Retro Video Game Review: Adventure Island (Nes)

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Overall Rating: 2/5 Stars

Adventure Island is one of those early (1987 early) Nintendo Entertainment System games that gamers from the era can still remember sitting on the shelves of so many stores and flea markets. The developer, Hudson, which later formed HudsonSoft, went on to have a hand in the creation of many now-classic titles, and Adventure Island was one of its entries into the foray of home console gaming.

Following the exploits of our intrepid explorer Harry, Adventure Island is a fast-paced scrolling platformer in a jungle-type setting with both the appropriate elements (snake and bird enemies) and the eyebrow-raising unexpected features (power-ups like the skateboard or helpful fairy). Does it belong in the famed halls of NES lore?

Gameplay

Borrowing a page from Mario’s playbook, Harry jumps with the A button, attacks (once he finds the hammer) with the B button, and can run while holding B, while also jumping higher. With these moves mastered, the player simply runs to the right, jumping over obstacles and slaughtering any living creature he crosses paths with.

This would be simple (and easy!) enough, except for one very important catch that sets Adventure Island apart: Harry must constantly and continually “eat” the fruit he comes across, to refill and keep his energy at bay, or he will die when his energy bar dips to being empty. This adds a built-in time limit throughout the entire experience, and provides the impetus for moving forward at a torrid pace.

Graphics

Adventure Island looks okay, with the recognizable jungle greens and browns and trees and animals and such, but it does just look okay and not any better. Even Harry, our main character, the protagonist, combative explorer, looks washed-out and minimally rendered. The developers could have spent a little more time creating defining lines and bolder looks. The atmosphere ends up a little bland.

Sound

The music is repetitive, but the track is upbeat, lively, and festively appropriate for fueling a mad dash towards the unknown finish of every stage. The effects, conversely, are rather lacking: Creatures never make a sound, nothing ever rumbles or fires, and beyond the noise of Harry’s jumping, firing, and occasional fairy track, there is very little auditory variety.

Creativity and Innovation

The power-ups are interesting, and provide the key motivator. Taking the form of eggs, when they are bumped into, they reveal themselves. The most common is the axe, always gathered first to provide a means of attack. But if Harry runs into other eggs once he has the throwing axes, he can gather further power-ups at the same time, such as riding a skateboard that not only moves forward quicker but also means he can now take an additional hit without dying; or the fairy mentioned before, which provides added protection and a temporary period of differing music. The idea is to make players want to see how many power-ups they can continue getting in a row, until they build into this unstoppable SuperHarry and crash through to the end of the level.

Even with the power-ups, the game still suffers from a sharp learning curve. Because obstacles and enemies appear on-screen so quickly, and because Harry must continue gorging himself on island fruits and vegetables, the game demands that a player possess either impossibly fast reflexes, or the patience to try levels over and over until he or she masters them by memorization.

And this, ultimately, is what prevents the game from becoming anything special. Without a password function, this becomes the arena of only the most intrepid and hardcore of gamers, regardless of how many invincibility fairies you may find. For its faults both profound and simplistic, Adventure Island becomes an adventure in mediocrity at two stars out of five.

For further documentation of mediocre gaming (along with great and terrible alike), see NintendoLegend.com.

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