This month marks the 25th anniversary of two amazing Super Nintendo games (in North America). Contra III: The Alien Wars and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Both are phenomenal games and undoubtedly two of the greatest titles from not just the 16-bit generation but quite frankly, of all time. This month also sees the 25th anniversary of a less celebrated game. As you might have already guessed, it’s Super Adventure Island. Let’s take a closer look at how Master Higgins fared in his very first SNES outing.
There are certain video game boxes from my youth that have left a permanent mark seared into my memory bank. Hudson’s Adventure Island for the 8-bit NES is one such example. Released in September of 1988, Master Higgins entered the consciousness (and homes) of many youthful lads. Higgins was no Mario, but I always liked the chubby little bastard. Then again, I always had a thing for the underdog. And in a world of 8-bit digitized mascots, Master Higgins was locked firmly in that role.
Simple as can be, but that was part of the charm back then, no?
But perhaps no NES box art haunted me more in my youth than that of Adventure Island II. Released in February of 1991, any little boy that saw that box immediately wanted to play it. It perfectly conveys a sense of daring adventure coupled with glorious dinosaur action. I remember thinking there was even a crossover of sorts — with Rocksteady from Ninja Turtles fame as that beast hiding in the bush there! Ah, the innocence of youth and a pre-internet age.
Features the ability to ride various new friends. Fun little game.
BUT WAIT — THERE’S MORE
The series jammed on with Adventure Island III coming out September of 1992, a full five months after the 16-bit SNES rendition. Master Higgins enjoyed a decent following so Hudson kept cranking them out.
Master Higgins rides again…
Strangely enough, a Japan only sequel was released for the Famicom in June of 1994. Adventure Island IV came out only four months prior to Super Adventure Island II for the SNES. That’s pretty crazy when you think about it. It was a good year for Master Higgins, apparently.
Adventure Island IV took on a more adventure platformer style.
Of course, many gamers know the origins of Master Higgins. That whole Wonder Boy backstory. But let’s dive into our featured game, Super Adventure Island!
THE STORY GOES…
Master Higgins is chilling with his girl on a beautiful starry night, just minding his own business (and trying to get the business), when out of nowhere comes the dastardly Dark Cloak. Tina was planning to get stoned on this night, but she didn’t mean it THIS way! The Evil One chortles at your misfortune, ruining a perfectly good night. Whistling for your ever trusty feathered friend, you take off for bloody vengeance. It’s not original by any means, but I kind of enjoy these overly simplistic storylines back in the 8 and 16-bit days.
Never trust a bird for transportation. Nice blatant usage of Mode 7, though.
Chubby Higgins looked great in 16-bit. The yellow bar indicates the time remaining in the level, not Higgins’ health. This is a one hit and you’re dead sort of game. Collecting fruit adds to the timer. In classic Adventure Island form, the skateboard returns.
Collect the boomerang multiple times and you can throw more than one. Collect them several times and you upgrade to a projectile shot. Now you’re playing with super power. Sorry.
Annoying mechanic I detest: being forced to switch to whatever weapon you touch. Sometimes they’re placed in ill-advised places when you don’t want them but it’s impossible to avoid. Not even Higgins’ new super jump (hold down + jump) can save the day in some cases. So boo on that. But yay for the exit, which looks a lot like a cool little yo-yo, or a shrunken down Captain America shield!
Beware of rolling boulders and sizzling lava pits.
BOSS NUMBER ONE
Super jump over the flames. Purple projectiles make short work of it.
Before there was a Tony Hawk, there was a Master mutha effin’ Higgins.
Tropical beach setting suits this game to a tee. But, what in the world is that green mutant beach bum thing there? It’s kind of a weird game…
Pastel freaks rejoice!
Remember to say hi to Jonah for me…
Inside the belly of a whale — now that’s what I call an adventure.
Nothing like seeing that glorious exit, even if the levels aren’t long.
BOSS NUMBER TWO
Parodius flashbacks… hmmm…
Platforming rule #52: There must be a tree level of some sort. I love the little ledge there. It’s the “small” details… [You’re not the LEAST BIT funny -Ed.]
Sometimes there’s hidden fruit lying around. Fire away at random to discover them. The timer can be a bitch in certain stages. Finding these “forbidden fruit” can make all the difference.
Things start to get a tad “spooky” here.
Always kind of fun to play a game and see the exact level the box art cover was based upon.
BOSS NUMBER THREE
Super Adventure Island follows most of the platforming tropes but then it pulls this intriguing little number out of its hat. A very unique and challenging boss fight. Reminds me a bit of Godzooky…
Y’know… if either you or your bird friend were smart, you’d fly directly to the last level. Just saying. The boomerang projectiles are the best since they curve back to you, taking out enemies from behind even!
Similar to the tree level seen earlier, this one is a vertically scrolling stage. I can appreciate the variety they attempted.
Speaking of variety, here’s another blatant spot of Mode 7 for ya.
Another swimming level, and a beaut she is, too. Love the colors of this game.
BOSS NUMBER FOUR
Bonehead here looks like a complete badass but is quite easy if you crack the code (and skull). Any boss that wields a light saber gets bonus points in my book. Send his Jedi wannabe ass to the grave!
Donkey Kong Country has one of the best winter looking stages in all of SNES history. I dare say Super Adventure Island has a fairly underrated looking winter stage in its own right. Probably underrated because the game is so damn tough and few ever make it this far…
Always been a sucker for a good looking winter stage. Oh and skis? Who needs bloody skis?! Certainly not Master Higgins.
Mister beach bum again? Tsk tsk. At least give him a jacket. Well, on the bright side, I really like how this game often previews the next stage at the end of a level. It’s a small touch but it goes a long way. At least as far as presentation is concerned.
Mickey’s magical castle this ain’t. Tread softly and watch out for spikes.
Disappointing to see more older enemies randomly. The enemy roster is a bit lacking. Almost like they were rushing Super Adventure Island to market. Speaking of market, grab those pineapples and if you squint you’ll see the sweet exit calling your name.
Lumiere — is that your cousin?! Touch the green star for a bonus bit.
Master Higgins sure knows how to make a dramatic exit.
BOSS NUMBER FIVE
Welcome to Dark Cloak’s first form. Nice Badtz Maru impression there.
Feeling a little stiff there, are we?
Master Higgins gets the last laugh.
Someone could use more fiber in their diet…
Scratch that. Someone could use a diet, period.
Platforming Rule #57: Final boss must have a “true” form. You can’t actually harm Dark Cloak with your weapons. Avoid becoming a pancake and have him loosen up the bricks…
Higgins isn’t the fleetest of foot so this can be quite challenging. But if you manage to set things up just right, it’s very satisfying to see the end result.
“Discount Ganon” is about to feel the heat…
“Discount Mario” celebrates a hard fought victory. Huh, I’m in the mood for some bacon all of a sudden.
Nothing like a crap ending to reward your efforts in such a difficult game. Nice transition, though. But yeah, can you say tank job?
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
EGM gave Super Adventure Island ratings of 7, 8, 9 and 9. Super Play gave it a 75% score. It seems to have a fairly favorable reputation as a simple, basic platformer. This was further aided by its early release.
Super Adventure Island relies on its basic simplicity and charm. It very much has a “back to the basics” feel to it. Gone are the various creatures Master Higgins can ride from 1991’s Adventure Island II. Instead it’s just you, your jumping skills and a pair of weapons that can be upgraded. Oh, and the skateboard makes a token cameo here and there. There is some variety thrown in, including a mine cart riding section, swimming levels and vertically scrolling stages. The one hit deaths can get a bit aggravating, but it’s not impossible to beat with a little dedication.
Graphically, the game is loaded with bright, colorful visuals. Each level has a different look and feel to them thanks to the rich colors. The music was composed by Yuzo Koshiro and to no one’s surprise is very good. The control is where the game falters a bit. Master Higgins is a bit stiff. Sure he’s a chubby lad but so was Mario and Mario moved just fine. There is a sort of stilted feel to Super Adventure Island. You get used to it after a while but at the same time the game is made more difficult by Higgins’ limited movement.
All in all, Super Adventure Island is very much a sign of the times. It’s been 25 years now since it came out, and this is how gaming kind of was back then before things got overly complex. There’s a charm to the game, despite how flawed it may be. It’s kind of a guilty pleasure, in fact. And a quirky little relic from the days of old. The sequel, Super Adventure Island II, is leagues better. But for those looking for an old school, straight forward, super simplistic platformer, you could do far worse than Super Adventure Island.