Adventure Island is a groovy little platformer from the old NES days, famed for its short-but-difficult levels, and some pixel-perfect jumping action.
Taking control of a caveman fellow (that looks suspiciously like a baby in a diaper when scaled down to the Game Boy) by the name of Master Higgins, you run through levels at a surprisingly-fast pace, throwing tomahawks at various snakes, spiders and snail gremlins, and jumping on the occasional skateboard to zip through the landscape.
Or you did on the NES. The Game Boy game had a strong sedative applied before hitting the shelves. In this game (incidentally, based on Adventure Island II, not the original), Master Higgins strolls through the countryside at a leisurely pace and drives his skateboard like a true newbie.
It makes sense in the context of the Game Boy’s limitations – if the action was too quick, it would have been impossible to see what was coming up, and the grey, blurred motion would have caused headaches. The levels are difficult enough without throwing blindness into the equation.
It still loses some soul in making those compromises, though. That problem is compounded by the sprites; which are nice and big, but largely lack personality. On a technical level, the true bane of pixel-perfect platforming, the screen slow down, does happen when the screen gets busy.
None of this breaks the game, but it’s worth remembering before you buy into Adventure Island that it’s an inferior adaptation of a platforming franchise that hasn't stood out enough over the years to have much of a presence in the modern world.
It’s still a fun little game, though. The appeal is in performing speed runs and getting high scores in this one. The levels of Adventure Island are designed in such a way that once you get into a rhythm, you never need to stop moving; indeed if this game had survived to the modern era I would have expected it to survive as one of those auto-run games where you control the jumping and the axe tossing, but there’s no need to hit left on the D-pad, that’s just expected.
And as I said before, the game is challenging; brutal at times. Master Higgins is not a very robust fellow. If he’s riding a skateboard (or the rare dinosaur that can spit fireballs and is awesome) he can take a hit (which makes the skateboard or – sadface – dinosaur disappear). If he’s not, then stubbing his toe on a rock will cause the loss of a life.
A special mention goes to the music too, which is cheery and addictive. The quality is not so high (this is a Game Boy game, after all), but it does a brilliant job of turning the game into a happy, rather than frustrating, experience.
So, while Adventure Island hasn’t stood the test of time nearly as well as the Mario games, or the more cerebral platforming of Gargoyle Quest or Avenging Spirit, it’s on the market at the right price point. It’s worth a whirl for people who are feeling a bit nostalgic.