Adventure Island is a symbol of all those classic platformers that have all but disappeared. It never made the jump to 3D, but it lives on in the hearts and minds of retro gamers. Of course, that makes it the perfect mobile gaming fodder. Hudson Soft, who developed the original games, has been working on Super Adventure Island for wireless handsets.
But stop the presses! This isn’t a port of the SNES game of the same name. In an odd twist, it’s actually a slightly changed version of Sega’s Master System title, Wonder Boy in Monster Land. Of course, most people reading this have never played either game, but it was still pretty surprising to me.
Master Higgins now appears where Wonder Boy once starred. The guy’s been around the block, but he still has more tricks up his sleeve than most characters. His adventure is relatively straightforward, and resembles many games of the 8-bit era. Unlike Mario, however, you dispatch enemies by hurling axes at them. He can use his fat cash to buy new boots, armor, and shields to protect his neck. Temporary items dropped by enemies will help your jumping, defense, or power — but they’re gone before you know it.
The levels encompass platforming standards — ice castle, cloud stages, etc. What’s weird is that you never know where they’ll take you and when new ones will start. Some only take a minute or two to plow through, and you’ll stumble onto the next section unwittingly. Thus, you’ll work through the 11 worlds pretty fast — until you get to the final stage, that is.
The last level will probably take you longer to beat than the entire rest of the game. Its maze-like design will constantly boot you back to earlier sections of the stage, and I’m not talking straightforward Super Mario Bros. bottom/middle/top stuff, either. The final boss is just as tough, and dying on him (or them) will make you start that whole world over from scratch. This is kind of a buzzkill as the difficulty gets very frustrating, though it’s still a nice change from the overly easy, done-in-an-hour games you’re used to on this platform.
Control grew on me in short order. I found using the scroll arrows for movement and the number key for attacks and jumping worked best. You can make some pretty precision jumps this way — instead of hitting up on the arrow keys, which I didn’t like as much. The difficulty is made easier than Wonder Boy since Master Higgins uses projectiles instead of melee, and enemies don’t respawn. However, being damaged is still a pain; when you get hit, you fly backwards and lose control. This is especially annoying against bosses or if you land on spikes.
Production-wise, I was pretty satisfied with the graphics and sound of Super Adventure Island. There’s a good amount of detail in the graphics, even if I miss having parallax scrolling in my 2D platformers. The music is whimsical and chipper. Like most cell phone games, though, it’s either far too loud, or totally muted. I wish someone would find a fix for that…
What’s here isn’t world-shattering — the original arcade version was from ’87, after all — but it’s still pretty darn fun. Super Adventure Island reminds me why I like this genre in the first place. If you’re jonesing for a true, classic platform game on your cell phone, Super Adventure Island is a solid choice.