Adventure Island IV (Famicom) – Retro Game Reviews

Adventure Island IV (Japan)

Before I started this series of reviews, I was completely unaware that there even was a fourth 8-bit Adventure Island game, which isn’t very surprising since it’s never been released outside of Japan.

Adventure Island IV features a lot of changes to the standard Adventure Island formula. Instead of a straight platformer, AI4 takes place in a Metroidvania-style open world. The witch doctor kidnaps your five dinosaur pals and later your girlfriend and you must travel through six zones collecting new weapons and items and defeating bosses to rescue your friends.

Higgins (technically Takahashi, I suppose) controls similarly to previous games, except that your can no longer hold B to run and the height of your jumps is no longer determined by your speed. One-hit deaths are gone too. Instead you start with two hit points and more can be added by finding heart containers. Your primary weapon is throwing bones, which function the same way as axes in previous games (axes can be unlocked later and do more damage), but you also have a wide variety of other weapons and items which are unlocked by defeating bosses and can be swapped at any time via the pause menu.

There are six zones in the game, each having a miniboss to unlock a weapon or item to help you progress (hammers can be used to smash rocks, torches can light up dark areas, etc.) and a main boss that will unlock an additional item and free one of your dinosaurs. Once you free a dinosaur you can go to a ranch near Higgins’ house to bring one them with you, and you can switch between riding your dinosaur or using your normal weapons with the pause menu. However, if you get hit while riding your dinosaur, it’ll disappear, and you’ll have to go all the way back to the ranch to get it back.

If you lose all your hearts, you’ll be sent back to Higgins’ house (where you can also rest to restore your hearts and get a save-password at any time) but you’re given a teleportation egg at the beginning of the game that you can place on pedestals throughout the world to create a warp point, so you don’t need to replay the same area over again.

You can only access one zone to start with, with additional zones being unlocked in order after you defeat the previous zone’s boss, so there’s no opportunity for sequence breaking. However, you can revisit previously unlocked zones at any time to search for heart containers that weren’t accessible your first time through.

There are a number of minigames that can be found throughout the game. Some of them are mandatory to progress, while others let you win various items to restore your health or a compass that will tell you which direction to go, though navigation is still pretty easy without it.

Thankfully, Adventure Island IV ditches the geometric art style and frustrating level design of the third game, and builds off what the previous games (particularly the second one) did right to create something familiar to fans but at the same time unique to the series. Of the four 8-bit Adventure Island games, it’s probably the easiest thanks having multiple hit points, but there’s still plenty of challenge, especially in boss fights.

If you’re a purist, the game is for the most part playable for non-Japanese speakers, but I still recommend downloading the English-patched version which can easily be found online.

Adventure Island IV is my second-favorite entry in the series so far. Adventure Island II is still the best one, but if you’re a fan of series and have never picked this one up, give it a shot because it’s a lot of fun.

Final Rating: 4/5

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PS1) – Retro Game Reviews

Image result for castlevania symphony of the night

When approaching a game like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, there’s always the worry that it won’t live up to the hype. Despite selling poorly upon initial release, SOTN’s reputation quickly spread through word of mouth, and now it frequently appears on lists of the greatest video games ever made. Coming out early in the PS1 lifespan when most games were experimenting with clunky 3D, SOTN instead takes pixel art to a level previous consoles simply weren’t capable of. Add to that CD quality sound and a huge map full of unique enemies and it’s not hard to see why gamers back in 1997 were blown away, and for me at least, Symphony of the Night completely holds up.

Symphony marks a departure from previous Castlevania games in many ways. Instead of controlling a member of the Belmont clan, you play as Alucard, the son of Dracula and a supporting character from Castlevania III. While previous Castlevania games are fairly linear, SOTN places you in the middle of a large, winding castle to explore at your own discretion. Some areas require power-ups to access, but a large amount of castle is open to you right away provided you can survive the more powerful enemies guarding some segments.

Though often compared with Super Metroid, director Koji Igarashi was instead inspired by the dungeons in the original Legend of Zelda, and there are some key difference between the Metroid and Igarashi-vania games. In Metroid, everything is about conquering your environment with the enemies being just one more obstacle. Most enemies can be taken care of very easily with a few shots from Samus’ trusty arm-cannon or avoided entirely.  In SOTN and its follow-ups however, dispatching enemies is the primary focus. Most rooms have a very basic layout and the challenge comes from memorizing attack patterns and juggling enemies. Avoiding enemies isn’t really an option until you acquire the bat transformation midway through the game, and unlike Metroid, you receive XP for defeating enemies, further incentivizing direct confrontation.

Health pick-ups are rare in SOTN. Instead you’ll spend most of the game slashing through gauntlets of monsters in search of the next save point to restore your HP. This can lead a lot of harrowing moments where you’re one or two hits away from dying and have no idea when you’ll get another chance to save. Enemies respawn when you exit a room, so you’re often left with no choice other than to keep plowing forward and hope for the best.

When you die, not only do you lose all progress since your previous save, but you’ll be greeted with a Game Over and kicked back to the title screen, so it takes several minutes in total before you can reload your save and get back into the game. Some might see this as a design flaw, but it gives death in SOTN an impact it wouldn’t have if you could instantly hop back in right where you left off. (Don’t even get me started on how the fetishization of flow has ruined modern game design.)

The gothic atmosphere is nailed perfectly, from the enemies and the backgrounds to the story and the soundtrack. Each area of the castle is populated with its own unique monsters cribbed from every corner of horror lore, everything from werewolves, demons and haunted suits of armor to Lovecraftian eldergods and of course the notorious Medusa heads. The boss fights don’t disappoint either. Some are so huge they can’t even fit on screen, and between the difficulty and some of the best sprite work in any game ever, they’ll stick in your mind (and haunt your dreams) long after you finish playing.

The gameplay mechanics are polished to near perfection. Alucard is as graceful and deadly as a vampire should be, and you really feel like a badass helping him slash his way through waves of enemies. As you explore the castle and grow more powerful, you go from feeling like an invader surrounded by hostile foes to the master of the house surveying your domain and clearing away pests.

There are a ton of different weapons and power-ups to experiment with and hidden areas to find, giving the game a lot of replay value and facilitating different play styles. Your primary weapon is the sword, but there are also brass knuckles, daggers and rods with different attack rates and ranges. The game fully takes advantage of Alucard’s vampiric nature, allowing you to transform into a bat, a wolf or a cloud of mist (each of which is upgradable) and unlock a number of familiars to help you in combat.

One big annoyance is that it isn’t always clear what different items and power-ups do, so you might want to have a strategy guide handy. And once you have a large number of different items, it can be a pain to scroll through searching for the one you want. There are also spells that can be activated with button combinations, but I found these next-to-impossible to pull off with any consistency. Since none of the spells are necessary for completing the game, I ended up just ignoring them.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is something all gamers owe it to themselves to experience at least once, especially fans of gothic horror. It might not be a perfect game, but it’s pretty damn close. More than two decades after its initial release, it’s aged incredibly well and will likely stand as one of the true masterpieces of gaming for the rest of time.

Final Rating: 5/5 – Must Play