Adventure Island (NES) Review

Video Review

Written Review

The Short


– Fun, challenging 2D sidescroller from Hudsonsoft

– “Mister Higgens” is pretty much the best name for a hero ever

– Hefty number of levels, powerups, and enemies

– “Hunger” mechanic is new and nifty

– Graphics are colorful and the music is catchy


– Three lives, no continues (except through a really obscure method)

– Extremely difficult

– No backtracking at all

– Severely outclassed by its sequels

As long as there’s no Gilligan, I’ll be fine.

The Long

Adventure Island is an island brimming with…well…adventure. I guess. Made by Hudsonsoft, who are probably most famous for the Bomberman series of games, Adventure Island is a traditional 2D platformer with an island theme and punishing difficulty. Considering 2D platformers are pretty much dime-a-dozen on the NES, does Adventure Island rise to the top in terms of quality?

Well, it merited two sequels, both of which are vastly superior to the original, but on it’s own Adventure Island isn’t all that bad. It’s just super hard. 

That’s not ominous at all.

Adventure Island follows Master Higgens, who literally has the best name of anybody from a game ever, as he journeys to save his girlfriend, Tina. You don’t hear any of this story until after you beat the game, however, so it’s pretty much unimportant. What you do need to know is this: Master Higgens is HUNGRY. 

Yeah, that little bar on the top of the screenshots? That isn’t health. Higgens dies in one hit to any enemy, so don’t let the little blocks fool you. That’s his hunger. As you burn through the game (burn as in burning calories!) you’ll stumble across all sorts of food that sort of…materialize in thin air. Grabbing them keeps Higgens fat and energized, where if you run out of food, you die. Food only stays on the screen for a second, though, so you’ve gotta be quick.

That’s a lotta bats.

“Being quick” is actually a key element to this game: running is absolutely necessary. In most games running will increase your horizontal jump distance (as is expected), but Adventure Island mixes it up by also having it increase your vertical jump. Because of this, many jumps (and almost all the bosses) require you to have a running start before leaping or else you won’t reach. However, paired with one-hit enemy deaths, you’re essentially running a Super Meat Boy style gauntlet: running everywhere is necessary to get food and achieve jumps, but just one tiny screw-up and you are back to the beginning.

Oh yeah, that reminds me: you only have three lives and no continues. Ok, there is a continue system, but it’s remarkably obscure. At the end of level one you can find a secret Hudsonsoft Bee in an item. Get that, and when you press a certain button combination upon death you can continue. Didn’t get the bee? Well, don’t bother holding the weird buttons, as you are permanently banned from continuing. Die just three times (remember, one hit kills!) and you are back to the title screen and the first level of the game. Punishing might be an understatement.

Are you the adventure?

This is where Adventure Island becomes a bit painful to me. I enjoy the controls, the levels, and overall the game itself. But knowing I only have three chances before it’s total game over is extremely stressful. Not to mention many of the enemies are placed in a way that require trial and error, but failing is such a massive setback it can make the game more frustrating than fun.

Still, the game looks pretty good, especially for a sort-of-early NES release. Higgens is a bit flat looking and the game has lots of solid colors rather than actually doing any pixel art, but it all comes together in a decent style that’s tropical and bright to look at. It’s no Castlevania or anything, but it’s charming.

The music is also catchy, if not particularly memorable, though they do re-use tracks quite frequently.

There’s only a handful of powersups, but the niftiest one is the skateboard.

As it stands, Adventure Island is a decent if punishing game that is completely outclassed by its sequels. Adventure Island II and III added animals you can ride on, backtracking through levels, and a less brutal difficulty curve. While Adventure Island is still an enjoyable experience for those who love to bang their heads against walls over and over until finally achieving victory, those turned off by the whole “NES Hard” stigma should probably look elsewhere for their 2D platforming action games.

But hey, no worries, because there’s a boatload of them.

Three out of five stars. 

Master Higgens says: “All the cool kids wear helmets on their adventures!”

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

Share This Post On

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *