Adventure Island is a platformer developed by Hudson Soft (now known as Konami :( ) for the NES. It was originally released in Japan as Takahashi Meijin no Bouken Jima in 1986 for the Famicom. Adventure Island is Hudson’s port of the arcade version of Wonder Boy, which was developed by Escape (now known as Westone) and published by Sega. Sega owns the Wonder Boy name, but not the actual games, so Westone was able to license them to companies like Hudson to port to other systems. There are many games named Adventure Island, but only a few of the early ones use the same level designs as the Wonder Boy arcade game. For example, Adventure Island for the Game Boy is actually based on Adventure Island 2, and Adventure Island for the PC Engine in Japan (AKA Dragon’s Curse in NA) is actually Hudson's version of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap.
In Adventure Island, you play as Master Higgins (Takahashi Meijin in Japan). He’s basically a moustache-less Mario dressed like Tom-Tom. Look at his hat! It's a Mario hat with a Hudson bee on it instead of an M. He is on a quest to save his girlfriend, Tina, from the Evil Witch Doctor, who kidnapped her and took her to an island in the South Pacific. No specific reason why is given. The manual says the name of the island is Adventure Island, but it also calls Tina, Princess Leilani.
The game has 32 levels, split into 8 areas (worlds), with 4 rounds (levels) per area, and 4 checkpoints per round, so the last level is 8-4. At the end of every 4th level, you fight a boss who looks like and does the same thing as every other boss, but is faster, takes more hits to kill than the previous one, and has a different animal mask. Does all this sound familiar? Adventure Island borrows more than just the style of hat from Mario.
Adventure Island is basically the same game as Wonder Boy, but there are a few differences besides the graphics and characters. Adventure Island is harder and more unforgiving, because you can't just continue from the last checkpoint, like in the Wonder Boy arcade game. You have to restart levels from the beginning after a Game Over in Adventure Island. You also have to collect a hidden Hudson bee item in the first level to unlock continues, and then use a code to continue every time. I totally forgot to do the code many times back in the day. Thankfully, we have save state insurance these days. Adventure Island also adds secret item eggs and bonus zones, and the controls feel slightly different.
Master Higgins starts the game with nothing but his hat and a grass skirt. He can jump, but he can't jump on enemies, like Mario. Along the way, you’ll find stone hatchets (like cavemen hatchets) which you can throw to attack enemies. Sometimes hatchets will just be hanging in plain view, but usually, they’ll be inside giant eggs. Judging by what they did in the sequel, they’re dinosaur eggs. Master Higgins throws hatchets directly in front of him and they fly about halfway across the screen, so they’re more like Ghosts ‘N Goblins torches than Castlevania axes. If you already have a hatchet and break open an egg, sometimes you’ll find a fireball upgrade for your hatchet. These lets you shoot fireballs that can break rocks and fly farther across the screen than the hatchet. They don't bounce off the ground like Mario’s fireballs, though. There’s also an invincibility fairy bee item that works just like the star in Super Mario Bros, jingle and all.
If you open a second hatchet egg while you already have a hatchet, you’ll get a skateboard, complete with helmet and pads. Usually, you die in 1 hit, but if you're on the skateboard, you can take another hit, kind of like when you get a super mushroom in Super Mario Bros. Of course, you lose the skateboard if you get hit. Getting the skateboard can be both a blessing and a curse. The skateboard lets you to take an extra hit, but it also doesn't allow you to stop moving forward or turn around. You can slow down by holding back, though. It basically makes the game a runner. Since the game is full of moving platforms and obstacles that require precise timing, being on a skateboard can make platforming extremely hard.
There is no countdown timer in Adventure Island, but there is a time limit element to the game. Instead of numbers counting down, like in Mario, you get a health meter that rapidly depletes as time passes and if you trip over a rock. You can; however, fill this meter back up by collecting fruit and milk bottles found within the levels. There are no fries, burgers, slices of pie, or ice cream, like in Wonder Boy. Master Higgins is on a diet. This time limit isn't as strict as it is in Wonder Boy, but you definitely have to collect the fruit or you will not make it to the end of a level. Sometimes, you’ll find eggs containing an evil eggplant that will follow you and make the meter go down faster. This evil eggplant will kill you if your meter is already low and you don't collect more fruit quickly enough, and will always leave you with only 1 bar left on the meter. The evil eggplant eggs are speckled in Wonder Boy, but they look like every other egg in Adventure Island, forcing you to memorize their locations to avoid them.
This game has fun and challenging levels, but there is a big lack of variety in them. There's 6 level themes and nearly every level using that theme is the same level, but with more obstacles. Some levels have more pits or less platforms to jump on, and as the game progresses, the levels add more fire, rocks, and enemies, to the point where the framerate suffers. This lack of variety makes the game feel too long and a bit repetitive, especially during the latter half.
For a Famicom/NES game that came out in 1986, Adventure Island looks pretty great. The graphics are colorful and they capture the look of an 80s anime better than most NES games of the time. Not a lot of NES games looked this close to their arcade counterparts either. Arcade games were already using 16-bit hardware by this point, so the NES just couldn’t handle arcade perfect ports. The character and enemy sprites flicker a lot, and there's a few areas with bad slowdown, especially when they put a lot of enemies on screen, but overall, this is a pretty nice looking game.
I like the music, it’s upbeat and sounds like what you’d imagine tropical 8-bit music would sound like, but there isn't a lot of it. There's only one music track for every level theme, so every cave level has the same music, for example. There's about 10 songs in the game total, and that's including short tracks, like the bonus stage, evil eggplant, invincibility bee, and boss themes. It's more than whatever Wonder Boy had, at least.
Adventure Island isn’t usually mentioned in best of NES lists, but it's one of my favorite NES games. Playing Adventure Island is like learning a dance routine or something. It's one of those super challenging games in which you have to memorize the levels and then play them almost perfectly to beat them. It reminds me of playing challenging 2D shooters in that way. I think fans of difficult platformers will enjoy it.