Adventure Island II (NES) review
"Hmmm, does a NES game where a short, chubby guy is off to save the local damsel in distress sounds a wee bit familiar? Nope, I’m not talking about one of the Super Mario Brothers games, although you could be forgiven for thinking so. Thanks to the overwhelming success of that series, it seemed like most third-party companies had a hankering to get a piece of the “short, fat hero” pie. "
Hmmm, does a NES game where a short, chubby guy is off to save the local damsel in distress sounds a wee bit familiar? Nope, I’m not talking about one of the Super Mario Brothers games, although you could be forgiven for thinking so. Thanks to the overwhelming success of that series, it seemed like most third-party companies had a hankering to get a piece of the “short, fat hero” pie.
Hudson was no different. In 1986, they designed Adventure Island, which was pretty indicative of the Mario clone scene of that time. While not a horrible game by any means, it did seem to suffer from a decided lack of imagination, as your hero (Master Higgins) seemed to go through the same few stages repeatedly and fight the same boss over and over (with a different head each time). It was a game that started out fun, but could quickly become a grueling and tedious task.
But, to the credit of the bee-loving company, they didn’t pack it in after that game. Five years later, seeing a need for more Higgins in our lives, they went back to the drawing board and were able to improve on the original in most every way. While Adventure Island II remained faithful to its predecessor in most ways, the alterations made really helped make this game a lot better in the end.
For those not familiar with the mechanics of the Adventure Island series, it’s pretty simple. First, take the world of Super Mario and give it an island setting. After that, scrap the timer and replace it with an energy bar, which goes down as time progresses. Helping you out is a generous (or in some cases, quite stingy) amount of fruit and other goodies into each stage, with each of these items capable of adding a bit of length to your lifeline. To ensure you’re not helpless against the deadly powers of the many tiny animals trying to prevent you from reaching your goal, weapons also will be included (with a stone hammer being most common in this series) And, of course, the series tries not to vary from the tried-and-true method of sending your hero through a bunch of stages before fighting a boss, moving to the next world (in this case, island) and starting the process again.
Even if it’s a rather vanilla template, Hudson puts it together skillfully. Some stages might give you plenty of fruit, but force you to dodge enemies and their attacks constantly. Others might go light on the enemies, but give you goods so rarely that you’re in a constant struggle to keep your energy bar going strong. And let me tell you, few things are more stressful than just knowing you’re so very close to the end of a tough level -- but also are only seconds away from Higgins’ final bars of health evaporating. Will you make the final two jumps and get past the dive-bombing bat, only to watch your pudgy protagonist perish just steps away from the stage’s end OR will you just barely squeak through in time and get to move on to the next level?
Unlike its predecessor, Adventure Island II has more going for it than the ability to provide a handful of tense moments. You get more power-ups in this game. You still have your trusty hammer and skateboard (you move quicker, but can’t stop), but now can enlist the aid of four dinosaurs. These critters have many uses, with one allowing you to fly over tough patches of terrain and another being very adept at handling the game’s underwater stages. They also give Higgins the useful ability to take another hit from enemies. Instead of instantly perishing because he got brushed by a snail, your hero will simply lose the services of his reptilian buddy -- but live to fight.
To sweeten the pot, losing a power-up late in the game doesn’t spell doom for the average player. I can still remember the horror story my best friend told me of how he ALWAYS lost his hammer in the seventh world of the original Adventure Island and NEVER could recover from that setback. Hudson corrected that problem, though. You’re allowed to hoard hammers and dinosaurs, so you have a few in reserve. Let’s say you’re of the opinion that it’s wise to always carry a hammer into each level, but then die and lose that weapon. All you have to do is select a hammer from your reserve stash (assuming you have one) and you can start the level again without the naked feeling of being in a sticky situation unarmed. This item select screen also allows you to use a bit of strategy. If you know you’re entering an underwater stage, you’ll be able to pick the dinosaur that excels in that setting in order to have an easier time of things.
Compared to the first game in the series, Adventure Island II shows a decent array of level designs and enemies. While you’ll encounter plenty of snakes, spiders and flaming skulls during many treks through forests, caves and lakes, Hudson does a fine job of occasionally tossing in a new challenge to keep you on your toes. The occasional wintery stage or lava-filled volcanic level do wonders to break up the monotony caused by doing variations of the same handful of challenges repeatedly. When you add in that new enemies get thrown into the mix on occasion (such as leaping squids and miniature snowmen), this game stays interesting for some time.
Well, except for the bosses. Nearly all of them are exactly the same, although the victim of choice’s appearance changes with each new island world. Most boss fights follow a simple pattern consisting of you pelting it with hammers and dodging a couple of bullets. The boss then disappears and teleports to a new location where the process repeats itself. Cause enough damage and it will change color and start firing more shots at once. These fights are easy and, with no time limit, boring -- something that really makes the end of each region an anticlimactic experience.
Shoddy play control at inopportune times became another issue I had with this game. It seems that Higgins just doesn’t handle that smoothly on jumps. I found myself feeling a bit nervous when I had to make lightning-quick decisions with him, as this game’s mechanics seem best suited for slow, methodical decision-making in some stages. In the handful of ice levels, the combination of slick surfaces with some sloppy play control was sufficient to make a few sequences nightmarish for me, while a few other assorted challenges (such as jumping from one moving cloud to the next) also could become unnecessarily tricky.
And something like that was sufficient (in my eyes) to keep the games of Master Higgins well in the shadow of Mario. While Super Mario Brothers and its sequels widely are considered some of the best platformers of all time, the Adventure Island games solidly fall into the category of “fun, but could be better”. Adventure Island II improves on the original in many ways, while maintaining a happy, fun theme through upbeat music and cartoonish graphics. But it’s neither an unforgettable game nor a must-play one. I’d recommend Adventure Island II for anyone looking for a simple, yet engaging, platformer -- just don’t expect to be overwhelmed by awesomeness.
Community review by overdrive (May 13, 2005)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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