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Adventure Island (NES) artwork

Adventure Island (NES) review


"Hudsonís Adventure Island is Super Mario Bros. on steroids."



Hudsonís Adventure Island is Super Mario Bros. on steroids. Levels always progress from left to right, forcing the heroic Mr. Higgins to avoid pits and enemies while occasionally tossing projectiles and working through eight worlds that offer four levels apiece, all to rescue a beautiful maiden (Tina) from the grasp of a large, monstrous creature. However, Hudsonís few changes to the classic formula that Mario pioneered dramatically alter the experience, and the resulting game retains little of its progenitorís magic.

For starters, there are far more pits and enemies, and the two tend to intersect in ways that make a strenuous task out of what should be simple platforming. Whenever a straightaway seems to be safe, you can expect tumbling boulders, or enemies that run at you from behind, or both. And since there are no size-altering mushrooms, everything kills you on contact; your only shield is the rare skateboard, which has the unfortunate side effect of pushing you forward constantly, regardless of how many holes and moving platforms are waiting ahead. Super Mario Bros. generally seeks to entertain, but Adventure Island seems hell-bent on killing you instead.

To make matters worse, the game also features a slowly depleting HP bar. Collecting the inexplicably floating fruits and vegetables is the primary method of recovering health, and itís often impossible to complete a stage without grabbing at least a few of them along the way. This isnít much of a hassle early on, but stumbling through the later levels while also on a strict time limit can become especially stressful. And it doesnít help that the screen constantly cuts off behind you, punishing you for running through areas at high speed, which you were only doing in the first place because your health was running out. Itís a perfect storm of frustration.

The only saving grace is the Hudson Bee (TM) hidden at the end of level 1. Finding it unlocks the ability to restart at the beginning of a world after your lives have been depleted if you hold any direction on the D-pad and press the Start button at the ďGame OverĒ screen. Of course, the option to continue playing after meeting your demise is a fairly standard video game feature, and it probably should have been included here to begin with. Beating the entire game with only three lives would be a ludicrous feat.

At least the torrent of enemies and bottomless pits draws attention away from the gameís repetitive level design. Each world will generally boast some combination of a forest area, a cave, ancient ruins, a rocky hillside, and a body of water with traversable clouds. Thatís it. These elements are reused frequently, often in the same order, which makes one world virtually indistinguishable from the next. The easiest way to tell youíre in world 7 rather than world 2 is that the former has more frogs and snakes trying to murder you.

All of the gameís power-ups appear once you crack open gigantic eggs. Breaking one grants access to tomahawks, fireballs, a skateboard, HP-refilling milk, a temporary invincibility fairy, or an eggplant. The eggplant is evil. It chases you and eats away at your HP much more quickly than normal. The only way to get rid of it is to wait until it reduces your health to exactly 2 points. This leaves precious little time to find enough food to avoid perishing. Eggplants are hidden in regular eggs, but each eggís contents are fixed, so the game seems to expect you to memorize which ones contain untimely death. This was probably considered an acceptable practice at the time.

Adventure Island was initially planned to be a port of the Sega arcade game, Wonder Boy. Unsurprisingly, one of the main criticisms of Wonder Boy was that it was too similar to Super Mario Bros. Arcade titles of the era were often made to be as challenging as possible without feeling unbeatable; an ideal balance would yield maximum quarter input from proud, determined children. However, Wonder Boy is actually far easier than its NES successor. Hudson more or less copied many of the level layouts and background themes, but they also crammed each stage with additional enemies and reduced the amount of food available. Wonder Boy helpfully indicates which eggs contain the grim reaper (a much cooler version of the eggplant), and it automatically allows the player to continue once the supply of lives is exhausted. I played through Wonder Boy as well for comparison, and the experience was overall more balanced and polished than the frantic terror of Hudsonís version.

Yet, despite all of its flaws, Adventure Island is still an enjoyable game. Remember how I said it had a lot in common with Super Mario Bros.? A fortunate side effect of borrowing so much from its inspiration is that this also carried over some of the intangible ďfun factor.Ē Hudson successfully capitalized on the simple joys of running, jumping, and throwing stuff at oversized animals. Combine this with the gimmick of unnecessarily punishing difficulty and the result is a remarkably playable game. Adventure Island might not be inspiring, innovative, or even particularly well-designed, but its fundamentals are still solid enough to make it worth playing. Well, unless you happen to miss that Hudson Bee. Then itís just stupid.

Rating: 5/10

Whelk's avatar
Freelance review by Kyle Charizanis (April 21, 2013)

Lifelong gamer and unabashed nerd. Not even a little bit bashed. He was originally drawn to Honest Gamers for its overall high quality of writing. He lives inside his computer which is located in Toronto, Canada. Also, he has a Twizzler (@Whelkk).

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