Adventure Island Sucks

"Whoa, wait.
I have to do what?"
"You have to jump over each octopus. You can't stop and you can't make a mistake. That egg that's normally a powerup actually means instant death in this instance. You can't tell beforehand. If you're too slow, you die due to time running out. If you're too fast, you die due to enemies coming out of nowhere. Some platforms fall, some do not. You're given no warning. If you die while near checkpoint 3, you'll start there without a hammer and it will be impossible to proceed. All jumps require perfect timing, or you die. Also, the hit detection is buggy. Your character is fat and slips around all over the place, and even when you pass this level you've still got 11 more to go before you beat the game."
"Why am I playing this game again?"
"If you don't want to play ..."
"No way, you wait your turn."

This whole scenario started like most great and painful ideas do, with a reasonable amount of alcohol. We have a night of sh*tty movies lined up when my friend informs me of his recent purchase of an old school NES. It's a nice setup, with Super Mario 1 and 3, Mega Man 3, Life Force and ... Adventure Island. The name fires off a long neglected neuron in the back of my internet-soaked mind. Adventure Island is supposedly one of the hardest/buggiest NES games ever made. I could only recall several people cursing it's name, not what caused the trauma to begin with, so I decided to take a crack at a level or two.

He had already made it to world 6-1, which is evidently when the designers decided to stop making a game and start making a machine that forces children to cry. It seems to work equally well on grown men. Each movement requires precision timing, which frequently isn't enough as the game is so buggy and laggy that you die regardless. A decent amount of luck is required to get through any later level in Adventure Island, but world 6-1 is the worst I have played by far. By the time we beat that level, I have each jump and platform imprinted on my brain. I can still recall the tricky frogs just past checkpoint 3. But we eventually beat 6-1.

The experience takes me back to the most recent action game I played, Prey. Prey was a great roller coaster while it lasted, full of neat encounters and interesting takes on FPS gameplay. You know what I remember most about Prey? The opening bar sequence. By far, the best part of Prey, drops you in a bar bathroom and lets you explore, trying to figure out what you're doing here. It doesn't take long for you to figure out that it has something to do with good-looking bartender up front, which when you find her you trigger the beginning of the FPS sequences proper. Still, I wandered around for a good 15 minutes trying to figure out how to get to the action. Just exploring the bar was the most enjoyable 15 minutes of the entire game. The rest of the game is pretty much a blur.

Prey was a wondeful ride, great hills, rolling valleys, and tons of velocity. All on a smooth, climate-controlled, lap-restraint, double-padded, you-must-be-this-tall-to-ride track. I can't recall one instance where I was hurting for any reason. 300 billion aliens destroying the human race, all gunning for me, and I don't think I broke a sweat once. I'm not that great either. I've played FPS games against people who are good and they were bored with my antics. But in Prey, I was a god.

Adventure Island sucked up hours of that night: it turns out the movies were worse than we'd thought. By the end of it, I was still plugging away at the NES, cursing Adventure Island's chubby little protagonist to one of the more annoying and inventive corners of hell. While I wouldn't describe the experience as mind-blowing fun, I remember every enemy, every jump in those levels. I could draw you a map of 6-1 from memory.

I don't remember anything about Prey. And the reason I don't is the same reason Superman is boring. Always winning sucks. In order for a character to be interesting, they have to be faced with interesting decisions. What's interesting about the choice between winning and also winning? I know I was riveted in Superman Returns when he had a choice between saving the day by pushing things or pushing things really hard. In Prey, I was faced with a similar dilemma and it was spellbinding! Truly a decision of epic proportions. Should I shoot them or should I shoot them? Either way, I win. Hell, I could run through and not shoot anything and still have a chance of winning most of the time. There's just no struggle, no drama to it. Why go on when you know it's always going to turn out the same way?

So should enemies in games have crazy hitpoints and precisely timed jumping puzzles? Hell no. I'm not advocating Adventure Island 3D. As hilarious as it would be for someone to make that game, I'm not sure I'd want to play it. Requiring memorization and ridiculous timing just to move forward in a game is frustrating and self-defeating. If 99.9% of the time you end up dead, is that any better than always winning? At least that way, you've got the .1% of the time where something dramatic and interesting could happen. I may not remember anything about Prey, but I can remember the time we got lucky and made it through world 6-3 in Adventure Island. Can't we find a middle ground where the player isn't Superman that doesn't devolve into a sadomasochistic beatdown?

All I know is, Adventure Island sucks. But hey, I've only got 5 more levels to go.

Comments

Definitely one of the most accurate descriptions of that game. I don't know if I'd call that one of the buggiest games on the NES. It was definitely buggy, there's no doubt about it, but if you want to see a bug-ridden mess, check out Strider. There is something to be said for games that are so mind-blowingly difficult that if you can get through them, you'll be left with a huge sense of satisfaction. I have a number of games I'm working on from time to time just because I don't want to give them up. I know I'll be immensely gratified at the end. If you're into games that will drive you to madness with their difficulty, I'd suggest trying some of the following as well in no particular order:

1. Abadox (NES)
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES, The First One)
3. Ikaruga (Dreamcast/GameCube)
4. Maximo & Maximo Vs. Arm of Zin (PS2, First one is the harder one due to the save system)
5. Mega Man 1 (NES)
6. Devil May Cry 3 (PS2, Even Easy is a brutal nightmare)
7. Ninja Gaiden (Xbox, I think everyone knows this one but its worth mentioning)
8. Contra (NES) & Contra Shattered Soldier (PS2) (The original is well-known, but the PS2 one is far worse if you can believe it. Stylez and I have been working on it for months and can't get past the second level.)

I'm sure I'll think of more eventually. I actually haven't beat any of these games yet, but I still work on them all because I know it's going to be an unmatched high when I do.

PyromanFO wrote:

Always winning sucks.

Great article. I'd like to add Legendary Wings (NES) as a ridiculously hard game.

Parallax Abstraction wrote:

2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES, The First One)
8. Contra (NES) & Contra Shattered Soldier (PS2) (The original is well-known, but the PS2 one is far worse if you can believe it. Stylez and I have been working on it for months and can't get past the second level.)

Speak it.

I recall Battletoads also having some brutally timed sequences (specifically, when you're driving that jetski-thing). I remember that just after I finally beat that level for the first time, my older brother turned off the NES because I hadn't done something he told me to do. I was so furious I roared and flipped over the couch. HULK SMASH!

Parallax Abstraction wrote:

7. Ninja Gaiden (Xbox, I think everyone knows this one but its worth mentioning)

Screw the Xbox version. The original NES Ninja Gaiden is the hardest goddamn game ever made. I tried to sell my soul to get past Stage 6-2, and but to no avail: Even the devil can't get past the Flock of Swooping Demon Eagles.

ETA: Good article, Pyro!

Ya see!? Pyroman's talking about the difficulty we all know and love. Not only is the game hard, but it's buggy too! All you sissies complaining about Ninja Gaiden Black's difficulty look no further!

Katerin: I agree. The very fact you made it to 6-2 has earned you a place in my heart and a small shrine for the victorious few on my bookcase.

Yes, I forgot the original NES Ninja Gaiden. That too was brutally hard. Really, I think every game with the Ninja Gaiden banner is insane. I also just remembered a classic that I should be slapped for missing: Bionic Commando! Long game, brutally hard platforming puzzles and no saving whatsoever, not even passwords. If there's one game that was screaming for a remake...

And Stylez, you're still a snob. But I have to admit, when we finally beat Shattered Soldier (hey, we should try that Monday), I imagine we'll be shouting it from the rooftops too since we'll probably be two of only like fifty people to have beaten it.

Yeah good call. We'll give that another go monday. If I'm employed, I'll bring the beers!

Ok, all you masochistic gaming difficulty junkies, methinks you're missing the point of the article that's in the last complete paragraph. Pyro, in his decidedly finite if barely exponential wisdom, did say unto you, lo just half a page up:

Can't we find a middle ground where the player isn't Superman that doesn't devolve into a sadomasochistic beatdown?

Amen, mortal!

Someone pointed out earlier that the fear of death has been trivialized to a point where it's merely inconvenient (quicksaves) to nonexistent (Prey). Games are supposed to be challenging. If you take that challenge away what you end up with is a game that's over far too fast that requires no skill and leaves no lasting impression.

I say bring on the Contras, the Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighters, the Ninja Gaidens and the Devil May Cry!

Or maybe they missed the title of the article "Adventure Island Sucks"

*edit* The key is balance, not "make it so hard I want to pound nails into my skull just to make it stop".

You can tell me it sucks, but the feeling of elation you get from beating a certain challenge far outweighs the tear-inducing-controller-flingin' aspect of it all.

Take Ninja Gaiden for example (Again! I know, shut up). The bone dragon fight. I spent a weekend. 6 hours both days trying to beat this boss. I died, and died and died some more, but then it clicked, as most games do after a certain amount of time, and I took the bastard down. Of course this elation lasted only until the next boss fight. But hey, maybe some of us are still suckers for a sadomasochistic beatdown?

**edit**
Agree on balance. Or at least put an "old people" mode in or something

Wow. I had actually managed to block my memories of Adventure Island. Thanks for bringing them back. Jerk.

Oh, good article, though.

the feeling of elation you get from beating a certain challenge far outweighs the tear-inducing-controller-flingin' aspect of it all.

For you, maybe. Not I. To each their own, but I'm not interested in spending any part of my precious gaming time being frustrated. Challenged is one thing, but not frustrated. I just pack that crap up and send it back from whence it came.

I spent a weekend. 6 hours both days trying to beat this boss. I died, and died and died some more, but then it clicked, as most games do after a certain amount of time, and I took the bastard down.

Sounds like as much fun as dental surgery. Pass!

PyromanFO wrote:

What's interesting about the choice between winning and also winning? I know I was riveted in Superman Returns when he had a choice between saving the day by pushing things or pushing things really hard. In Prey, I was faced with a similar dilemma and it was spellbinding!

You neglect the key difference between Superman Returns and Prey. One of Superman's powers is that when he tries really hard the greatest John Williams theme ever starts to play. I'm pretty sure that's part of the DC canon now.

Hmm. Maybe Abadox, bad Ikari Warriors reload that led to you stuck in a square area, Ikari Warriors 2, and Conquest of the Crystal Castles for NES.

TMNT? Mega Man 1? Really? Maybe I'm more of a god than I thought... (Of course, maybe I'm mis-remembering how hard those games were. I guess that's a possibility. Actually, it's only a possibility for TMNT; Mega Man wasn't that hard.)

Bionic Commando does not deserve a place on any of these lists. Yes, the lack of save system was an issue, but that game wasn't that hard. I remember keeping the NES on for two days straight while I played that. I was three or four levels from the end when the stupid cable guy unplugged my Nintendo. I was so pissed off that I restarted and made through the entire game on one play, dying on the last boss that turned out to be a timed shot that I missed.

I loved that game.

I think you are remembering those games wrong. I tried Mega Man 1 again recently on the GameCube and yeah, it's still really tough. Are you thinking of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? The one that had the top-down map that you walked through to find your next platforming bit? That's the hard one. The other games in the series were just side-scrolling beat-em'-ups and they were pretty simple I agree. Bionic Commando was hard if you didn't just leave your NES on until you beat it. I meant trying to beat it in one sitting which is likely what Capcom intended.

Nice topic Pyro, good job.

I love to play all kinds of games, but I kinda suck, and I'm ok with that, usually. My oldest sister, my mom and myself stayed up all night a few times trying to get past the jumping spiders in Fester's Quest, passing off the controller as each one got irritated to the point of passing off the controller. It sorta drove me mad that I would have to start all over with a single-shot gun and grind my way back to the spiders, but it was sort of addicting, just trying to see if I could make it past *this next time*. I never made it very far in Ninja Gaiden and didn't even work on it enough to remember how far I got, I lost interest before the addiction set in. But, I just have to ask, anyone else play Low G Man? I think that was the name of it. Damn, that game gave me lots of sleepless nights, and I never could get past the first few screens. I just kept trying because I figured there must have been some fun in there somewhere if only I could just get there. Any of you that say this was an easy game can just, well, you can just play it for me.

On a more positive note, and apart from NES, I think Psychonauts is a game that meets the in-between Pyro was talking about. I thought it was very challenging, but doable, and with a little practice I was able to beat levels that at first shot seemed ridiculously hard. Still, I have yet to finish the game. I need to get back to it someday.

Good article. Hey Pyro, you remember a couple years ago when we rented the PS2 contra because we remembered the NES one so fondly? And how we wanted to smash the tv because of how horrible it was made? Anyway I digress, I completely agree other than I would rather be some sort of gaming god in a particular game than a high-blood-pressured-nuerotic-mess trying to get through the game.

Isn't online gaming where the perfect balance is? Or at least you can find that server with just the right people for you. But this nice article was probably meant for the Single Player games.

I loved the balance in Baldur's Gate 1, wich was pretty hard at first with even the easiest encounters, but as your character gained levels they became easier and easier. But still there were plenty hard encounters no matter what level you reached. Very well done.

Great article Pyroman.

Although i would also like the middle ground in most normal "quicksave" games, if the adaptive difficulty in games like Prey worked properly then that too would result in the middle ground.

Like i say, one of my favourite FPS games is FarCry (on realistic) up to the point when you're fighting the monsters. After that the game got a little pointless playing it on a difficulty where you aren't able to backpedal or shoot fast enough.