleting life bar returns however fruit restores more health so there are fewer instances of really close calls due to bad game design.

Unfortunately you can no longer upgrade the basic tomahawk to fireballs. While the skateboard returns it is now joined by four animal helpers that hatch from eggs and will lend you their power. Each has a specific specialty such as the Pteranodon’s ability to fly (which is damn near game breaking), the Elasmosaurus’ faster swimming and the two Camptosaurus who attack with their tail and fiery breath respectively. If you complete a level with any of these allies they can be banked and stockpiled for later use which definitely comes in handy for some of the trickier stages.

The game uses the same setup of eight islands with multiple sub levels except this time there are more than just 4, oftentimes as many as 7. This time out however the levels are significantly shorter; I would say about half the length of any in the first one. With this there are no checkpoints but it doesn’t matter since you can retrace your steps so easily. With shorter stages each is more to the point, usually focusing on a single platforming element such as springs or navigating spikes underwater with the occasional tricky enemy placement thrown in. The layouts are tighter with less frequent enemy ambushes from behind or sudden pitfalls. The entire game seems as though a list of flaws in the first adventure was compiled and stamped them out, producing a more solid game overall.

There’s a greater amount of level variety since there are eight separate islands to explore. The first game only had 5 or 6 themes that were repeated throughout its 32 levels with very little variation. True the islands span nearly every platforming trope such as forests, ice, and desert but you can hardly hold that against it. When a theme is recycled it is done tastefully, with new enemy placement or even traps to contend with.   There are hidden items all over the place, most of which can be found in a more sensible manner this time around. If you hit a secret area it will play a sound and whisk you away with the rewards being extra lives, animals you can stock or my favorite, completing skipping the current island altogether.

It’s funny to compare the two but Adventure Island II has a lot in common with Super Mario Brothers 3. Both have eight individual worlds, let you stockpile items for later use and feature end level bosses that move to a new location if you happen to die. It makes sense as SMB 3 was released years prior and had a heavy influence on any platform game going forward. Of course it isn’t anywhere near that game’s quality but Hudson should be commended for not simply creating what would essentially amount to an expansion pack.

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The gameplay overhaul turned out well enough but they could have done more with the graphics. This could very easily pass for the first game as they both share an almost identical look with some graphical elements carrying over wholesale. After staring at the same damn forest, cave, and plain blue skies for the length of the first adventure seeing them all over again is a friggin nightmare. At the very least the bosses of each island are unique and actually put up a fight. This was released in 1991, a year in which the very best NES developers were on fire with the hardware and this looks like a game straight out of 1986.

Adventure Island II is a solid platformer that corrects all of the flaws of its predecessor and introduces elements that would go on to further define the series. While more could have been done with its presentation that does little to diminish its value.


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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.