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Adventure Island

Year released: 1986
Company: Hudson
Genre: Platformer

I've been dreading this for a while. Way back when I got into the reviewing mode, this was one of the first games I opined about in which I had very little good things to say. I distinctly remember opening that review with the sentence, "OK, what do you say we let go of a stinker?" So when I decided to slash and burn my review library and start all over again, this was the only game I actually dreaded playing again. In fact, I let it sit for about four and a half years after the renovations before I actually broke down and decided to play it. And let me tell you, it's no less stinky as it once was. So much so, in fact, that we have a new silver medalist for the lowest score on my rating scale.

It's not exactly promising when the game you're playing doesn't appear to have any ambition to become an enduring classic. Some try and succeed, others try and fail, but Adventure Island doesn't even put up a fight. It smacks of being a potboiler, and while I did give this game more consecutive playing time than I give most RPGs, it was more out of an obsession to complete the game than it was because I was enjoying myself. And when I eventually gave up, I came away even more embittered than I had started.

The game centers around a portly guy in a baseball cap negotiating 8 levels of 4 stages apiece, with the intent of saving a damsel in distress from an evil Witch Doctor. But enough about Super Mario Bros., this game has almost the exact same plot. Now, I can forgive the whole rescue-the-girl element, but honestly, is there anything else this game could have done to make it look more like a knock-off of SMB than it already is? Just about all that's left is to jump onto a flagpole at the end of each level.

The audiovisuals of the game are not particularly good, but they serve as the game's saving graces, preventing the rating from sinking even further into the muck. While the backgrounds do give a sense of an island atmosphere, with palm trees and fluffy clouds adorning the scenery, I get the sense that they're a little too strong. This is most obvious when you enter one of the cave levels and Master Higgins almost melts into the backdrop. Higgins himself is not what I'd consider a heroic figure. A chubby guy wearing nothing but a white hat and a grass skirt, flailing his legs even while standing still looking like he's regretting that last glass of apple juice he had before setting off on his adventure. The music seems OK, with a little bit of a vaudeville flair for the outdoor levels, although the music to the "wasteland" levels later on seems a little underbaked. The sound effects are a bit on the intrusive side, as well, particularly the bouncy sound of the jumping octopi which adorn just about every other level.

The play control of the game is where things really start taking a turn for the worst. I've made constant analogies to how poorly Higgins' traction is, and believe me; all the similes in the world can't begin to describe how madly Higgins skids across the ground. It gets even worse when you're in a cave level where certain areas have ice floors. His jumps are very floaty, and rest assured that once you jump forward, you have no way of pulling yourself back. When Higgins is armed with a weapon, it travels in a fairly wide arc. This makes it very difficult to hit enemies that are on the ground - either you have to be standing right next to them or all the way across the screen from them. And Higgins loses momentum so quickly when he stops running that it makes certain portions of the game nearly impossible.

But the gameplay is really where Adventure Island gets such a malodorous reputation. I can tell you with utmost confidence that the last four levels of the game have absolutely no reason to be there. The game is already hard enough at that point, and it isn't as if the game really has anything substantial to offer at this point - in fact, the game regularly reprises the exact same layout of a previous stage as early as the third level, only with more obstacles and enemies. Speaking of which, they recycle those as well, since the game throws all of them at you in the first level. (And I fail to see the need of having four or five enemies whose purpose is to just stand there and do nothing.) It gets worse - this game breaks one of my biggest rules: Higgins dies with one hit. Be it fire, spider, bird, or snail, touching everything besides a fruit in this game is by-and-large fatal. There is an energy meter up at the top of the screen, but that serves only as a quasi-time limit.

To show you just how much an exercise in futility this game is, I played it last night for three hours. That's right, kids: 180 minutes straight on this game in an attempt to beat this game so I could comment on its ending. But wait, it gets worse - the last 75 or so minutes was spent on one stage of the game - nay, on one area of one stage of this game. I must have spent about 250 lives on this one area (with Game Genie in tow), and didn't pass it once. I reached a point where I simply gave up and turned off the deck, and I have nothing to show for my effort. Since the game has no warp zones, you must play through it in its entirety, and the next-to-last level requires what is tantamount to a lucky guess as to when to throw an axe at a particular bat to get through it. When you play a game that long and are left unrewarded, there is simply no way you'll ever come back to that game.

I seem to say the same thing about just about every game I review: It wants to be great, and either it accomplishes that goal or gets held back by certain problems. Adventure Island never struck me as an ambitious game. It set out only to be a decent title, and it fell well short of that goal.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 8
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 6
Overall Score: 33%