The Adventure Island series started out with an almost exact clone of Wonder Boy, but as Wonder Boy became more of an action RPG rather than an action platformer, Adventure Island sequels stuck with the same formula as the first game and built upon it slightly with each release. In Adventure Island II and the later Adventure Island III, this meant the inclusion of the dinosaurs and reserve items, but curiously Super Adventure Island takes a step back instead of forward.
It's a pretty standard affair for Master Higgins: his girlfriend's once again been kidnapped, so he's got to run through a bunch of worlds in an attempt to get her back. His arguably greatest foe is not a single one of the monsters found in the game, but rather his portliness – as time goes by, he will lose health simply because he's getting tired, which means you'll have to grab some food floating around every now and then to stay alive.
Higgins's arsenal is pretty bare this time around, with just the standard axe and boomerang available. Picking up several of the same weapon in a row will allow you to throw multiple simultaneously, while grabbing even more will turn them into clusters of purple energy balls. While functionally the same, these do much more damage, allowing you to kill tougher enemies in one hit instead of the two it usually takes. Of course, the trademark skateboard also makes an appearance in a few levels, making you go at a much faster speed and giving you one extra hit point, but as usual, you can't stop moving while on it, so you'll have to exercise extra care.
Your adventure will take you through all the standard Adventure Island locales, including jungle, desert, volcano, mine and a snowy area, but you'll find that it's a much shorter journey this time around. While previous games had eight worlds with about four levels each, there's only five worlds with three levels each here, and they're usually very short. Each world concludes with a radically different boss fight, which can actually prove fairly challenging, especially the tricky final boss.
There's really only one truly new gameplay aspect to Super Adventure Island compared to the previous games, and that is that Higgins now has the ability to do an extra high leap by holding the down button and jumping. This can make avoiding certain enemies much easier, and it also greatly helps with platforming. Bonus stages are also still around in this instalment, once again found by jumping to spots where your weapons hit a seemingly invisible object.
All in all, Super Adventure Island is a bit lacking in content compared to its predecessors. There's not nearly as much variety in the items, and the game is over before you know it; you can probably beat the entire thing in half an hour if you know what you're doing. However, it's still very fun, and perfect for when you feel like going through a game that's not too long but still challenging.
Only one thing about Super Adventure Island truly stands out: the soundtrack. Composed by Yuzo Koshiro of Streets of Rage and ActRaiser fame, this game features some fantastic, extremely catchy hip hop-esque tunes. In fact, we'd almost say the music alone is worth the price of the game. At the very least, look it up somewhere, it's worth a listen!
The graphics are pretty good as well, with 16-bit Higgins looking pretty much exactly like you'd imagine after making the jump from the NES. The locales are all pretty attractive as well, and there's actually, surprisingly, not a single environment which appears in more than one stage.
It's a bit strange that Super Adventure Island actually removes some ideas instead of adding more, but it's still an entertaining platformer and a worthy entry in the Adventure Island series. You'll finish it in a jiffy, but that makes it all the more suitable for quick, challenging playthroughs. At the very least, you're getting a fantastic soundtrack!