It's often said that there's no such thing as a bad idea, that it just needs the right moment to shine. More than any other medium video games like to rehash what's come before, retrofitting old concepts into new titles for something that can feel wholly unique while paying tribute to what's come before. For instance, one might think that the coming of the "endless runner" was a happenstance occurrence that blew up on mobile a few years ago and is now increasingly common. Sometimes, though, digging into the past will make you realize that what you thought was new was actually something old first.
Although it's a complicated tale to tell, the New Adventure Island series was an off-shoot of Wonder Boy. What the original Wonder Boy was is close to what we consider an endless runner now. What you need to know is that the hero, in this case Master Higgins, can stop…but he can't really stop. While he has a vitality gauge that you can constantly fill by collecting fruit as you go, it actually serves as a timer and not a life bar. Rather, if you don't fill the bar as it quickly ticks away…well, then you're done.
Take a hit from an enemy? Done. Fall into a pit? Done. Jump into a spiked log? Well, you get the picture.
Platformers back in the day needed a gimmick to stick out in a rather crowded market at the time. While some opted to remove elements (like jumping in Bionic Commando) or added a more complex combat system (such as the rock/paper/scissors mechanic of Mega Man), New Adventure Island made its name by being an amalgamation of the jump happy Super Mario Bros. and the inherent haste of something like Pac-Man.
New Adventure Island gives you a few levels to get your proverbial sea legs, but after a time you realize that dawdling is not an option and that running is your only recourse. If left to his own devices Master Higgins runs in place, looking much like a toddler who's desperately on the search for a potty. This is your not-so-subtle reminder that you have to go, go, go!
The best way to play is to constantly sprint, tackling obstacles and enemies in a hurry. After some practice you'll begin to realize that enemies have tells and patterns, that rocks will merely trip you but make you wary around ledges and that certain weapons affect things differently. The only respite you have is through boss battles, in which Master Higgins must tackle various bipedal animals before moving onto the next world. With the exception of the last boss they all have similar attack patterns, just using different weapons. They are a means to an end, but not the point of the game.
The conceit of New Adventure Island is the mastery of its controls, the environment and the player's ability to foresee what's ahead and overcome it. Practice makes perfect and practice is what you'll be doing a lot – this game can get tough! Thankfully you have an unlimited number of continues (or a surreptitious use of restore points!) to help you along as you memorize the levels, the power-up egg locations within and the patterns of enemies throughout. Eventually it's just easier to jump, zigzag and dodge whatever is ahead rather than tackling foes head on, and it's at this point where players will find their moment of Zen.
While not an endless runner per se, New Adventure Island is definitely a progenitor of it. Throughout its seven worlds you'll find challenges more suited to getting to the end of it as quickly and proficiently as possible rather than deft exploration. It suited Master Higgins and differentiated him from the rest of the pack, and perhaps inspired a genre all its own.
New Adventure Island caters to a specific mind set, and those hoping that it is something along the vein of your average platformer will leave wanting something else. What's here is fodder for a generation of speed runners - the type of player who sees losing not as a nuisance but as a lesson in commanding what's in front of them. Sure, you could spam the save states and see it to the end, but that would be missing the point. Saving your beloved Tina may be the goal, but doing so with finesse and grace is the point.