Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Adventure Island (NES, 1987)

I hate this game so, so much.

Here's our hero, Master Higgins.

Originally touted as a bit of a "Mario-killer" back in the late 80's, this game was fairly popular with my classmates in grade school. It has eight worlds with four levels each... sound familiar?

 Your primary offense is to throw hammers, but if you lose a life, you lose the hammers until you reacquire them. Sorta like the Fire Flower in Mario, except you can't live without hammers. So if you die once you're screwed...and you can only take one hit...and the difficulty of some of these stages is Ninja Gaiden like...and if you lose your three lives you go back to 1-1...and there are no warp zones.

Protip: The only way to continue in this game is to find ::thunder crashes:: THE HUDSON BEE hidden at the end of the first stage. After that you can continue at the Game Over screen by holding Right and pressing Start. So...yeah. That's a thing.

There's a particularly unique powerup here in the form of the super-rad skateboard. It's more of a hinderance than anything else, as it makes you auto-run forward. I'm not a fan. The fairy hovering around grants you invulnerability when it's up, accompanied by THE BEST INVINCIBILITY THEME EVER.

Get to the end of the stage, and you find a castle rock-cave. Yes, this is all very familiar.

 Hammers usually fly in an arc over enemies heads unless you attack from a fair distance. If you could jump on enemies to beat them ala Mario, this game would be infinitely more playable. I think the main problem is the difficulty. I tried to play this in recent years and got very close to the end before giving up. At least the HUDSON BEE~! gives you infinite lives, and the difficulty in this game necessitates infinite lives. No way in hell anyone can beat this while taking fewer than three hits, not without playing it dozens of hours and memorizing every section.

The first boss...and all of the bosses...is this guy. The simplicity of defeating him is at odds with the insane difficulty everywhere else in the game. You jump up and shoot at his head while staying close enough that his arcing fireballs fly over your head. A boss that shows up at the end of all eight worlds, spits fireballs, and has a bridge under him? I'VE NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE.

Flying fish! Now I've seen everything. I'm more concerned about these solid cloud platforms. Pollution is REALLY getting out of control.

Running into boulders depletes your food meter. Oh, I haven't gone into the food meter, have I? That thing that looks like a life meter at the top is your food meter. It depletes over time, and way too quickly. You're constantly in a rush to grab food as it appears to keep that meter going. This means you can't take your time and be careful, which is absolutely necessary to get through this game. Great.

Second boss! His head is different, at least.

Master Higgins thrashes through a level on his rad skateboard!

 Pot bonus? This explains why Higgins needs so much food: He's got a hell of a case of the munchies.

This level is a re-enactment of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. They furiously peck at our hero... HOW THEY PECK

You'd think the one thing you could count on would be powerup eggs. Not so. Sometimes, they have this evil eggplant that proceeds to follow you and deplete your food meter super-fast. Usually this ends up killing you. And you can't see which eggs he's in until you bump into them. At least powerup locations don't change, so if you memorize where the evil eggplants are you can avoid them. ...sometimes. Very often these things are in super hard to avoid spots like at the end of a long jump over a pit. Quite frankly, it fucking sucks.

Third boss! Now he has a cyclops head! ...Alright, no more of these guys for a while. My question is, how did Higgins become "Master" Higgins? Is he super-wealthy? Is he a Kung-Fu Master?

This jump is where I stopped playing the last time I tried to beat this game. Jump across this pit and you almost inevitably slide right into that falling icicle. It's sometimes possible to leap under it to the ledge if you're going fast enough. I've read that if you're walking when you jump instead of running, you don't slide into the icicle. I didn't even try that because it looks like there's no chance in hell of a walking jump clearing this pit.

The sound of Japanese girls moaning can be heard in the distance as Higgins crosses the domain of the squids.

Now Higgins is shredding on...some sort of rocky terrain! The frog enemies in this game are absolutely the bane of my existence. They hop way too fast at you, and hits don't register on them half the time. And look at the angle! How are you supposed to land arcing axe-shots on them when the ground is like this?

 Another ice level, with another super-shitty jump. There's an evil eggplant in that powerup egg, and there's absolutely no way to avoid getting it. Seriously, if you can see any way to avoid landing right on the egg, let me know. By this point in the level you're likely very low on food supplies, so that's death. At least you start again at a checkpoint right before this, but that doesn't change the fact that this, verily, sucks monkey fuck.

There's one level with a grayscale color-scheme, oddly enough. This one flower is still in color, and I wonder if this is some sort of philosophical meta-statement on the world as we know it.


Finally, our hero arrives at World 8. Bowser awaits!

At some point in this last world I gain a fireball power with a much longer range than your traditional hammers. Not sure why I didn't get this until such a late stage of the game.

Just when I think I'm coasting, I reach world 8-3, one of the worst stages I've had to deal with in an NES game. You have to run and jump across these platforms that fall the second you touch them, and there's a bat on one of the last ones that is nearly impossible to hit before it hits you. Took me probably a dozen tries to get past this section.

THE FINAL BOSS~! ...is the same old guy, except now with a cat head. I dispatch him quickly and move on.

Ah, so that was the goal of the game, rescue the princess Higgins' girlfriend. I should have known.

When he gets to her, she sheds her clothes. ...well, they're actually the ropes she had tying her up, but it looks like clothes. I thought the NES was a PG system!

And that's it for the ending. Not too much of an ending, eh? Especially given the insane difficulty of this game. It's a fun game for a while, but the difficulty and bad stage design, coupled with the lack of continues (unless you dance with the Bee), really get in the way of enjoying it at all.

They made three more games in this series on the NES, and I thought about playing them. After this one, though... no thanks. I'm going to jump ahead to the far, far superior Super NES installments, Super Adventure Island and its sequel.

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  1. "I hate this game so, so much." What a hilarious and inimitable opening.
    Not being able to jump on bad guys in a platformer is SO wack.
    So the Hudson Bee seems to be one of the weirdest powerups in gaming.
    I remember reading in Nintendo Power that Eggplants hurt you. This news actually turned me off of eggplants for a while.
    You're right, this invincibility theme is rad; it should play when I step into the club.
    Higgins not being able to stop the skateboard proves he's a novice boarder! Probably can't even do a frontside nosegrind!
    This boss is weird. But memorable. Wait what's his name again?
    Higgins wearing a helmet to set a good example for the kid while boarding through really dangerous (indoor!!) zones is goofy.
    The point total at the top reminds me of the first Mega Man.
    All the hating was hilarious. Thank you.

    1. I think every game from that early NES phase HAD to have a point total at the top. It's like games hadn't graduated past the point-based Atari / Arcade game setups yet. Games were becoming about getting to the end, not racking up as much score as you could, and it took a minute for developers to realize that.

  2. Sounds like you picked a very worthy game to do an AVGN look at. All of these issues make me relieved I didn't miss out on the game as a kid. It's telling how the game is good in all of the ways it clones Mario, but all of the original ideas are bad. At least we'll always have that invincibility music.

    1. That's true, everything the game tries to do differently... ends up being a problem. Mario makes action game design look so easy.

      The invincibility music really is awesome. I find it even catchier than SMB's iconic theme.