Sunday, April 21, 2013

Super Adventure Island (SNES) Review

Written: April 20th-21st, 2013
Year: 1992 | Developed by: Produce | Published by: Hudson Soft

1/5/19 Update: check out my updated thoughts here
That calamari will know better than to mess
with him again
Whenever a video game series or video game characters would transition themselves to the 16-bit console, the end result (for the first attempt in the series) is mostly positive.  Mario transitioned well when he starred in his first SNES game Super Mario World, and that game was brilliant (even if it's a touch overrated).  Samus' first 16-bit venture was very memorable in Super Metroid, and that game was awesome.  So was Link's transition to the 16-bit world The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.  Even Kirby's first 16-bit entry was highly enjoyable, even though it was a spin-off, in the form of Kirby's Dream Course.  Some first-time 16-bit entries, on the other hand, would prove to be heavily polarized in terms of overall reception and execution: one example being Capcom's canon 16-bit entry to the original series Mega Man 7 (technically the first SNES Mega Man game was Mega Man X, but you get the idea) and another being the case with Master Higgins' initial foray to the SNES Super Adventure Island.

Skateboarding through the beach
Hudson Soft's Adventure Island series started off as a direct NES port (albeit with slight alterations) of Westone's 1986 arcade game Wonder Boy, which was released by Sega for coin-op machines, while the rest of the entries would be original and (mostly) handled by the Hudson Soft team.  At present I only played three games in the series (Adventure Island for the NES; the Game Boy port of Adventure Island II, Adventure Island; and Super Adventure Island programmed by Produce) and my thoughts on the series are: ehh!  <=|  I don't think they're awful or anything, I'm just not that head over heels towards these games.  They've got some good stuff going for them, don't get me wrong, it's just that I personally don't find them to be top-tier quality; but that's how I personally feel from what I've played in the series.  To each their own.  I first played Super Adventure Island in the summer of '10 after having ordered it from eBay, and you can probably guess where this is going.

Climbing up a candy-flavored canyon
The game starts off with a scene of Master Higgins and his girlfriend Tina having a honeymoon on top of a palm tree, until a dark cloaked sorcerer called... Dark Cloak transforms her into stone.  So he heads off to follow the sorcerer's trail and will go to great lengths to defeat Dark Cloak and undo his malign spell.  Master Higgins will travel jungles, volcanoes, beaches, a whale's insides, a tree-laden environment, a dark mine, a hot desert, underwater, a snow-capped place, and finally the snow castle where the main antagonist awaits.  Each stage is divided into parts, while the last part will have you face off against a boss.  Yeah, the plot is that simple.

Under the sea!  Under the sea!
You take control of Master Higgins, an incredibly chubby and "hook-mouthed" grass-skirted caveman who attacks enemies by either throwing axes or boomerangs.  Unlike the other games in the series where items were encased inside eggs, the weapons are floating in mid-air where you can catch them.  The fact that there are two weapons makes it feel a little limited, with the best of the two being the boomerang, but there is an upside to this.  If you collect more of the same weapon you'll be able to throw more of them at a time, but collect them enough times and you'll be able to dish out flaming sparks instead, which act the same as the weapon you're carrying but are more powerful than before.  This is one of those one-hit games where once you take a hit you lose a life; at that point you'll restart from either the first or the second half of the stage portion.

Super Adventure Island's controls are somewhat loose, but they can be worked around.  Master Higgins can also duck and jump, and from time to time he'll be riding a skateboard in the stage portion until he either reaches the goal or if he gets into contact with an enemy (the board will be gone but Master Higgins won't unless he's by himself).  There is one new type of control introduced in this game: the super jump.  The regular jumps are fairly normal, but in order to jump really high all you have to do is press down while on the ground and press the jump button.  That's all there is to that.  What's noticeable here is that his pacing is always the same for the portly primitive cannot run.  What you'll want to make sure of is that the health bar does not become entirely empty (as it repletes itself the more you move), so in order to keep it filled you must collect tons of fruit along the way.  Gee, no wonder his corpulence is downright brobdignagian.  =\  No offense to the character.

Neon lights flood the bonus segments  =)
The visuals are pretty decent in their own right.  It's colorful and good to look at, even if more attention to detail was paid in the foregrounds than in the backgrounds.  The stages and the stage portions look nice, and some are pretty unique.  The beach setting looks nice what with the waves that roll back from time to time, the swimming settings inside a whale's mouth and underwater have good wavy effects, and there's a fascinating-looking canyon that almost looks candy-coated.  The other areas look cool, too, and during most cutscenes there are instances of Mode 7 used; like in that scene where Master Higgins is swallowed whole by a Mode 7 whale and a scene where Master Higgins is falling to the water as everything around him rotates thanks to Mode 7.  The chunky troglodite protagonist looks and animates okay, though I find his one-frame throwing animations really weird.  The enemies are detailed and cartoonish, but the bosses are even bigger and more detailed, including Dark Cloak's second form.

Time for some routine exercise
The soundtrack was composed by none other than the great Yuzo Koshiro (known for doing the music to Ys Book I & II, The Revenge of Shinobi, Streets of Rage 1 and 2, and ActRaiser), and without a shadow of a doubt it's Super Adventure Island's high point.  The game's background music consists of tropical beats, hip hop, and a certain amount of calypso here and there, and they sound really good.  The theme that plays when you're swimming is catchy, the snow theme is cool (even though it sounds Follin-ish at times), and the tropical jungle and beach themes are nice.  The boss theme is great too, especially the ultimate one.  I'll say this much about the music: at least it's more noteworthy and more memorable than ActRaiser 2's soundtrack, which Yuzo also worked on.  The sound effects are all right and many of them sound like they were lifted from the previous games.

Mmm, bananas!
Super Adventure Island is not a challenging game, but boy is it straightforward.  I'm serious, all the stages are very linear, with no complex level design whatsoever (well, except the penultimate stage portion near the end but it's still linear) meaning there's no other direction or method to reach the end.  There are slopes and curves, sure, but it's still incredibly undeviating.  Don't get me wrong, there are some games that can pull that off (so long as they're fun and have elements that make up for that shortcoming); this is not one of those games.  It's a good thing there are enemies serving as obstacles.  At the end of each stage is a boss who's pattern must be followed in order for you to take it down.  There are few other reservations I have, particularly when Higgins loses a life.

I have a lot of qualms with this.  Shall I count the ways?
1. The way he looks when he dies feels really condescending to me, and it doesn't help any that it happens every time you die.  That just insults me.  >.<
2. He always faces the left any time he dies.  He never dies while facing the right.  Sure, it may have been the case with Mickey Mouse: Magic Wands!, but hell, that game was so easy that you would barely even see it!
3. I hate the sound effect that plays when Master Higgins dies, it just adds to the condescension as far as I'm concerned, not to mention it abruptly ends the music.  >=(  It might be different if he gets burnt to a crisp, but the same thing happens otherwise.

Super Adventure Island has to be beaten in one sitting, and it has only two continues, though honestly, I don't feel that it's a satisfactory amount, even if you were to master this game.  Maybe it's to do with how the game was structured that I find it problematic.  One last issue I've got is that there are a few stage segments when if you walk a certain amount then an enemy will pop out of the blue.  Not convinced?  How about some visual aid then?  I have taken the liberty of keeping track of the time into one of the video footage I recorded, and here is one example:
It's true, I swear I'm not making this up!  That penguin did not walk all the way from the left offscreen, it just instantaneously appeared right there!  Even in pre-HD standard TV sets it should be apparent!  That's enough to catch you off-guard and cost you a life if you're not careful.  How exactly is that fair??  D=<  Give ActRaiser 2 some credit, it at least had the decency to have enemies approach you from offscreen; the only exception to the rule being the robed spectres, but those were totally justifiable because they were spectres.  They can be allowed to appear out of nowhere, penguins are not!  I can't imagine anyone being okay with this.

It's a good thing he's fat, otherwise he'd be
freezing to death wearing only a grass-skirt
I guess the main problem I have with Super Adventure Island is that I personally find it unpolished.  The visuals are good but not great, the soundtrack is the main highlight of the game and blends well with the environments, and the controls are okay.  Though to be frank the controls are part of the reason why the game is unpolished.  The inability to run is not so much a problem but the fact that the controls take a bit to adjust to, including the over-reliance on the super-jumps can be distracting at times.  I'm not real fond of seeing the animation for when Master Higgins loses a life, and I don't like the fact that there are only two continues either (give gamers who are novice, unlike me, a chance).  The neon-lit bonus areas are nice, but they're short-lived, and the area designs needed to be expanded or at least implement something that helps make up for it all.  The Mode 7 sequences are cool, although it seems to me like the game was meant as a visual tech-demo than anything else.  I honestly feel that Produce was unqualified to create an Adventure Island game, as their strong suit is applied to RPGs, as evidenced in the infamous turn-based The 7th Saga and the not as famous action-adventure Brain Lord.  Don't get me wrong, their heart was in the right place, they just lost a bit of focus along the way.

And it's a shame too, since it seemed like there was lots of potential in the package; even compared to some other games where characters first made their appearance on the SNES.  Mickey Mouse's first Nintendo 16-bit entry The Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse was flawed but felt polished and was fun to play, and as unforgivably short as Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose! was (first Nintendo 16-bit Tiny Toon Adventures), it at least had a sense of polish and was fun.  Even Milon's first and only 16-bit venture DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no DokiDoki Daibōken was incredibly polished, and it's my second favorite Super Famicom game of all time right next to Tenchi Sōzō (Terranigma).  Had Super Adventure Island been a little more polished, then maybe I would feel more positive about it.  As I said earlier, it's not horrible, I just find it to be pretty average fare; the most fun I had in the series was the first Adventure Island Game Boy game, even if it was flawed it was at least decent.  Despite the shortcomings it did well enough to get a second Super Adventure Island, and I looked up that it was better than the first.  I even researched New Adventure Island for the Turbografx-16, and from one gameplay footage I saw on YouTube it looks like it's actually great.  I would be willing to try either game someday, but at the end of the day I feel that I played the first Super Adventure Island enough times to last me a lifetime.  If you enjoy the series you may like this game, but if you're not then you should approach it with caution.  You might come out liking Master Higgins' first 16-bit game, I don't know, but it all depends on your leniency.  I suppose I shouldn't complain too much, 'cause on the bright side I have played a lot worse.
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment!  I hope you all have a great day; take care!
P.S.: Points to anyone who recognized the comic strip I referenced in the review.
P.S. 2: Even if it doesn't sound as good as Super Adventure Island does, I personally find ActRaiser 2 to be superior to this game.  Also, I don't get a chance to reference ActRaiser 2 often in my blog (since I find it underrated); this is the third time I've done it thus far.
P.S. 3: To each their own.
P.S. 4: Boy, I was pretty mean about Master Higgins' character, wasn't I?  =(
P.S. 5: I promise my next review will sound more enthusiastic than this one.


  1. Nice review! You summed up my thoughts about this game pretty well. I just played this game last week for the purpose of forming an opinion, and on a 3-point scale -Good/Average/Bad, I rated it as being average. I didn't even know about the super jumps, but like you said, the game just feels like it needs a bit more polish.

    On the other hand, I do recommend that you play the TurboGrafx-16 release - New Adventure Island. I think that you'll find it to be more polished than this one.