Review by SethBlizzard

Reviewed: 05/26/09 | Updated: 09/21/14

Where are you, Witch Doctor?

Adventure Island seems cute and innocent when you play it just to pass time. When you get the ambition to beat it, however, it reveals itself to be an exceptionally frustrating and unrewarding experience. A difficult game it is – and in a very bad, bad way. Released two years after Super Mario Bros., Adventure Island quite obviously apes after that game – 8 worlds, 4 levels each, recycled palettes, damsel in distress, big bad guy to defeat – and yet it lacks everything that made that game so enjoyable.

Master Higgins is the hero; a weird, chubby little man in a baseball hat and a grass skirt. He has to rescue his girlfriend Princess Leilani/Tina from the evil Witch Doctor. You know, I actually think the Witch Doctor on the cartridge is really cool. How deceptive. Everything about this game just feels... bland. And weird. Coyotes that appear when you jump over flowers and eggplants hidden in eggs are the least of the weirdness. Super Mario Bros had an imaginative setting as well as a host of imaginative characters, from the minions to the boss. This game seems to lack imagination; the enemies are everything from bats to octopi to frogs – that's right, frogs. And the in-game Witch Doctor just looks terrible; he seriously looks more like an out-of-shape wrestler than an anthropomorphic rhino, and it's a real shame.

The music isn't anything to shout about either. My favourite is the march tune that accompanies the wasteland levels, where an already difficult game becomes even more frustrating. The forest tune is also fascinatingly eerie. The rest is standard platform stuff. Not bad, but nothing that really stands out, either.

Now, I love a good challenge, but that's precisely what Adventure Island isn't. It's a bad challenge. What I mean is that you are not allowed to make one mistake, ever. Unless you're riding a skateboard, bumping into any hostile entity (be it snail, frog or bonfire) will kill you, end of story (and getting knocked off the skateboard usually hurls you into the path of an enemy). Your only weapon to begin with is an axe. If you manage to stay alive long enough, you may be able to upgrade to a fireball. You really want that, because Adventure Island is just full of enemies at almost every turn. However, when you die, you lose EVERYTHING. And not every level even has a weapon.

But of course that wouldn't be hard enough, now would it? There is a heartless energy bar that constantly depletes. If it runs out, you die, and it doesn't take long for it to run out. You constantly must mitigate this by collecting fruit scattered across the levels. However, in later and particularly sadistic levels, you must pass entire areas between the (admittedly merciful) checkpoints without obtaining any food at all! Consequently, you are practically forced to run rather irresponsibly through levels, as well as avoiding any enemy which you may (and most probably will) run into. This means that you must develop a habit of premature action, because it's usually too late to retaliate to danger by the time it rears its ugly head. The controls make an already difficult task even harder. Master Higgins is extremely unresponsive and difficult to manoeuvre. And this game is just full of parts where precision is essential. It's incredibly easy to fall into a pit or run into an enemy, even if you see them coming.

If this wasn't bad enough, you only get a 1-up when you collect 50,000 points – which usually takes about 8 levels to obtain. And unless you find the hidden Hudson Bee at the end of the very first level, there are no continues. Yes. Many necessary power-ups are in hidden and usually quite not obvious locations. Even with visible power-ups, it's impossible to tell what's in which egg. If you're very unlucky, you'll release those horrid eggplants, which will stay on your tail and zap away your energy until you only have a couple of energy bars left. This goes beyond challenge and just becomes horribly unfair; not only can you not make even the most understandable mistake without being severely punished for it, but you practically can't find the few things which will help you!

Ironically the bosses are the easiest parts of the game, even if they increase in difficulty. At the end of each world (you will learn to tell when it’s coming up), you will enter a palace and battle the Witch Doctor. The same strategy can be employed to defeat him each time, the only difference being that he changes heads (his only weak spot) and that he shoots his fireballs more rapidly. Still, those short bouts with him are as close as the game gets to atmosphere.

Isn't it strange that Adventure Island was released two years after Super Mario Bros., and that it tries to imitate it? It's strange because this game absolutely lacks everything which still makes SMB so much fun to play; good graphics, imaginative setting and characters, good controls and gameplay. There's no big climax waiting at the end, either; the King Quiller mentioned in the manual (sort of a master Witch Doctor, I presume) was never manifested into the real game, and I can tell you that he was the only reason why I completed the game. There's no sense of reward for enduring all the hell the game puts you through; you get a congratulatory screen and little else.

It just isn't fun to sit through this game; in fact, it's hard to imagine it was intended to be a fun experience at all for anybody who's not an absolute gaming wiz. It would be talent wasted anyway. The thing is, while Adventure Island can be a cute time waster from time to time, it's almost unplayable as a proper game. There is nothing rewarding about its so-called challenge; 100% attention is required at all times, and yet your few power-ups can be taken from you faster than you imagine. Adventure Island is both unremarkable and wickedly-hard, which is not a good combination for any game to have. If you actually beat it once, you probably won't want to go through it again. I know I don't.

The very best thing I can say has nothing to do with the game itself - new versions of this game on the PS2 and Wii make excellent work of the Witch Doctor.

Rating:   1.5 - Bad

Product Release: Adventure Island (US, 09/30/88)

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