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Adventure Island - 3DS VC Review

Game Info
Adventure Island

3DS Virtual Console | Hudson Soft | 1 Player | Out Now | $3.99 / £2.50
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19th April 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

As a suitable response to Nintendo's own successes with Mario, Hudson's signature franchise, Adventure Island, is still loved by many platforming fans today. And with the series making an appearance on the 3DS' online store, now's a good time for any newcomers to give the series a look with a portable-minded eye. It would be, that is, if it were not for the fact that this handheld entry is difficult to recommend. Between the flaws with the design, the presentation hiccups, and the overall lack of satisfying gameplay, it's hard to see why anyone other than the longtime fans would find this to be an enjoyable entry.

    The game stars Master Higgins, a fairly plain dude who is situated in a prehistoric world filled with dinosaurs among other beasts. What makes him distinguishable is his use of stone hammers as well as his trusty skateboard, but aside from these, he's a pretty ordinary fellow. Though you won't know it until the very end of the game (of all places!), your goal in this game is to save your love interest, Tina, who is being held captive on Dinosaur Island. Before making his way there, Higgins will first have to clear surrounding themed islands and defeat any boss monsters along the way.

    In a bid to be king of the figurative jungle, Higgins can enlist the help of four dinosaur friends in fending off the various enemies that come his way. Some of the dinosaur eggs seen in each level contain card suits that will instantly transform into one of these four allies. One of these takes after the Loch Ness Monster in its shape, while others have their own special features like flight and aerial bombs, as in the case of the pterodactyl. Even if they're not the most original creatures around, I usually found these fun to use, but my main reason for this will be considered a bit later.

Prior to the start of any level, you'll be given the opportunity to view your item inventory and choose to either bring along or leave behind certain items. This is especially valuable when you know, for example, that the next level will feature underwater segments, prompting you to dismount from an ally who could disappear in a cloud of smoke if he were to make contact with the water. A large portion of the levels in this game can be completed in under a minute if you know what you're doing, and with the portable format that it's in, that would make Adventure Island pretty easy to jump into for a few minutes at a time.

    On that note, the controls are pretty straightforward, with the A Button for jumping and the B Button for running when it's held down. Higgins' main attack, as referenced above, is chucking stone hammers at enemies, and this is actually mapped to the same button used for running. It's only natural to suggest that most will find this method of control a tad awkward for a while -- having to let up on the button to stop running, do a quick press for an attack, and continue holding it down -- all the while trying to keep a steady pace. But for better or worse, whether or not you think it's a good decision, you must get used to it.

    In terms of level structure, you're given a series of bars along the bottom of the top screen to represent how much time you have left. When you run out, you will die on the spot; thus they've chosen to refer to this as your life bar. Collecting fruit along the way will add a few bars, while stumbling on rocks randomly situated along paths will cut a few off. Additional threats include such enemies as frogs, cobras, seahorses, and bats. As I touched on before, Master Higgins is also known for his skateboard-riding ways, and this is a power-up you'll see time and time again inside those dinosaur eggs I mentioned earlier. Aside from him looking like a baby during these moments, using the skateboard adds a fun element to the gameplay and it gives the mechanics a bit of stability (albeit throwing hammers and trying to manage a skateboard at the same time can be a bit testing).

Just continuing on the subject of dinosaur eggs, some contain special faeries that grant you invincibility for a short period of time, but on the more rare occasions you could also find an eggplant that will reduce your life bar by an even faster rate. Still more, certain eggs will only appear by surprise only after you've run past them. Cracking these open will reveal a key that, when touched, will have instantly transported to one of two areas. You'll either be sent to a secret room for an extra life, or to the clouds in the sky where you must use springs to get across a brief stretch. And as if you hadn't heard enough about these for one day, completing a level will send you to a room with a series of floating eggs containing bonus points. I thought it was a weak element from the get-go, so to have to continually do this every single time was annoying.

    Looking at the level design as a whole across the eight worlds, I found myself feeling really unimpressed by what I saw. There's a lot of linearity to speak of, with very few branching pathways to explore at all. This would not be so bad if the action was actually fun, but when you're not riding on a skateboard or on the back of a dinosaur, you can't really sense anything firm about the underlying mechanics. You could say, then, that these two elements are what drive players forward, to the point that they become redeeming qualities. Besides just being quite bland through and through, there's definitely a considerable difficulty factor to consider as well. Sadly, not all of this is executed for the betterment of the player. The caves, for instance, often feature really annoying placement of enemies that can result in cheap deaths. As if controlling a skateboard in a cave wasn't hard enough, it doesn't exactly set a positive mood to have players carefully jumping across a gap with an enemy swooping in at the same. Furthermore, there are multiple times where Hudson thought it would be a good idea to place skateboard-containing eggs very close to the edge of a platform. Instead of coming across as clever, their intent of purposely trying to frustrate players is unnecessary in these scenarios.

Also detracting from the overall experience is the fact that the environments you'll come across are really generic. It has to be said that with the exception of the final two islands, everything else is a constant rehash of forested areas, caves, and the like. What made this even more irritating was the naming of each island. For worlds called "Desert Island" and "Ice Island", they hardly look the part, with 85% of the levels therein falling under the criteria just described. Why even bother label it as an island of a particular theme if only one of the stages actually adheres to it? It's interesting to note that with the presence of the dinosaur allies and the skateboarding segments, your initial attention will be fixed on the task at hand and less so on the uniqueness of the challenges. It's only as time goes on that you start to tire of the lack of change.

    As for the bosses in this game, they can be somewhat challenging at times, but my main issue with all of them is that you always use the same strategy. Every single time, you're given a few platforms to jump to and you simply keep on barraging the enemy with hammer throws, evading the occasional bullet. Just like the levels leading up to these encounters, it's uninteresting and it doesn't set a lasting impression.

    The visuals don't do Adventure Island any favors when it comes to building up the overall impression of what's presented from a design perspective. For starters, there's a lack of clarity when it comes to patches of quicksand and lava, in part due to the fact that they're not animated, but at least with the water areas you could tell what they were. I also thought it was silly seeing a spider enemy crawl up and down in thin air, as though it were traveling along this invisible line. And since jumping on the head of an enemy results in an instant kill, why do the affected enemies disappear as though it's something that's allowed?

There are numerable times where Adventure Island acts up, with power-ups appearing or falling into the unreachable parts of a ground platform. In other places, you'll find blinking textures with only part being visible, and a framerate that, half the time, has trouble following a consistent speed. As for the music, the main theme you'll hear a lot on the select menus has a slight tropical feel to it if you listen close enough. And aside from one of the stages in Cloud and Dinosaur Island, all the other tracks were plain and not worth listening to outside of the game. Overall, while it isn't bad, the presentation makes the experience that much less appealing, and really helps affirm the take of this being sub-par.

    Frankly, had it not been for the challenge factor, I wouldn't view this game as anything more than a juvenile platformer. The redeeming qualities in the dinosaur allies and the skateboard power-up do make for a less dull experience than it otherwise would have been, but that still doesn't help the fact that the game hasn't been approached all that well. Prehistoric in more ways than one, there's next to nothing about the design that would get you to come back after completing the adventure. The appeal of going through it again with a different strategy is practically non-existent when the quality is run-of-the-mill at best. If you're typically unacquainted with the series, save your money and give this inferior platformer a skip.

13/30 - Very Poor

Gameplay 5/10 - Dinosaur allies and skateboarding segments are fun elements, uninteresting bosses, controls can be awkward, design is weak in places
Presentation 5/10 - Repetitive environments make the game feel generic, lacks technical stability, glitches, features plain music that most won't care for
Enjoyment 2/5 - Challenging gameplay that tests your skills but sometimes for the wrong reasons, occasionally enjoyable parts to it, frustrating and dull
Extra Content 1/5 - Not worth investing in even for the small price, more dissatisfying than pleasing, little to come back to, an inferior entry overall

Equivalent to a score of 43% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Adventure Island
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