Hudson was responsible for a lot of the Turbografx16’s heavy hitters, including the Bonk series of games (the protagonist of which served as the system’s mascot until he was replaced by his edgy alter ego shortly before NEC pulled the plug) and some exclusive Bomberman outings. There was also one exclusive Adventure Island release for the system, dubbed New Adventure Island, released in 1992. Despite the core gameplay being fairly similar to that of the previous games, this one is often held in very high regard. I have some fond memories of the game thanks to the Wii Shop Channel, so I wanted to dive back in and see whether the rose tinted glasses are back at it again or if New Adventure Island truly is the pinnacle of the series.
Presentation wise, Hudson decided to retain the same cutesy look that the NES series shot for and decided to bump it up a notch with the additional horsepower. Higgins is far more animated than in previous installments and has many more expressions during the course of not only the main gameplay but in transitions. Based on your performance in the stage, Higgins will have an animation while your points are tallied. Get to the end of the stage in record time with a full timer and he’ll bounce up and down in joy. If you die a bunch of times or have just a few units of time left before finishing a stage, he’ll pant or stomp his feet angrily. This is one touch I adore alongside the end of world “intermissions” where Higgins makes a complete fool of himself with various dance routines. Even the enemies are expressive, with many of them bugging their eyes out as they fly off the screen. While the original games had charm, New Adventure Island is simply overflowing with it.
As before, you’re still running and jumping across a total of 7 islands in hopes of rescuing a damsel in distress. One hit deaths still apply unless you’re able to find a skateboard or invincibility fairy. There are three main weapons at your disposal, including the tried-and-true tomahawk, boomerang, and a spear exclusive to this entry. All three have their pros and cons. The tomahawk can easily be spammed, but has a poor range. The boomerang can dispatch rocks and boulders but only two can be fired at a time, leaving Higgins vulnerable to attack. The spear is the only weapon that fires straight ahead, making it easier to fire precisely. In addition, it can hit enemies on its descent, making it ideal when they’re populating declines in the terrain. Last, but not least, there’s the hidden fireball weapon that makes short work of enemies and obstacles as well as most of the bosses with a short range keeping it from being overpowered.
In terms of level design and challenge, there were a lot of choices made that truly do make New Adventure Island stand out in the series. First, there’s a more natural difficulty curve to this installment than in the previous games. The first Adventure Island is brutal almost right out the gate and offered zero continues unless you knew the location of a secret egg that enabled them. Here, you’re given an infinite amount of continues. In addition, it’s easy to rack up a good number of extra lives with some skillful play in the first few islands before things ramp up. Besides being awarded with them after reaching certain score increments, they can be found hidden in secret eggs and the chances of finding them increase if you’re able to hold onto the fireball long enough. You’re also given a nice score bonus if you manage to make it to the end of a stage with a skateboard, which again encourages learning the level layouts. There are also a handful of checkpoints in each stage, save for the fourth level of each world (which ends in a boss battle) and the very last world which houses just one stage and the final boss.
While New Adventure Island is far more forgiving than its ancestors, it’s still by no means an easy game (especially if you decide to one-credit-clear it like yours truly). There are plenty of new enemy types to contend with, including bears, moskitos that often fly around in difficult patterns, thwomp look alikes and even lightning. There are also some scenarios in the later levels in which you’re screwed if you don’t happen to have the boomerang or fireball. For instance, in 6-3, there are small rocks placed on tiny pillars with just enough room to land on them and not be tripped into the watery abyss below. It’s not a problem if you have the weapons mentioned above, but if not, you can expect to sink a ton of lives into getting through the level.
There’s also a handful of instances in which the level design decides to play dirty. Sometimes coyotes will leap 10 feet into the air when they would simply shoot straight forward any other time and with no warning, making the standard course of action (hoping over them or quickly turning around and killing them) lethal. There’s also a spiked car that comes out of nowhere in one of the fortress stages and will either kill first time players or send them into a panic that’ll get them killed. While annoying, these instances are quite forgivable compared to some of the nonsense the original game pulled. In addition, they won’t cause quite as much of a headache on repeat playthroughs as you’ll know they’re coming up and won’t be caught off guard by these few instances of trolling.
Despite a few instances of dickish enemy placement and level design, New Adventure Island is by and far the most polished entry in this series. It’s overflowing with charm, encourages skillful play in ways that the previous installments didn’t, and manages to be tough-but-fair thanks to the unlimited continues and opportunities to build a stockpile of lives early on. While the Wii Shop Channel has sadly been discontinued, the game is still available for the PSN (PS3/PSP) for a mere six dollars. To my understanding, it’s just a direct port with nothing to give it an edge over the original release but a good option if you still own either platform and/or just can’t stand emulation for whatever reason. If you only play one Adventure Island in your lifetime, this is the one to play, hands down.