Monday, May 4, 2009

The History of Adventure Island

UPDATED: June 1st, 2011

Adventure Island: The New Beginning is soon to be released on WiiWare in North America. It looks like a fun remake, and makes several changes to gameplay that could work out nicely. Master Higgins will have more skills than in previous games, like grabbing on to ledges and changing costume. The most exciting feature is an online leader board with apparently over 50 slots, which is much better than other (Mega Man 9) WiiWare titles. Takahashi Meijin, on whom Master Higgins is based (the Japanese character is explicitly Takahashi Meijin) claimed that the game should be released in May. With today as a disapointment, next week's chance looks brighter, but before the game is released in America (Europe, Japan, please post your thoughts on the game) or if you are currently playing it, let's take a look at some of the highlights of the Adventure Island Series.

First, here is a brief introduction into three game series: Adventure Island, Wonder Boy, and Monster Lair. These lists are roughly chronological within the respective series, the exact dates aren't important.

The Rough History of Wonder Boy / Adventure Island

Wonder Boy was released in arcades (made by Escape and Sega).
Wonder Boy ported to the Sega Master System (the best version of this game, IMO)
Adventure Island is released on the NES (made by Escape and Hudson, Escape didn't have the rights to the character Wonder Boy, but they did had the rights to everything else, they Used Takahashi Meijin as the main character, named Master Higgins in English-speaking countries).

Adventure Island 2, released on the NES, made by Hudson.
Super Adventure Island released for the SNES.
New Adventure Island released for the TG-16.
Adventure Island 3 and 4 released for the NES/Famicom.
Super Adventure Island 2 released on the SNES.

Then a PS2 / GameCube Japan-only exclusive game, Takahashi Meijin no Adventure Island, which looks similar too similar to Adventure Island: The Beginning.

Adventure Island: The Beginning is available for WiiWare. I've played it a little, but overall I keep coming back to the classic. Maybe that will change, one day. Hudson included many clothing and powerup items, so I'm still very excited about "The Beginning"'s potential.

Now, Wonder Boy spawned many games also, but they didn't go the caveman route. Instead, the went Fantasy starting with

Wonder Boy in Monster Land for the Arcade and SMS.
Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair for TG16, Genesis (simply called "Monster Lair", and Arcade.

Then, a totally different game and the second best (behind The Dynastic Hero) in the Wonder Boy series.

Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap for SMS and Game Gear.
Ported the the TG-16 as Dragon's Curse (this is by far the best version of the game).


Wonder Boy in Monster World for the Genesis and
The Dynastic Hero for the TG-CD, which replaced the characters with insects, improved the music, and added other stuff. This is the best version of this game, IMO, but some really like the Genesis version.

Then Monster World 4 for the Genesis.

That sums it up, maybe I missed a game or two, but you get the general idea of how the two serieses are structured. To understand how they influence each other would require elaborate comparison between games, so I will only pick out a few to discuss that I think stand out.

The Caveman Genesis, An 8-Bit Odyssey

Adventure Island (1986) and Wonder Boy (1986) are clearly not the best in the series, but because they are the most primitive there is a certain charm and challenge involved with this game. As I said, I think Wonder Boy is by far the best version of the game, with less sprite flicker, smoother controls, brighter colors, better music, and infinite continues. That said, they are pretty damn close to the same game, and sometimes its nice to play both versions of the game, thinking of them as mutual arrangement modes of each other.

The True Trilogy

Adventure Island 2 (1991) is possibly the best in the series. It improved the controls, refined the weapon mechanic, and introduced a randomized level system that mixes up the order of the stages. Stage themes are varied, the challenge is immense in the final two islands, the music is very memorable, but like all of the games there were too few tracks. This is the cart that I had growing up, which I received when I was 6 years old, and which I played to death but never beat until high school. This represents almost perfect game design, with everything giving points that lead to extra lives, the time bar condensed into a life bar and the life bar, like Mario, replaced with power ups. Riding around on dinosaurs proved to be the most interesting concept in the series, but the designers refused to develop it on consoles other than the Game Boy and Nintendo.

Nintendo Power Tips!

1992 spawned 3 Adventure Island games, the second of which is Adventure Island 3. It introduced a new Dinosaur, the boomerang, and spiced up the graphics to look like Green Hill Zone. While a very enjoyable game, it functions as an "expansion pack" to Adventure Island 2 and fails to be as memorable or fun. That said, Adventure Island 3 would probably rank right below it. The new dinosaur, however, is just awful. The surfing ministage is awkward, but they keep the Adventure Island 2 formula intact adding just the bare minimum. This would later be seen as a fortunate choice, because the other games tended not to be as fun as the 3 great trilogy (2-4) on the NES. Also, the box art rivals Mega Man.

Adventure Island 4 was released later, 1994, and significantly changed the gameplay, quite successfully, into a metroidvania. I've played this game extensively and can easily say it is the best in the series, though Adventure Island 2 remains the best stage-based Adventure Island game. Start with the bone, gain stronger weapons and items, it's an epic 8-Bit quest reminiscent of Rygar and Metroid. It's one of the best games never released in America on the NES. I was sure Hudson would support the VC with this game, but they've failed to do so thus far. Hopefully, we can see this game released in the nest year if interests in Adventure Island: The New Beginning are high.

It rounds out the true Adventure Island trilogy and fulfills the myth of the NES trilogy. The presence of Adventure Island can be seen as somehwat of a seperate entity, though it continued to exert a very strong influence on the later games. The NES games, however, are some of the most radical, in the sense that they actually improve on the Wonder Boy formula without becoming slaves to it. The first game develops a formula, the second changes it mildly, and the third radically improves the game, creating the best of the bunch. We see this pattern in video games often, though like all myths it varies by usually no more than one degree. For example, Zelda 1, 2, and 3 function this way yet they vary in that Zelda 3 was released for a new system. Mario 1, 2, and 3 follow this pattern with the anomaly that they created 2 Super Mario Bros. 2 games. Strangely enough, I think the pattern holds either way. Adventure Island's deviance is equally slight; what matter if Adventure Island was made, it was a Wonder Boy game anyway.

And the 16-Bit Gameplay

If you take the entire series chronologically, Adventure Island II, Super Adventure Island, and New Adventure Island are actually the first three games in the series.

Super Adventure Island was the first to be released in 1992, and drastically hurt the mechanics, but had pretty graphics and still played like Adventure Island, though worse, and really nice music, and huge sprites, but somehow managed to be a fun game. It's a pretty sad attempt at Adventure Island. There are only about 6 enemies in the entire game, 5 bosses, and 15 levels. Fortunately, each level looks different than the others, but even though this game is fun, I think it's important to trash it for being a rushed piece of shit that has some of the worst mechanics in the series, the least amount of weapons and items in any game, the shortest of all of the Adventure Island games, and a huge disappointment.

Also in 1992, New Adventure Island was released for the TG-16. This is a much better game than Super Adventure Island. I actually played through the game today. It is also one of the hardest in the series, requiring the player to memorize the stages. There are only 25 stages, but they are quite varied and it makes for a fresh experience reminiscent of early Adventure Island and, of course, of Super Mario Bros. (1, for the NES).

Considering Super Adventure Island and this game, it's obvious they wanted to "Get back to the roots" of their franchise... Wonder Boy. But I guess they somehow didn't realize that Adventure Island 2 should have been the model for these two remakes, considering it was the first real Adventure Island game from design/conception to publishing. Maybe they started all of these games before Adventure Island 2 had a chance in the market? It's entirely possible, Adventure Island 2 was only released in February 1991. Possible, but I'm not convinced because Super Adventure Island was made in, what looks like, a weekend.

I'd like to stress that New Adventure Island is a pretty good game, unlike Super Adventure Island. Unlike its predecessor, it has multiple weapons, but it rarely forces you to loose the one you have if you like it. The Axe is the best weapon in this version, which flies like an axe should, also unlike Super Adventure Island. The worlds and stages are just as varied, except for the castles, but there are 25 stages (to Super Adventure Island's 15) and you will believe me when I say the levels are easily twice as long as Super Adventure Island stages.

Maybe they were just trying to avoid what they percieved as a problem with Adventure Island 2: that you repeated stages a lot in a 100+ stage game. But so what? I thought it was cool that all the island were linked under a single climate, it makes sense. But they did a really good job of it in Adventure Island 2, for example, the Dragon Flies only appear at sunset, similar to how dragonflies really act. Then, on Volcano Island, it's always bright sunset, as if there were volcano dust in the air. See, it's not that hard, and I wonder who's been driving the series into obscurity for the last 15 years.

Super Adventure Island 2 is a pseudo-metroidvania with a really weird random-stage system. I've never played this game because there are so many others, and damn it I'm just not there yet. It looks interesting, eventually Master Higgins gets a suit of armor and a sword.

This isn't event considering the Game Boy games. But that's an entirely new article. In the meantime, I'll be posting any news on Adventure Island: The Beginning.

Download the Adventure Island rom, get a few on the VC, or collect the carts from eBay, most of the Adventure Island games reward practice and prove to be rewarding gaming experiences. And if you like the series, support it by downloading Adventure Island: The New Beginning when it is released.


samiorigami said...

cool article.

I learn more about this series every time you talk about it (which is a lot, but I dont mind ^_^)

also- the painting is awesome.
also- my favs are also probably adventure island 2 and the dynastic hero, from the many wonderboy branches.

why do you think they decided to call a caveman in a baseball cap Master Higgins?

Anonymous said...

great post.

8bitcity said...

This is currently the most-viewed article on the site. Leave a comment people!

Jason said...

I love Adventure Island!! I have the first 2 for the NES. I remember getting Super Adventure Island when it came out. I didn't think it was that bad. But, it is the only one that I have beaten. And there are unlimited continues in the first one for the NES. You have to get the egg near the end of the first stage that has the Hudson Bee in it. After you die, there are a combination of buttons you have to hold down and press start. I'm sure you can find it on any video game tip site. But that game gets hard as fuck the further you get into it.

SilverFish said...

I don't like super adventure island for one main reason...the art direction. The squarish, sort of cubist, art of adventure island 3 was as if it was sprite art based off of low polygons. Look at the palm trees. Any update should exemplify the very polygon cubist look of them and the environment. It's as if the idea that it was a video game was glorified. I dare say it is art. Wish any updates would recognize what the artists were going for. Love your blog. Love that metal girl graphic too! I saw a book a long time ago with her in it wish i could remember the airbrush artist. Big fan of adventure island since i first played it in like 1991 or 92 when i was 5. Now i play adventure island 3 on my droid all the time