Adventure Island: The Beginning Review
The Wii's latest retro revival brings Master Higgins back to the Island.
May 26, 2009 - Mega Man got it going. Then Gradius got reborn. Then Little Mac stepped back into the ring once more, ready to punch it out for the first time in 15 years. And now yet another classic franchise that's been dormant for over a decade on Nintendo consoles has returned with an all-new Wii revival -- this time, it's Hudson's Adventure Island. Master Higgins is back.
He's back, and he's still hungry. Adventure Island: The Beginning is a an all-new remake and installment in the Adventure Island series, but Higgins is still the same as he's always been -- crazy for finding and feeding on fresh, floating fruit.
The game is a fairly standard 2D platformer, except for that one key element -- the need to feed. There's a vitality/hunger meter that appears at the top of the screen, and it's constantly depleting. You have to keep Master Higgins on the move all the time, running to the right and grabbing replenishing pieces of fruit hanging in the air, otherwise his hunger will get the best of him and he'll just keel over and pass out from the stress of all that running and jumping.
Run under spiders, jump over snails, eat lots of apples and bananas and watermelons.
Yep, it's Adventure Island.
It adds to the tension of the design, serving as a substitute for the countdown clock you'd see in other sidescrolling platformers. But then it takes things up another notch by doing double duty -- the meter will also take a hit if Higgins does. Touching an enemy, tripping over a rock or falling prey to any of a number of other stage hazards will knock off multiple bars' worth of the meter at a time -- that's actually more generous than past Adventure Island games, where a single hit from a foe would claim Higgins' life. But it's no major concession, either, because just one or two hits is enough to put you into a panic with only one or two bars of life left, and you'll often find yourself too far away from the next nearest piece of replenishing produce to save the Master's skin.
So Adventure Island: The Beginning offers the same core gameplay as the oldest games in its series, to start. But things get a bit more modern the further you go. Each level in the main game has a set of Golden Melons hidden within it -- and, if you find them, you can cash them in at a Shop on the overworld map for improved items and abilities for Master Higgins.
He can buy a double-jump and the power to cling to the edges of cliffs. He can upgrade his standard axe, boomerang and spear with increased range and power. He can buy new weapons altogether, like fireballs and bombs. And, probably most importantly, he can increase the size of the hunger meter from its starting range of 8 units all the way up to a near-double 15.
The upgrades aren't absolutely essential, but you'd be pretty hard-pressed to safely clear the game's later levels without at least a few of the purchasable enhancements. They, overall, make Adventure Island: The Beginning feel like a new product -- not just a direct remake of an earlier series installment.
Now that's all a big description of what you get in AI:TB's main game. And if you're a fan of other Adventure Island games, you'll definitely enjoy what's offered here. Newcomers, though, might be a little less forgiving of a few frustrating elements.
Like the control scheme. Master Higgins feels more responsive and mobile here than in any of the old NES games, but his responsiveness still isn't quite perfect -- you may find yourself slipping off the edge of a ledge unintentionally thanks to his somewhat floaty feet, or missing a jump because the timing of your button press wasn't as on target as the game would prefer.
Higgins also freaks out quite a bit when taking a hit, and the recoil from even minor grazes against a stationary enemy are often enough to take him out completely -- because he'll often take damage, get knocked back and land on a different nearby foe or hazard, take damage again and repeat the process until he's just depleted and dead. That can be annoying.
One of the included mini-games, a tilt-the-Wiimote skateboarding challenge.
And yes, that is a Thwomp shamelessly stolen from the Mario series.
And, visually, you can tell that Hudson didn't quite put a full degree of effort into bringing Adventure Island's lush locales to life. The game displays in 4:3 regardless of your preferred setting -- if you're running in widescreen, it'll just slip huge black bars down on either side of the playing field and call it a day. The background graphics, enemy designs and other visual elements all seem to lack polish too. Kind of murky and unrefined. Could have been done much better.
Last of all, Adventure Island: The Beginning compliments it main platforming game with a quartet of mini-games designs, seemingly to pay some lip service to the Wii Remote's unique capabilities. The main game is just controlled by holding the Wiimote on its side, NES style, so the minis are the only place that motion control shows up -- you'll get tilt-to-steer skateboarding, tilt-to-steer fruit grabbing and point-and-shoot axe throwing to start.
Then the last mini-game is actually just a virtual re-creation of Hudson's 16-Shot handheld gaming device. It's a little yellow joypad that counts how rapidly you can press a single button in a single second. Takashi Meijin, the Hudson employee whose likeness was used to create the Master Higgins character, was famous for his ability to hit the A Button on an NES controller 16 times per second back in the golden age of scrolling shooters like Star Soldier
. Well, his record's safe from me -- the best I can do seems to be six.
Adventure Island: The Beginning is an enjoyable, entertaining update to a classic franchise -- but it's one that doesn't seem to have been given much extra effort. Fans of the series will love that Master Higgins is back in action, running across the Island once again. But Hudson might have missed an opportunity here to make the character's revival a more memorable one, skipping out on obvious presentation improvements like widescreen support and tighter controls in favor of, I guess, getting the game out the door a little bit quicker. It's fun, and worth its 800 Wii Point asking price. But maybe if Hudson does decide to move forward and develop the sequel that the subtitle of this one suggests should happen in the future, the company could take the extra time and offer a fuller set of features. (Like some of those other recent retro revivals have done.)
IGN Ratings for Adventure Island WiiWare (Wii)
Adventure Island is back, but with subdued fanfare. Cutscenes are simple, menus and options fair, but not very robust.
It's a 3D update of Adventure Island, but one that doesn't push any visual envelope. No widescreen support, and some uninteresting backgrounds and character models.
It's back to the tropics, and the sound is suitable for the series. A greater quantity of music could have helped, though, as some tunes are reused a bit too much.
Higgins is still hungry. AI:TB offers tension-fueled platforming that feels in line with its franchise, and updates its core concept a bit. The control could have been tuned tighter, though.
Four regions with four stages apiece, four mini-games, and sixteen Achievement-like Feats that unlock alternate color costumes for Master Higgins. Wi-Fi leaderboards for high scores.
(out of 10 / not an average)