The Theory of Evolution has been contested practically from its inception, back when Charles Darwin hopped back on the HMS Beagle and a deckhand started reading his notes and shouting, “Nuh uh!” Since then, Evolution has been a very divisive topic. This is to be expected, as a healthy portion of the population seems to believe that the mere existence of evolution somehow precludes the existence of a caring deity/universe. As such, Evolution’s opponents have composed a litany of “problems” with the theory over the last century, seeking to disprove a scientific theory with “scientific” facts that are primarily grounded in subjective reasoning. Yes, there are problems with the Theory of Evolution, but asserting that no one has actually seen a chimp give birth to a human isn’t going to slay the big bad Science Dragon.
A similar assertion is that Evolution doesn’t make enough “sense”. This anti-theory goes something like, “why don’t we still have tails, they’d be useful!” or “what’s the deal with the pinky finger? Male nipples? Appendix? We don’t need any of that!” In short, if Evolution is responsible for transforming monkeys into big, bad humans, why didn’t it make us, ya know, better? We’re apex predators, and why isn’t that more literal? We should have crazy head spikes and murder claws and laserbeam eyes! Evolution isn’t real, because if it was, we’d have more dangerbeasts running around.
And to that I offer the counterexample of Super Adventure Island 2.
Adventure Island, the original “Adventure Island 1”, is the story of Master Higgins, a half-naked man on a quest across islands to rescue a princess (Tina, her sister, came later). Adventure Island is, basically, the prototypical “endless runner” game. Higgins must keep moving forward and gulping randomly appearing fruit, because, should he ever go hungry, he will die immediately. I think it’s some kind of psychological disorder. Whatever the reason, Higgins must devour all, and will only find assistance in the form of primitive axes (okay) or skateboards (what?), while everything else on the island exists only to one-hit-kill our tropical hero. It’s a hard life.
It’s also Wonder Boy’s life.
Wonder Boy was a Sega Arcade title, and, when Hudson Soft was tasked with porting the game to home consoles, they dropped the titular Wonder Boy, and inserted their own company mascot, Takahashi Meijin aka Master Higgins, into the starring role. This means that, ultimately, Wonder Boy and Adventure Island had the exact same starting point, give or take a baseball cap.
Wonder Boy changed immediately. Wonder Boy 2 aka Wonder Boy in Monster Land became much more of an “adventure” type game. Wonder Boy collected and spent gold, spoke to “helpful” medieval villagers, and even gained a life gauge to weather all those monster hits. While there was a regressive Monster Lair quest in there, by and large, Wonder Boy continued on this adventure trajectory straight on through to Monster World IV, which dropped Wonder Boy entirely for a Wonder Girl, but still maintained the delightful adventure trappings of the franchise.
Adventure Island, meanwhile, iterated only on the established “endless runner” gameplay. In fact, while each Adventure Island sequel did add new innovations, it seemed like each game also dropped a useful skill. Adventure Island 2 introduced an inventory system and the ability to ride dinosaur pals (before Yoshi ever bust out of his shell), but also lost the ability to upgrade powerups and stage checkpoints. Adventure Island 3 added a duck command (eat it, Mega Man), but forsook backtracking and mobile bosses. And SNES launch(ish) title Super Adventure Island picked up gorgeous graphics but eschewed any and all dinosaur pals. Alright, maybe the games weren’t released in that order, but close enough…
Adventure Island 4 (for the NES) was a departure from the runner basics of the previous titles. It… also never got out of Japan. I’ve never played it. I should look it up some time. I hear there’s an Eggplant Wizard in there.
Super Adventure Island 2 is theoretically (I can’t play every video game!) a continuation of Adventure Island 4’s innovations. SAI2 is an adventure game. Master Higgins drops the grass skirt for a full set of armor, trades his hammer for a sword and magic wand, and rafts around various “adventure islands” in pursuit of treasure and items. Every “stage” has straightforward objectives like “fight the boss”, but also hidden treasures gated behind abilities you’ll earn on other islands. There’s an overworld and a menu screen. There aren’t many “villagers” to speak to, but you can return to talk to the king for tips on betrothed rescuing/wife swapping. There’s an inn that restores health and magic. And if you don’t spend half your time skulking around the map looking for heart containers, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Adventure Island is again, after a few years of divergence, a Monster World game.
And, frankly, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had with Master Higgins. Everything that was Adventure Island got tossed in the garbage (Higgins has amnesia, so he doesn’t even remember his strange fruit compulsion), and, in its place was basically The Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link 2. Even that Higgins on a raft sprite looks pretty damn familiar. Considering The Adventure of Link never saw a proper sequel, it was a blast to find similar gameplay on the “revolutionary” Super Nintendo. Pretty graphics, engrossing exploratory gameplay? What’s not to like?
And I’ve been asking that for years, because what do Super Adventure Island 2, Monster World 4, and The Adventure of Link all have in common? They’re evolutionary dead ends.
Wonder Boy/Monster World was just plain never seen again. “Zelda” obviously saw sequels for the rest of time, but none of them seemed particularly beholden to The Adventure of Link’s gameplay. And as for Master Higgins? Well, Adventure Island made it past the SNES in the form of the WiiWare title Adventure Island: The Beginning. It… wasn’t any good. What’s more, it was a return to the “original” Adventure Island gameplay, and completely dropped any and all adventure elements to accommodate Higgins’s enormous appetite. Sorry, folks, 2-D Adventure games just don’t work.
Video game producers are not making games for the hell of it. Obviously, every video game designer, from the staff at Nintendo to that one lonely guy coding Centaur Panty Fighter 2, wants to see their game succeed, and, during production, believes that the game being produced will be accepted. In short, there are dedicated, intelligent designers responsible for Wonder Boy and Adventure Island that both came to the same point of creating 16-bit, 2-D adventure games. And they both completely failed, taking the franchises with them.
Take a look at observable, historical evolution, and you’ll see that it’s a process, and even when it has the best of intentions, well… sometimes it doesn’t quite work. Evolution is Evolution, and part of evolution is failure. Adventure Island might just be Mauritius.
FGC #126 Super Adventure Island 2
- System: Super Nintendo, though also available on the Wii Virtual Console. Not the WiiU Virtual Console, though…
- Number of Players: Sorry, no co-op adventuring for you. Just one player.
- The Adventure of Master Higgins: Seriously, this game is biting on Zelda 2 so hard. You could argue LOZ:TAOL didn’t invent the rhythm of “go to dungeon, beat boss, find some random knickknack in subdungeon to access next dungeon, repeat forever”, but when you’ve got a game that also teaches a hero “random magic”, “upslash”, and “downslash”, then similarities start to become apparent.
- Favorite Island: The “ice stage”, Hiya-Hiya Isle, is a tower containing a “puzzle” that involves tossing an ice block off the top so it can destroy an ice barrier in the basement. I think that’s neat. The stage’s layout vaguely reminds me of Ducktales’ Moon Stage, too, and that’s always a good thing. Also, the boss of the level is a Wooly Mammoth still frozen in ice. Master Higgins… can’t you just walk around that dude?
- Did you know? There was an anime based on Adventure Island… sorta. It featured the little fairy creature that occasionally helps Master Higgins during his adventures, and she was responsible for banding together a group of random children to rescue a kidnapped Master Higgins and Tina. Bomberman was in one episode. It ran for 51 episodes and a movie. Clerks the Animated Series aired two episodes.
- Would I play again: Yes. I like this game. Back when I was cashing in points on Club Nintendo, one of my last “purchases” was this very game. Granted, it’s because I had already purchased pretty much everything else offered, but I think I chose this one over downloading a random Castlevania game I also already owned.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ichy and Scratchy the Game for SNES! Another SNES game, this time of… decreased quality. Please look forward to it, I think!