Adventure Island: An 8-Bit Tropical Extravaganza!
by Polly


Adventure Island: An 8-bit Tropical Extravaganza!


1988: Mario and Nintendo mania were in full-swing and the lot of us 8-bit junkies couldn't have been happier. We had games, cartoons, cereal, and whatever the hell else Nintendo wanted to pawn off on us to beg our parents for with coming birthdays and Christmases. Mario was pretty much King Shit at the time, and lord knows there were more than a few pretenders to the throne. I guess you can't really blame 'em. Shit, you'd think replicating the Mario formula and doing a little of your own thing would probably be the easiest way to go about scoring a little success back in the day. But, for the most part, the majority of these pretenders were unable to step outside of that Italian fat ass' shadow and in all truthfulness, we're probably better off not having played those games.

One series, however, manages to stand out just a little bit from the crowd of similarly structured platforms, enemies, and run n' jump heroes. Hudson Soft's Adventure Island series enjoyed a good bit of popularity on the NES. Well, maybe not so much popularity... Perhaps the word I'm looking for is "recognizability."

Odds are, if someone says "Master Higgins" or "Adventure Island" anyone from our era of gaming will have at least half a clue of what that person is talking about. "You know, that naked guy with a Mario Hat that throws axes" is likely how they'd respond. And they'd be right!



Not exactly the most appealing character design ever. I can only imagine the designer being told "give us Mario...but make him naked!" Then this little guy popped out.

Master Higgins had himself three prettty big and memorable adventures on the ol NES here in the states. It's my aim to cover them all and your duty to read all about it and think "GOD DAMN SHE'S A GENIUS!"

But before we tackle the games themselves, there's no way we can begin reviewing Hudson Soft games without first reviewing the most important thing first.

THE HUDSON BEE!


The Hudson Bee is cute! I normally fuckin' hate bees, but not a bee this cute!


I give it five "hauuuuu, omochikaeri's" out of five!



So, without further delay, let's begin our happy little 8-bit tropical adventure, shall we?



Adventure Island

The first Adventure Island is actually a bit of a spiffying up and port of a Sega arcade game called Wonder Boy. Since I never played it, and because I like to be an ignorant game reviewer, that's the only thing I'm gonna say about Adventure Island's connection to Wonder Boy.

It's no doubt at all that Adventure Island may bear more than just a passing resemblance to Mario. Firstly, Master Higgins is out to rescue his girlfriend, the equivalent of Princess Toadstool (fuck your Peach nonsense). Other than the sprite, we have the obvious fact that this is a run and jumper. Many of the backgrounds bear similar resemblances as well, and the game even has a bit of a flow similar to that of Super Mario Bros. Hell, it even has the same level progression set up of 8 worlds with 4 stages apiece. At the end of every 4th stage you'll fight a boss that has the exact same sprite and uses the exact same attack with the only difference being what kind of head it's got. Inspiration, or just flat out ripoff? I'll leave it up to you to decide.

Adventure Island has no problems gracefully zipping past its mentor in the graphics department. The world of Adventure Island is quite pretty, featuring a good use of color and the backgrounds are convincing and feature a bit more variety than Mario's original NES outing and the oddball Super Mario Bros. 2. Master Higgins and his enemies all feature about the same amount of detail and animation you'd get in either of the two Mario games out at the time, except Master Higgins has a little "I have to peepee" dance he does anytime he's not moving. For the longest time I thought this game was just one big journey to find a damn bathroom and the stamina gauge draining was Higgins' bladder control. Anyway, the sprites are passable enough to tell what they are and what they're doing. Serviceable, but nothing to get excited about.

Music and sound effects are basically the same. The main theme of the game, which I consider to be the tune that plays in all the foresty-like areas, is probably the only one anyone's gonna remember. Other than that, if you played any of the other tracks for anyone, they'd likely tell you, "It's probably from some platformer on NES that's not Mario or Mega Man." Though the sound effects aren't directly lifted from a Mario game, they do bear an uncanny resemblance.

And gameplay is where we take a sharp turn and crash into a brick wall. But first, I'll start with the good stuff.

It's the same premise as pretty much every platformer you ever played. Start level, run from point A to point B, finish level. Most games like this also give you a timer of some sort to race against, and to be honest they're mostly useless. Adventure Island's timer is a bit different. It comes in the form of a stamina gauge. It's constantly counting down and when it hits 0 you lose a life. You can keep the gauge filled with magical fruit that pops up out of nowhere constantly. In doing that, they've also added in rocks, which are obstacles you must avoid touching, because nine times out of ten, they'll always juggle you into a pit or an enemy, and because they drain the stamina gauge substantially. The stamina gauge was an interesting new addition to these kinds of games, because where most platformers made you take your time to do things, you had to be a little quicker about them in Adventure Island.

And from here on... Well, things just aren't so good.

Master Higgins' arsenal is...fairly barfy. All you get are dinky little axes you can throw at enemies to defeat them, but the problem is that they fucking ARC OVER THEM most of the time. You can also obtain an insanley rare fireball that mimics Mario's, but still has an annoying arc to it. the only way you're going to see this power up is either by blind luck or memorization. The eggs that you can get this power up from tend to appear out of nowhere as you're moving forward, so 80% of the time you won't even see the fucking thing OR it'll be scrolled too far off the screen for you to actually obtain it if you DO open the egg. What a fucking load of bullshit.

The other signature power up of the series is the skateboard. An item that's only useful for its speed and the fact that it lets you take an extra hit before dying. A lot of the time, this power up has a damn good chance of backfiring on you, as it can make some jumps nearly impossible to make because you're moving too fast. At other times the enemy placement is kind enough to fuck you into losing your skateboard and then juggling you into the next enemy without so much as any kind of invincibility during your fall. Yet another load of fucking bullshit.

Your next heaping helping of bullshit comes from the fact that Master Higgins controls like fucking shit.

Mmmm, mmm! SHIT!

Firstly, you can't jump high unless you're moving. At all. No matter how long you hold that jump button, he's not going any higher unless you have even the slighest amount of forward motion prior to the jump. This is more than it sounds, trust me. For instance, there are places where you'll have to make perfectly timed jumps, but you can't just stand on the edge of the ledge and make the jump over, because you won't reach. Instead you have to take a run, jump, and then pray you don't slide the fuck off the next platform. That's another huge issue with controlling Higgins. He fucking slides everywhere. I realize it's a momentum kinda thing that they wanted to factor in, but in all honesty it proves to be nothing more than a god damn nuisence. You'll often have to make very intricate jumps and when you reach the other side, odds are you'll either fall down into the next pit or slide like you're on a patch of black fucking ice into that perfectly placed enemy.

Enemy placement is the god damn work of Satan in this game. Every enemy and stamina draining rock is expertly placed so that when you die, the evil little programmers that worked on this game get a little happy in their pants because of it. The last 12 or so stages of the game are absolutely fucking sadistic and are engineered for the sole purpose of fucking you over. It might be fair if Higgins didn't control like a god damn "oiled up on the slip-n-slide" decoy octopus.

Though the game is 8 worlds and 32 stages long, there are actually only about 6 level designs with some palette variations. You'll play the same stages over and over, but the enemy placements and jumps just get more and more insane. By the time you hit the end of World 8-3, you may be tearing your fucking hair out with some of the ridiculous jumps the game's asking you to pull off. It's really no fucking wonder I never beat this game as a child.

Because of the insane difficulty (and I am never one to complain about this), Adventure Island outstays its welcome by a long fucking shot. It begins asking WAY too much perfection on the part of the player and at around the World 5 mark goes from being fun to frustrating, a fact driven home even more by the fact that you die in one hit and under normal circumstances you can't continue. It could have been a great start for the series, but after a showing like this, it's amazing that they got another chance.



Adventure Island II

Three years after their failure with the original Adventure Island, Hudson Soft gave Mr. Higgins another go at trying to play in the same league as Mario. By the time this game was released, the seminal Super Mario Bros. 3 had taken the world by storm and cemented Nintendo's status as a nigh unstoppable fucking juggernaut in the world of videogames. Adventure Island II may have missed the Mario 3 gravy train by a good year or two, but damn if the little bee that could and the ever so fucking naked Mr. Higgins weren't at least trying to play for keeps this time.

And graphically, once again, Adventure Island brings its best cards to the table. This is certainly the area where, I'm not afraid to say, Nintendo's big gun got trounced. Adventure Island's locales are so damn easy on the eyes, featuring lots of bright colors, huge backdrops, and lots of animation on both foreground and background objects. Most of the enemies from the first game make a return here and are given a nice facelift, bringing more color and animation to the table as well some new faces that are just as charming. Master Higgins retains about the same level of detail and animation that he had in the first game, including his signature "peepee dance," and the new dino-friends he brought to the party are just as cute and cuddly-wuddly as they need to be.

A better set of tunes make up Adventure Island II's soundtrack, but they still fail to live up to any of those great tunes you've heard in many of the games that came before it. They fit the action nicely and there's a better variety this time, but they're still just not all that memorable.

Gameplay got the much-needed kick in the ass it was long-overdue for as well. No longer is Master Higgins forever doomed to a life on the ice and his jumping actually feels much better. There will be a few times when things still feel wonky, but for the most part, everything I hated about the first game has been fixed or patched up well enough so that the level of frustration never even comes close to that of the original.

Adventure Island II also brought along a good amount of gameplay improvements to make it worth of that Roman numeral 2.

First up are Higgins' new dino-buddies. Scattered throughout stages, Mr. Higgins can open eggs that'll give him various dinosaur pals to ride around on. Each one has a specific special ability ranging from breathing fire, swimming at faster speeds underwater, and unlimited flight so long as you don't die of stamina loss or get hit. The little fuckers are not only useful for the special abilities that they grant, but they also provide you with an extra layer of protection, allowing Higgins to sustain one more hit than his usual...one. The only real downside to the little guys is that when you're riding one, the control is a little more out of whack, similar to the original game. It's a small price to pay and doesn't often lead to as many "fuck you over" situations as you might think.

Along with your new dino-buddies, you're also given an inventory. As you collect various items and dino-buddies throughout each stage and complete the stage with it still intact, before you begin the next stage you'll be able to store these special items by pressing B. You can store up to as many as 9 of each item. This can prove incredibly useful, should you find yourself getting your ass handed to you by a particular stage and decide, "Fuck it, I'm flying through this bitch." Or, if you just wanna begin your new life with the hammer, the option can always be there. You can also go into a stage completely unarmed and try finishing it that way, as well. Doing so can actually open up new areas that you've never seen before. How you manage your shit is up to you. The only real downside here is that once you've lost all your lives, unless you find the hidden Hudson Bee, your inventory resets and you lose everything once you continue. BUT THANK GOD YOU CAN ACTUALLY FUCKING CONTINUE, RIGHT?

Progressing through the game is a bit like Super Mario Bros. 3. There are eight (of course) islands you must make your way through in order to complete the game. Each one has a theme (of course) and (another new feature for the game) a unique boss at the end of the last stage. You don't actually move around on the map screen yourself, this is all handled for you. Each island has a varying number of stages to complete, and if certain conditions are met, your time spent on each island will be either much shorter or longer than what you'd expect depending on how you handle them.

The stages in the game are MUCH shorter this time, but to make up for this, there are many, many more of them. Each stage presents a more compact set of challenges for you to overcome, and though they may be difficult at times, you won't spend nearly as long trying to figure out how to complete them. This keeps things fresh, as you'll constantly be changing locales as you enter new areas, and not feel bogged down in larger stages that could literally drain any drive you have left in only a few lives.

Difficulty has been given a welcome bit of tweaking. Don't get me wrong, Adventure Island II is still an absolute bitch at times, but never reaches the level of frustration and outright bullshit that the first game did. You're still gonna be asked to pull off some crazy ass jumps, ridiculously tight timing of your attacks, and many races against the stamina meter, but losing a life feels more like "Okay, I fucked that up, I'll get it next time," rather than "THE GAME FUCKING CHEATS!"

If anything really bad can be said about Adventure Island II, it's that if you're serious about actually finishing it, you'd better set aside an entire evening to do so. You're forced to play through all eight of the game's worlds, and with the number of stages you actually have to play in each one varying depending on your actions, it'll eat up a good chunk of time for sure. This might be a good one for the emulator crowd, what with their fancy save states n' all. In playing through this game, even way back in my younger days when I had all the time in the world for videogames, by the end of the sixth island, I was really ready for the whole thing to be over. It simply feels like it sticks around too long, doing way too much of the same thing.

So, what a treat that was. Adventure Island II managed to do almost everything right. It's exactly what a sequel should be. A game that fixes flaws from its predecessor and throws in some new ingredients to spice things up a bit. It's fun and challenging, but sticks around a little too long like that girl you wake up with in the morning who has the nerve to ask what "we're" doing today. Bitch, I'm goin' to work, your ass is goin' home and playing Adventure Island II.


Adventure Island 3

Just a bit over a year after the release of Adventure Island II, came the release of the quite obviously titled Adventure Island 3.



The first thing I wanna touch on is the boxart. This one, to me anyway, always seemed like one of the most awkwardly designed and schizophrenic layouts for a product ever. Look at that complete waste of space down the left hand side for the little Hudson Bee thing they were going for. It doesn't even go all the way to the bottom of the box. Seems a little unnecessary and completely out of place to me. It pushes the main bit of art over to the side making the whole thing look disjointed and ugly. Then there's the art itself. There's our good buddy Master Higgins, naked as ever, with what I can only describe as a mix of a serial killer and an "I openly practice beastiality" smile going on. I think I speak for everyone when I say, "WE DO NOT WANT TO SEE THAT!"

Bottom line: Master Higgins needed clothes. No, I don't care about the timeframe of the game and that they didn't really have clothes back then. THEY DIDN'T HAVE BASEBALL CAPS BUT HE'S GOT ONE OF THOSE! Seriously, Hudson, there's only so much naked blubber bouncing around I can handle. It's not a lot, believe me.

Adventure Island 3 takes the same exact story that both games have before it. If shit ain't broken, why bother fixing it, right? And as I've said over and over again, these games don't need no fuckin' story. Higgins' woman has been stolen again, and this time it was by ALIENS! As Higgins, your job is once again to save this more trouble than she's really worth (unless she has some kinda golden pussy or something) old cow once again. From aliens. In prehistoric land. Yeah...

The story of Adventure Island 3's visuals, will pretty much tell the tale for the rest of the game. Not really all that much of an improvement. Everything still looks fantastic. If you loved the art style from the second game as much as I did, you're in for a treat once again. The problem is, that there's not a whole lot of new stuff going on here. Most of the backgrounds and sprites end up being pretty much the exact same thing from the second game's library. There is some new pretty stuff here and there to look at, but it's clear from the outset that Hudson was more than happy with what they'd already done and really didn't feel the need to do much more.

As for the music and overall sound package, once again, Adventure Island 3 serves up another familiar set of decent, but easily forgettable tunes with some familiar themes returning from previous games. It's the same with all games in the series, nothing stands out, but it's not bad enough to make you wanna mute the damn thing.

If you're familiar with all the changes that were made in Adventure Island II, then you should feel right at home the moment you boot up this game. Very little has changed. All the mechanics feel exactly the same. The only new ability Mr. Higgins got this time around is that THANK THE GOOD FUCKING LORD HE CAN FINALLY FUCKING DUCK! Ducking will play a pretty big role in how you have to deal with a lot of the new enemies and you can now avoid some attacks that you couldn't without tricky jumps in previous games.

The inventory screen returns and provides pretty much the same functionality. All your dino-buddies from the previous game make a return as well, including a new little guy that attacks enemies by rolling into them. They all work the same way and operate just as slippery as they did in II.

Progression through the game is exactly the same as last time. You'll travel across the 8 islands of the world, each with six levels apiece, and at the end fight bosses much like you did in the last game. Bosses this time actually provide a good challenge. Instead of the simple little fireball attacks they had in the previous games, each one now has one or two unique attacks they'll come at you with in very easy to read patterns. They all put up a decent challenge this time around with only the fourth world's boss being way more of a god damn pain in the ass than it has to be thanks to it being a fucking underwater swimming fight. Fuuuuuuck that guy right in his ear.

The level designs are all about on par with the second game and this time around it does feel like they finally got the right balance in terms of difficulty progression. The game starts out fairly easy and only really starts playing for keeps around the halfway point of the fourth world. From then on, bring only your best platformin' skills, because shit's about to get real. I can't remember ever being frustrated with this game like I was the first and some parts of the second. There really aren't any genuine bullshitty moments engineered to just fuck you out of lives, only moments where you'll have to either be quick on the trigger finger or time things just right in order to finish a stage.

Just like its predecessors, Adventure Island 3 just doesn't know when to quit. I don't know why, but these games honestly feel a bit too long. I think it's simply because you're doing way too much of the same thing and each world contains the exact same stage types with only minor variances here and there. Granted, I don't feel it's quite so bad in Adventure Island 3's case, but maybe one less world would have made all the difference.

If I'd fault this game for anything major, it may be the fact that it simply seems to have little ambition. For the most part, Adventure Island 3 feels more like an expansion pack than it does a true sequel. After the huge improvement Adventure Island II was over the original, it's sort of a kick in the pants that they were content to just stay where they were instead of trying to throw a little more into an old formula.

Adventure Island 3 is simply just more Adventure Island II, and that's not a bad thing, it's just not super awesome kawaii desu ne, either.


BONUS STAGE!!!
Adventure Island 4 (Japan Only)



And now we cruise into the finale of our 8 bit Tropical Adventure with the only 8-bit Adventure Island game never released stateside. Why was it never released here? Well, it may have something to do with the fact that the game was released in 1994, LOOOOOOONG after the NES' lifespan here in the states had diminished and everyone had moved onto those newfangle-dangled 16-bit consoles. Even Mr. Higgins himself had engaged in some 16-bit hijinks, but those games were barf, so maybe his trip back to 8-bit was a way of soothing his eternally naked spirit. Adventure Island IV is also the final official game released for the Famicom in Japan. Man, they really love holding onto technology long after most consider it dead. Like the Dreamcast.

Though the technology had advanced and publishers had found pretty much every way to squeeze every bit of power out of the NES that they possibly could, Adventure Island 4 seems to take about 23 steps backward from what the previous two installments had accomplished only a few years earlier. This game looks so...incredibly generic and unimpressive when you consider its predecessors. Most of the lovely detail and animation from the previous games' backgrounds has been nixed. All of the island's environments look so stale and boring now. There are a few bits here and there that look lifted from the previous two games and they stick out like sore thumbs. Higgins' and enemies' sprites are pretty much lifted from those games as well with only a scant few new enemies and all-new bosses which are largely unimpressive as well. All in all, one huge fucking step back for a series that really used to push the little shoebox that could.

The music... sucks.

So, what's ol Higgy-boy up to now after three straight hair-pulling and at times teeth-gnashing adventures? Could it be? SOMETHING NEW? FINALLY? Of course, I only mean that it's new in reference to this series alone. In no way does Adventure Island IV do anything that no other game like it has ever done before.

Hudson, finally tired of the same ol formula, went and decided to shake things up a bit for the series' final 8-bit incarnation. Adventure Island IV finds Master Higgins embarking on an epic quest of a different nature. More akin to say... Link. I know I've spent this entire write-up comparing Mr. Higgins' exploits to those of Mario and it may seem a bit unfair to keep harping on it, but these are similarities that are very hard to overlook. Just like how this game apes The Legend of Zelda in many instances. See it as flattery or just not having any unique ideas of their own, the instances of similarity truly speak for themselves louder than ever in this game.

This one's an adventure'ish platformer. Gone are the days where you'd run from point A to point B praying to god you didn't screw up some insanely difficult jump or accidentaly trip over a fucking rock and into an enemy. Adventure Island IV is less about testing your skills and more about collecting items and solving simple puzzles that'll let you continue your adventure, much like you would in any Zelda or Metroid game. You'll collect many of the same items too, including heart containers, pieces of heart that form another heart, a hammer, a boomerang, and a torch. While Higgins' inventory is fairly large, most of the items you obtain usually only have one use and you'll never use them again. I can't think of more than one instance at all when I needed to use the Spear or Torch. You get both fairly early in the game but each has only one little area where they're useful and then they just sit around in your inventory taking up space the rest of the game.

Though it gives you the sense of an open world, Adventure Island IV remains fairly linear. You can't go anywhere the game doesn't want you to go because there's always that boulder in the way or an ice block that strangely can't be melted with a FUCKING LIT TORCH. In order to go anywhere, you'll have to hunt down the boss of a particular area, defeat it, and then the dinosaur that lives in a cave across from Higgins' house just magically opens the path to a new area. You're still completing stages to get to the next, while the whole world setup is more of an illusion, serving only to make things seem a bit more seamless.

Previous Adventure Island games stomped on your nuts 'till they popped out of your mouth and then shoved them up your nose with their brutal difficulty. This one... well I beat it in one sitting and died once. Yes, this one really shifted gears and did a complete 180 degree turn right in the middle of the road. Adventure Island IV is kiddie stuff. You'd have to be about half-braindeaad to not be able to beat this game. Most enemies go down with one hit and bosses have patterns that are easy to dissect in less than 30 seconds or so. There's no tricky timing, no insane jumps, no one enemy you should ever dread seeing (FUCKING FROOOOOOOOGS FOR THE FIRST THREE GAMES!). This game's a cakewalk, end of story.

Amazingly, this is the one installment in the series where I can't complain about it outstaying its welcome. For an adventure game of this kind, Adventure Island IV is pretty damn short. It can definitely be finished in under an hour if you know where everything's at and where to go. There are only six areas in all to explore this time and overall playtime feels just about right. If you do ever need to stop and take a rest, you can always teleport back to Higgins' pad and save your game... Well not in the literal sense. For some reason, a game released in 1994 is still using an archaic password system to keep track of your progress and inventory. It's probably not a long enough game to warrant a battery and I can't imagine why anyone would need more than one save file anyway, but everyone hates passwords! They're unreliable and tedious to have to type in. And god damn it I have to bitch about something, don't I? DON'T I? Wait, you'd love me even if I liked things too? Awwwwww... :)

You're such a [REDACTED].

I guess the game's biggest flaw is that it just feels so..."bleh" when compared to the other installments. I applaud Hudson's efforts in wanting to try something a bit new-ish for the series (The SNES' Super Adventure Island 2 had some of the same mechanics) but it doesn't exactly feel like their heart was into it at all. Had the world have been bigger or the game had any kind of semblance of difficulty, it might have actually felt worth the effort put in to finish it. Instead, it's just a ho-hum and kinda there for the sake of being there title that you could probably play through if you were bored enough and just wanted to waste an hour or so.


And thus ends our naked fat boy 8-bit Tropical Island Adventure. So from us to all of you out there...BEWARE THOSE GOD DAMN JUMPING FUCK FROGS!

Good night!





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