Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Review: Adventure Island (NES)

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Console: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Released: 1988
Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Famicom? Yes (as Takahashi Meijin no Bouken Shima)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Easy
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $4.75 (used) $100.00 (new) (
Price (eBay): $8-$15 (used) $600 (new)
Digital Release? Yes – Virtual Console (NES version) – $5.00

What Are You Supposed To Do?

Much in the same vein of Super Mario Bros., your goal is to navigate caveman Master Higgins through various levels and avoid enemies along the way.  You can collect weapons that are used to kill enemies, lots of platforming sections, and a boss battle completes the third or fourth level of each “world”.


I know I’m going to get some criticism saying that Adventure Island is easy, but it very much is.  Even as a child it didn’t take long to see the ending and the lass boss had a very simplified pattern that I could quickly learn.  That doesn’t prevent this title from being one of the best games and series to grace the NES and anyone who hasn’t played Hudson’s classic platformer should make this a must play.  After having its name proudly on most top 100 and even a few top 10 lists for the NES, not to mention the millions in sales it achieved when it came out, this game is what you look for in an NES title.

Every level is decorated in bright, cartoon detail that brings Master Higgins’ caveman utopia to life, complete with varied enemies per world.  In the forest you will encounter cobras, dive-bombing crows and even a frog that just sits there.  When you move on to the second level by the sea, your enemies now switch to octopi, swordfish and for some reason grass skirt wearing anthropomorphic pigs.  The levels are also varied, nothing seems to follow too much of a format, much like the random but familiar underground stages in Super Mario Bros.  It’s just all part of the charm of Adventure Island that makes me love it so much.

To be fair, Adventure Island really is just a copycat of Super Mario Bros. that doesn’t allow you to hop on enemies’ heads, but the way it crafts its own unique world and puts a spin on the Mario platformer clone makes it a genuine series.  Everything you loved about Nintendo’s beloved plumber will come rushing back in its own form with Master Higgins.  This title deviates from the formula with random skateboarding encounters, a timer that has you frantically collecting fruit to survive and level design that doesn’t allow you to jump over obstacles in your path, but rather the need to deal with them.  From beginning to end Adventure Island is a charmer from the 8-bit era that shouldn’t be missed, especially in its even better sequels.

It’s Dangerous to go on Alone, Take This
A fun and extremely helpful secret in Adventure Island is the famed bee logo from developer Hudson Soft.  Collecting this at the end of the first level (you’ll see the “G” sign, but don’t cross it!) will net you the ability to continue if – er, when – you get a Game Over.  In the area in the screenshot you want to jump the open air and an egg will  appear, then you want to crack it with your weapon (if you have one) or jump on the very right tip of the egg and reveal the bee.  Upon collecting it, nothing special will happen, but after that each time you die you can hold Right on the d-pad and press Start to return to the last world you were on.  If you do not continue, however, or you power off the console, you will have to re-collect the bee.  Here’s hoping with this little guy you can finally see the mildly rewarding ending.

What’s the deal with this “Wonder Boy” guy?

See any similarities?  It’s not surprising because Wonder Boy was around first and acquired via Hudson Soft from developer Westone Bit Entertainment (later known as Escape) and publisher Sega.  Wonder Boy first released on the Sega SG-1000 (later upgrading to the Mark III/Master System) and is, in truth, a Sega property.  Thanks to issues with exclusivity and Nintendo, there was no way to get a Wonder Boy title on the NES aside from acquiring a personal license and doing what I consider to be a vague sprite swap.  The two games are nearly identical, especially when you view them side-by-side like this.  Wonder Boy is also available on the Virtual Console if you’re interested, although use caution comparing the two titles in subsequent sequels because they both went in different directions.  Hudson decided to utilize dinosaurs you can ride on and maintain the platforming roots for future Adventure Island sequels whereas Wonder Boy became more of an action RPG.

Written by Fred Rojas

January 26, 2012 at 10:22 am

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