Sometimes I think I need a modern gaming system, sometimes I’m not so sure.

I spent a lot of last week playing FINAL FANTASY II on the SNES — the original U.S. version of the game we’ve come to know, via PlayStation-era and later rereleases, as FINAL FANTASY IV. I’ve had that cart in my possession for most of the past decade, but never finished it after my save file magically got corrupted and leveled up and weird. Right now, though, I’m taking a break from it to play this (not my video, BTW) …

I do love a good 16-bit platformer. There’s something about the vivid colors, the round and almost cuddly shading, and the upbeat synth background music that I find endearing and somewhat relaxing. In particular, I find the ADVENTURE ISLAND series interesting and entertaining because of its bizarre relationship to two other 16-bit era platformer series that I have much stronger feelings about: the BONK series and the WONDER BOY series.

(BONK’S REVENGE is the pinnacle to which the series never soared again; BONK’S ADVENTURE was a blast, but was crude by comparison; BONK 3: BONK’S BIG ADVENTURE had stiffer, less fluid controls and had size-changing, which was neat, but was thematically inconsistent and felt off.)

Both the ADVENTURE ISLAND and BONK series were Hudson Soft properties, and the latter was in fact based on a comic strip character who used to appear in a Japanese gaming magazine, PC DENJIN — a game magazine focused on the PC Engine console, the system that would come out in the U.S. as the Turbo Grafx-16. The BONK games certainly look strikingly similar to the ADVENTURE ISLAND games, but then there aren’t worlds of difference between cutesy prehistoric jungles and cutesy not-so-prehistoric jungles. Mind you, the two series play very differently; ADVENTURE ISLAND is all about sprinting through the level before your health meter drip, drip, drips away, while BONK operates without a time limit and ultimately allows for a more adventurous, exploration-based play style. ADVENTURE ISLAND’s play style is like a more frantic take on the original SUPER MARIO BROS, while BONK feels more like the more offbeat SUPER MARIO BROS 2 (a game I’ve always really, really liked).

The thing about ADVENTURE ISLAND, though, is that it’s not really the creation of Hudson Soft — the first game in the series was a NES/Famicom port of an arcade game by Sega and Westone called WONDER BOY. Sega owned the characters, but Westone (then known as Escape) owned the game itself, so they got together with Hudson and released the game with a wholly different title and main character; where WONDER BOY’s hero was a blonde cave boy, ADVENTURE ISLAND’s hero was a pudgy loincloth and ball cap-clad caricature of real life gaming enthusiast & pitchman Takahashi Meijin (“Master Takahashi”), who was, at the time, Hudson’s mascot in advertising and at gaming events and such. And while Westone and Sega would go on to totally transform the WONDER BOY formula for the second game — turning it into a side-scrolling RPG-lite, with money gathering, sword and armor-buying, and health bar leveling up becoming key play mechanics — Hudson Soft would simply tweak the original WONDER BOY formula for the follow-ups, keeping it a fairly pure, fast-paced platforming experience. As for the further evolution of the WONDER BOY series, this 2008 IGN article tracks every entry, from the arcades to the Genesis; honestly, one of the two or three games I miss on the Genesis is WONDER BOY IN MONSTER WORLD. *sigh*

One of the things you lose in a more connected, more globally consistent and branding-conscious world is labyrinthine nonsense like this; one of the sideshows I enjoy in the WONDER BOY story is that two games in the series were released in Brazil with the graphics and story replaced with character and story elements from a locally popular cartoon series about a rambunctious little girl. That’s just not something that happens anymore. Likewise if a game got a completely different coat of paint and was released under a different title on another platform you’d hear quite the hue and cry today from a reactionary and self-entitled fan base.

I’ll probably be returning to FINAL FANTASY II before too long; I was going to have the day off today, which would have given me some quality time with it, but my manager at work lost control of his vehicle during last night’s snowstorm and wound up in a ditch, so I’ve gotta take his shift. Thing is, SUPER ADVENTURE ISLAND is something I just acquired within the last week, and bought primarily as a, let’s say, “shipping sweetener”; I was in the mood for a 16-bit platformer, and also wanted to make the shipping on another SNES cart a wee bit more worth it. That other SNES cart? FINAL FANTASY III, the original U.S. version of FINAL FANTASY VI — a game my pal Levi has been singing the praises of to me for about as long as I’ve known him.

Now, in the late 1990’s I once watched some guys start to play FINAL FANTASY VI and I was bored and confused. “This is slow. These don’t look like main characters. Who are these people? Am I supposed to care? Why do they have robot suits? Why are there robot suits in a game called FINAL FANTASY? There’s some weird girl here. What’s her deal?” My hope is that I don’t have a flashback to that when playing it for myself, or I might be in for a rough ride …

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