Retrospection: Adventure Island

When most people think of the NES, they immediately think of the numerous platformers that graced the system. Games such as Super Mario Brothers, Castlevania, and Ducktales instantly come to mind. Yes, there were a variety of genres on the system, but the platformer was, in many ways, the bread and butter of the system. One series that certainly stood out in this regard and was, oddly enough, based on a Sega property, is the classic Hudson Soft series, Adventure Island.

To understand the origins of Adventure Island, we first have to journey back to the arcades in 1986. At that time, a game titled Wonder Boy was quite popular in the arcades. Developed by Escape but published by Sega, it was only a matter of time before Wonder Boy would be ported to Sega’s Master System. That time was 1987 (though it was ported to the SG-1000 in Japan in 1986). Excepting a few modifications to the arcade game to allow it to run on the less powerful Master System, it was a straight port, and proved a success.

During this time, Hudson Soft obtained partial rights to the game from developer Escape and started work on a Famicom/NES port of the game. However, this ultimately would not be allowed as Escape would sign away their ownership of the IP to Sega. Sega, understandably, did not want their franchise to appear on Nintendo’s rival system so Hudson Soft had some thinking to do. Finally, Hudson Soft came to the solution of altering the main character from Tom-Tom. In honor of their popular spokesperson, Takahashi Meijin, the character was modeled on him and, for the western release, named Master Higgins. Speaking on this matter, Meijin had the following to say: “Around 1986, there was an arcade game called Wonder boythat we at Hudson all liked, and there was a suggestion within the company to turn that into a Famicom game. So the vice president and I went to take a look at the development of the character and the game, and as we were looking at the character being built, the character already somewhat resembled me. The vice president was looking at it and went, “Y’know, that character sort of looks like you, and you are a celebrity — it doesn’t make any sense for us not to make this game about you.” So they decided to turn me into that character, and that’s how Adventure Island was born.” This is how the Adventure Island series was born.

In most respects, Adventure Island is the same game as Wonder Boy. You guide your character through levels with increasing levels of fiendishness armed with, at first, a stone hammer and, if you can secure the upgrade, fireballs (both found in eggs, which hold essentially all items you find in the game sans the fruit). It’s also vitally important that you collect the pieces of fruit scattered throughout the level as your vitality is constantly decreasing. Finally, there’s a skateboard…because why not?

Like Wonder Boy, Adventure Island was warmly received upon release. Allgame gave the title three out of five stars. A review on GameSpot states: “On the whole, the graphics and audio are solid, at least in NES terms. Higgins and his enemies are large and goofy-looking. The tropical 2D backdrops are also very colorful and detailed, while the lighthearted music contributes to the game’s overall pleasant atmosphere. Furthermore, despite the speedy pace, the graphics never suffer from the slowdown and sprite flicker that are so commonly seen in NES games.”

Whereas the Wonder Boy series ultimately moved towards the RPG/Exploration genre, Hudson Soft doubled down on the success of Adventure Island, releasing Adventure Island II in 1991, with a GameBoy port following in 1992. The general gameplay was largely unchanged, though Hudson Soft did make some additions. Firstly, Master Higgins was given a handful of dinosaur companions that he could ride (and which also provided a precious extra hit-point). Two were for land navigation, including one that could jump into lava with no penalty, a third was specifically for underwater levels (though it could be used on land), while the fourth was a Pteranodon and allowed you to fly through the level. Secondly, an inventory was added that allowed you to store both the dinosaurs and weapons, allowing you to strategize for each level as well as for latter areas of the game when power-ups are not so plentiful.


Adventure Island II was also met with positive reviews. In conclusion, NintendoLife wrote “Adventure Island II is quite similar to its predecessor in many ways, but with its slightly better control and handful of gameplay additions, it’s just that little bit more entertaining. It’s also a lot more accessible due to the reserve item system and the shorter stages, compared to the rather brutal original game.” In a positive review of the GameBoy port, IGN praised the new inventory system: “If you manage to clear an entire level with a dinosaur still alive or another power-up still active, too, you can take advantage of a novel new item-banking screen that lets you store up power-ups to access later on — that becomes invaluable in the later levels, where you can draw on items and dinos you banked way back at the beginning of the quest to help you sail through to the ending credits. Adventure Island from the Game Boy also features shorter, quicker-to-complete individual levels than some other installments in its same series, making it better suited to portable play.”

The US would see one more sequel on the NES when Adventure Island III arrived in 1992, along with a GameBoy port in 1993. Once again, Hudson Soft took an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” stance and Adventure Island III played almost identically to Adventure Island II, though there were a few minor additions. In addition to the dinos from Adventure Island II, a triceratops was added to Adventure Island III, along with a boomerang weapon (which could finally destroy those extremely annoying rolling rocks) and a crystal item that, when used, would grant Master Higgins an extra hit-point upon the start of the level.

Adventure Island III was again well-received, but criticism was directed at the game’s similarities to the previous entry. VideoGameCritic wrote “In terms of gameplay Adventure Island 3 feels more like a “greatest hits” compilation than a brand new adventure. Most of the enemies, level designs, and even music seems awfully familiar. Still, there are some interesting new wrinkles. The yellow [green] triceratops lets you roll over obstacles, and the boomerang is a very effective new weapon. You now have the ability to duck, and there are playable bonus rounds including a surfing mini-game.” In a positive review of the GameBoy port, NintendoLife had this to say: “The control in the original Game Boy Adventure Island release was solid, but Hudson have really outdone themselves with this sequel. Not only is the character movement much smoother, but the feel of the control is so much better and more responsive this time around. You’ll find that it makes some of the pinpoint plaforming sections in the game much easier to manage. If you lose a life on a tricky section in this game, it will be because you blew it, not because the play control failed. All of the hidden goodies are like icing on the cake as they give you a good incentive to come back to the game in order to access the hidden levels. Not only will you enjoy your first trip through the game, but it’s every bit as much fun to go back and locate all of the game’s many secrets.”

While Adventure Island III was the last hurrah for the series on the NES, one more entry does exist on the Famicom. Master Takahashi’s Adventure Island IV released on the Famicom in 1994 (oddly enough, after Super Adventure Island had launched on the Super NES). Adventure Island IV plays much like a fusion of previous Adventure Island titles and the latter entries in the Wonder Boy series. The game is open world, with exploration limited only by your current abilities, which expand as you continue to explore. Most of your dino buddies do return, though they must be rescued in this entry. Master Higgins is also given a much larger inventory of items to work with. Having gotten to play this title, it is truly a shame that it has never made it’s way out of Japan as it has many good ideas and is a very solid title.

Adventure Island would continue on with two entries on the Super NES, Super Adventure Island and Super Adventure Island II. While the first played much like the first entry (including a disappointing lack of dino friends), the second was a completely different style, featuring RPG elements, armor, and swords, as well as an overworld map that demanded that areas be revisited as your abilities expanded. Outside of Nintendo’s systems, New Adventure Island was released on the TurboGrafx-16 in 1992. New Adventure Island played much like Super Adventure Island, adapting most of the gameplay elements from the original Adventure Island.


Adventure Island’s last hurrah was a 2009 WiiWare exclusive game called Adventure Island: The Beginning. The game seemed middling reviews, with IGN writing “Adventure Island: The Beginning is an enjoyable, entertaining update to a classic franchise — but it’s one that doesn’t seem to have been given much extra effort. Fans of the series will love that Master Higgins is back in action, running across the Island once again. But Hudson might have missed an opportunity here to make the character’s revival a more memorable one, skipping out on obvious presentation improvements like widescreen support and tighter controls in favor of, I guess, getting the game out the door a little bit quicker.” This particular entry has been lost to us with the closure of the Wii’s eshop (don’t get me started on this again).

Adventure Island remains a favorite series for me even all these years later. I will periodically put one in and just play for a few minutes. It never fails to bring me joy when I do so. I do wish that a new entry, or even a compilation, would surface, and with Konami’s recent activity with their backlog, perhaps that will happen, but for now, the series remains dormant, and there are very few legitimate ways to play the games with the closure of Nintendo’s eshops earlier this year. Still, even if we never get another adventure with Master Higgins, we’ll always have his outings on the NES and Super NES, and for me, those never get old.

Further Reading – Ranking the Series: Adventure Island