A common practice in the earliest days of the 16 bit generation was to bring franchises that started on the 8-bit consoles over to the new hardware. Super Adventure Island was an early launch title for the Super NES, debuting in North America in January 1992 and is a follow-up to the successful Adventure Island titles on the NES. Alongside the fantastic New Adventure Island on the Turbografx16, this one seems to be a fan favorite. This was a title I actually owned when I was younger and played a ton of and wanted to revisit to see if it has held up to my fond memories.
As to be expected, there’s very little in terms of storytelling. The only thing you need to know is that a new bad guy (referred to as Dark Cloak in the manual…how original!) has cock-blocked Master Higgins and turned his girlfriend to stone. It’s now up to you to save her and teach the Final Fantasy mage look-alike a lesson.
The leap from 8 to 16 bits is quite obvious in Super Adventure Island. Not only is everything more bright and colorful than what the limited color palette of the NES could pull off, but the backgrounds have definitely improved from the NES Adventure Island offerings and it truly stood out to me. Tropical locales once represented by solid colors with sparse clouds here and there or a row of repeated assets are now far more detailed and believable. The sprites are also much larger, as seen above. Also, as this is an early title after all, there’s quite a bit of Mode 7 going on. It’s mostly been reserved for the handful of cutscenes between stages (such as Master Higgins diving down into a pool of water or Dark Cloak transforming during the final battle) though.
Then there’s the soundtrack. My god, the soundtrack. Ever thought about how ToeJam and Earl may have sounded on a Super Nintendo? That’s basically what Super Adventure Island goes for, and the jazzy beats truly stand out from a lot of the orchestrated, “epic” tunes found in most SNES titles. If platformers or this series isn’t your cup of tea, the OST is worth a listen.
The gameplay has gone almost unchanged, though. You’re still making your way from left to right, picking up food to replenish the meter at the top of the screen that serves as a sort of timer (if it depletes fully, you’re a goner). Higgins still goes down in just one hit, although the skateboard makes a return and can serve as an additional hitpoint if you stumble across one. In addition, hidden bonus stages are present and are still found by launching weapons around until a “tinging” noise is heard, revealing a red star.
Gone, however, are the ride-able dinosaurs and invincibility fairies. In their place is a new power-up system that allows you to upgrade your weapon of choice (there’s just the tomahawk and boomerang, the latter of which is arguably more useful) by collecting multiple units of it. After collecting three of a kind, your weapon will be fully powered and can make short work of both enemies and bosses so long as you can avoid death. While this is an interesting curveball in the formula, I do feel like it makes the game a tad too easy on repeat playthroughs. Bosses go down in mere seconds with a fully powered weapon- even the first phase of the final boss!
While the Adventure Island games are known for being difficult (ESPECIALLY the original), Super Adventure Island is surprisingly forgiving. While there are a few enemies placed in tricky spots that will no doubt trip first time players, extra lives are plentiful and the bonus rounds aren’t too hard to snuff out thanks to how linear the level design is. As mentioned above, you can also make short work of most of the game’s bosses if you can hang onto a powered up item upon confronting them. Add to this the relatively short length of the game (just five worlds that can be tackled in under an hour) and Super Adventure Island makes for a much more accessible experience and an excellent first choice for those unfamiliar with the franchise.
While the lack of ride-able dinosaur buddies is a missed opportunity and the game’s relative ease/short length hampers replay value, this one is still well worth a once over for its great presentation and the fun to be had while it lasts. New Adventure Island is objectively better due to more challenge and far more content, but Super Adventure Island stands on its own as a solid early SNES title. Whether you’re getting into the series for the first time or simply looking for games in the franchise (or run and jump platformers) you might have missed back in the day, it’s a good way to kill an afternoon.