As you might know, Adventure Island is a bit of an odd series. The main character Master Higgins is actually a real person, although he's only well known in Japan. Ask anybody there about Takahashi Meijin (Master Takahashi) though and they'll know him for sure - he's a legend over there, down to his ability to press a button 16 times a second. Hudson Soft hired him and turned him into their promotions guy, causing him to make a ton of public appearances back in the 80's and making his popularity soar. One day, while trying to think of a new character, they had a brilliant idea - why not use him as the star?
This spawned the Adventure Island series, which, although originally not very original (the first game was just an edited version of Wonder Boy) eventually introduced new gameplay elements which made it stand out from the crowd. Aside from a Japan-exclusive remake of the first game on the GameCube though, the series hasn't had a single new game since 1994! For this revival, Hudson Soft decided to go back to the very basics - but was that a good choice or not?
Adventure Island: The Beginning plays almost exactly like the original game. As Master Higgins, your job is to traverse four worlds, each with four levels, to defeat the evil King Quiller, who has kidnapped the love of your life, Tina. In each level you simply try to reach the end, mowing down enemies with axes, boomerangs and other weapons. The game's main gimmick is that Master Higgins is a bit overweight - unless he keeps eating food scattered around the stages, his stamina will gradually drain, and when it's all gone, he dies!
It soon becomes obvious that this new instalment has been made easier to appeal to new players. In the original games, a single hit from anything would kill you instantly; now, the only thing that will immediately end your life is fire. Taking hits from enemies will only drain some of your stamina meaning it's much, much easier to make it through the game.
The weapons which you can initially get, namely the axe, boomerang, and spear function just like their original versions. The axe is strong, but instantly falls to the ground, meaning you have to get close to enemies to hit them. The boomerang can destroy campfires, rocks and boulders, while no other weapon can, though it's weaker than the axe, and the spear flies a long way, but is also pretty weak.
In each stage you can find Gold Melons - there's a total of 100 of them (92 of which can be gotten in the game's regular stages), and once you've found some, you can use them to buy new items. This is where Hudson made their first slip-up, as you can buy upgrades for the starting weapons. Once you've fully upgraded them, not only will they pretty much destroy anything in one hit, but you'll be stuck with them - it's impossible to disable them once bought, meaning you're stuck with overpowered weapons until the game's end.
If that wasn't bad enough just take a look at the rest of the stuff you can buy. There are three entirely new moves for Higgins, which allow him to double jump, float in the air and hang from ledges, which are really only meant to be used to get more Gold Melons. But, these new moves, coupled with the upgraded weapons, just end up making the challenge in the game non-existent. You can also extend your stamina bar from nine blocks to fifteen, and the duration of the invincibility item can be boosted from ten to fifteen seconds. Like the weapon upgrades, none of these can be disabled, meaning the game gets easier rather than harder as you progress.
In the original Adventure Island, you battled pretty much the exact same boss eight times, and, well, that hasn't really changed here - of the four bosses, only the final one poses any sort of challenge: the others all have an obvious weak spot, meaning you can often kill them before they even get in two (easily avoided) attacks!
Once you first start up the game you'll see a "???" option when you go to the main game. You might be hoping that this is some sort of "Classic Mode" with none of the new features, but the truth is disappointing - it's just a multiplayer mode in which you take turns playing!
Graphically the game is a bit of a mixed bag. The environments all look pretty nice, but Master Higgins's animations are wonky at best, sometimes seeming as if there are frames missing from each one. Another seemingly massive oversight is that there is no widescreen display option; if you've got a widescreen TV you'll be left with black borders on both sides of the screen! Audio-wise the game is also pretty disappointing, with only the same three songs during the entire game. In fact, the main game and the mini-games use the exact same music!
That's all the letdowns though, as the game also has more than enough good points. The main game, while easy, is still pretty fun; collecting all the Gold Melons is a nice challenge, and it's just plain fun running along, mowing down everything with axes. To add some replay value there are four shallow but fun mini-games (including one that tests your button-mashing ability) and online leaderboards, where you can upload your best scores and times from both the mini-games and the main game. All mini-games can also be played with another person.
Another nice if slightly unnecessary addition is the "Master Higgins Feats". Essentially just like Xbox 360 achievements and PS3 trophies, these are awards for accomplishing certain tasks. Every time you achieve a certain number of feats you'll be given new grass skirts and caps for Master Higgins to wear, including a red cap so you can make him look like he used to! Some of the feats are incredibly hard though; one of them asks you to equal Takahashi Meijin's superhuman button-mashing record of sixteen shots a second!
It's a difficult task to judge Adventure Island: The Beginning. On the one hand, the gameplay is virtually unchanged from the original game and it's still lots of fun to play, even though it's incredibly easy now. Sadly you just can't help but notice all the oversights, such as the lack of a widescreen option, the jerky animations and the lack of a "classic" mode for the main game. It all makes you wonder how on earth Hudson Soft could have neglected to include such things. Still, any fan of the old games will like this, and even if you weren't a fan, you might still enjoy it. Let's just hope that Master Higgins's next adventure is a bit more polished.