Reviews Archive
           
  Wonder Boy/Adventure Island
 
 
 
  Graphics
           
 

Master System

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  NES
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  C64
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  Amstrad
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  Spectrum
           
  Detail
 

Master System - The graphics here actually look fairly comparable to the arcade version (though it was a fairly old arcade game by this point). There's decent levels of detail with textured floors, good sprites and familiar backgrounds, but like its other early platforming peers (such as Super Mario Bros on the NES) there's a general lack of different environments. The same four environments are recycled over and over with only a few new environments thrown in here and there later on.

NES - The graphics detail in this version is very similar to the Master System port, there's a few background elements that don't look quite as polished (such as the bushes) but for the most part the environments are quite accurate.

When you move onto the sprites however there's a much bigger disparity in quality. Hudson Soft had to replace most of the sprites here with their own new designs to avoid infringing on Sega's copyrights, and It quickly becomes apparent that the people working on this version of the game, whilst good at emulating the work of others start to have problems when required to make their own designs. The sprites here often just look quite amateurish by comparison, even the main character sprite looks pretty awful, with a gormless looking face complete with wonky mouth (or is it a moustache?) and 1000 yard stare. Other than that there's also a general lack of shading on the sprites which makes them appear closer in quality to the low resolution computer sprites than the Master System game.

C64 - Not up to the standards of the console ports but actually pretty good to be honest. The graphics definitely look blockier here, with low res sprites, but they represent the original graphics fairly well (in a simplistic manner). The ground textures are decent, but textures for the backgrounds (such as for the trees) are noticeably absent.

Amstrad - This version looks to have been ported from the C64 version, as such the actual graphics detail looks to be identical for most of the game, with the colour layout being the only real difference (more on that later).

Spectrum - Probably the most detailed out of the computer ports, but due to its monochrome nature this factor is, to be honest mostly a bad thing. The backgrounds have so much going on in them that due to the monochrome graphics it becomes difficult to actually see what's going on, leading to some frustrating deaths and a messy overall look.

 
  Winner Is: Master System
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  Colour
 

Master System - A very good job has been done of the colour in this version. The overall environments look fairly similar in colour to the original arcade and include a lot of nice shading, with the main difference between this and the arcade version being that some of the pastel colours have had to be replaced with simpler primary colours. The sprites here especially stand out in comparison to the other versions, with many more colours being used. There are a few occasions here and there where I think the colour choices are a little odd, but these instances are few and far between.

NES - Actually, really quite good. The environments seem to be using a few less colours than the Master System port, with certainly a lot less shading and such on the objects, but some of the choices are a little better fitting in my opinion. Sprites wise the colour use is definitely more simplistic than in the Master System. I'd say this version is still nearly on par with the Master System port, but the sprites help to elevate that version a little higher than this one.

C64 - Its decent. Fewer colours are used in this version, and there's not much in the way of shading but most of the levels look alright. The only things I would like to mention are that the forest stages all have black backgrounds, and the cave stages in particular have taken rather a hit graphically as they are now very bare in their colour use (see 3rd screen shot along).

Overall though I'd say this is a fairly good job for C64 though.

Amstrad - Whilst the detail section was very similar to the C64 port, the colour aspect is very different, and much worse. Some of the elements in the stages are completely uncoloured in this version, giving an unfinished look to those areas (see second picture along), whilst others are odd choices (blue caves). Generally I'd say this is quite poor for the Amstrad.

Spectrum - This version is monochrome, with each level being set one colour theme depending on the environment. Due to the lack of colour and messy detail it can be difficult to see what's going on sometimes in this version.

 
  Winner Is: Master System
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  Animation
 

Master System - Good animation, I'd say the best of these five ports.

NES - Pretty good. Certainly nothing special but it does the job. In comparison to the Master System port there seemed to be a few actions with one less frame here (not a big difference I know but enough to give the Master System the win).

C64 - Animation is handled pretty well here. Out of the actions I checked a few of them actually had more frames than the NES version. Unlike the console ports this version also animates the rolling rocks.

Apart from the higher number of frames though, the animation in this version is brought down a bit just due to the fact that there's only so much you can do to animate a character when using pixels this large.

Overall I put this at slightly lower than the NES in quality.

Amstrad - Similar to the C64 version (remember this version's graphics were ported over from that version), but due to it being a little bit slower and glitchier it comes off much worse than the C64 source material overall.

Spectrum - The animation here is pretty poor and looks a little bit weird, not many frames are used either.

 
  Winner Is: Master System
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  Scrolling
 

Master System - Faultless scrolling.

NES - Faultless scrolling

C64 - This version is very smooth, but it doesn't scroll vertically like in the original arcade and console versions (this vertical scrolling is first seen on the cave levels of the arcade and console ports when you go up and down hills).

Amstrad - Decent scrolling, its certainly not smooth but it just about gets the job done.

Spectrum - Its half alright I guess. There's a noticeable step during gameplay which substantially worsens whilst you're on the moving platforms. Like the other two computer ports this doesn't scroll vertically either.

 
  Winner Is: Draw between Master System, and NES
 
  Sound
   
  Music
 

Master System - Whilst this version emulates the music of the arcade very well, the actual arcade game itself suffered somewhat from a lack of variation, with only two main tracks during the game (this was also pretty usual for platformers of the period). The two songs are very good renditions though, one plays during most of the normal stages, and the other during the boss stages, luckily the normal song is just about catchy enough not to get too much on your nerves over time.

NES - All the old music has been replaced with original content. Unlike with what happened with the sprites, the new music has actually been handled quite well. I don't think the quality is quite as high here as with the Master System port, but the important thing about the new content is that the number of tracks has risen, with each environment now having its own specific tune, this higher track number really helps to give a proper soundtrack to the game and breaks up the monotony.

C64 - A pretty good rendition of the arcade version's music. The C64's sound chip does a good job with it but I don't think the synthesizer sound which is natural to the C64 suits the music quite as well as the Master System's sound chip. This version is lacking the invincibility power-up theme.

Amstrad - Whilst the music of the previous versions managed to just about tread the fine line between bearable and annoying, the Amstrad versions is well into annoying territory. Its music is much more simplistic, and as such tends to drone a lot more. I think most people playing this version will be quickly reaching for the mute button on their television remotes.

Where other elements are concerned, this version is missing the invincibility theme.

Spectrum - Unfortunately this version uses the same track as the Amstrad version, and not only that but here the pitch of the music actually speeds up and slows down depending on what's going on onscreen!

 
  Winner Is: NES
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  Sound FX
 

Master System - Very good sound effects.

NES - Pretty good. The more I do these comparisons the more I think that NES sound effects all sound the same though. I don't think this necessarily has anything to do with the actual NES sound chip, I think its more due to the fact that most NES developers just seemed to want to emulate the iconic sound effects from the NES Mario games.

C64 - The sound effects in this version are truly atrocious, they're just some of the most annoying and grating sound effects ever to come from a C64. Easily the worst aspect of this version of the game.

Amstrad - Decent sound effects.

Spectrum - The sound effects here are one of the better aspects of this version of the game, they're clear and memorable.

 
  Winner Is: Master System
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Gameplay

Wonder Boy was one of the early first wave of scrolling platform games coming in the wake of Pac-Land (along with Nintendo's Super Mario Bros, and Capcom's Ghosts N' Goblins) and is very reminiscent of Namco's game. Due to its age many of the elements are fairly simplistic by later 8-bit standards. You basically just jump from platform to platform (some of which move) bounce on springs, and defeat the enemies whilst progressing through the levels. Wonder Boy uses a timer which counts down while you're playing (similar to the one in Pac-Land) but here you are required to constantly refill it by collecting fruit. Other power-ups include an axe which gives you a projectile attack, the obligatory "power pill" style invincibility power-up, and most noteworthy of them all, the skateboard. Apart from the general higher level of polish in the level design, the skateboard is the element in Wonder Boy which really sets it apart from Pac-Land, once collected the whole pace and feel of the game radically changes. Whilst on the skateboard you move much faster, and most importantly can no longer come to a full stop, using it is exhilarating and really rewards practice as when mastered the skateboard allows an experienced player to sail through the stages very quickly. The last thing worth mentioning is the inclusion of a secret level, within the stages are doll items and if all of them are collected another level, the true final level is opened up.

Master System - Apart from a few very minor changes in layout (i.e. once every three of four stages you'll notice a platform moving the wrong way) the Master System version of Wonder Boy is actually very accurate, in fact, I'd go as far as to say that it was probably one of the most accurate arcade conversions of its time. Most of the level designs are the same, the power-ups and such are there, even the collection of the dolls still opens up the final level.

The most notable difference in this version is that Sega has actually gone to the trouble of creating two more original levels (each level contains four stages each), the new levels even include new elements (such as volcanoes in the backgrounds raining down molten rocks) and are all pretty well designed.

Apart from that though I did notice that the earlier levels are notably easier in this version than the arcade (the first few stages have fewer enemies, and the falling spikes are now absent). The changes to the early levels actually result in the player being eased into the game as opposed to being thrown into the deep end like in the arcade original.

NES - This does not play as accurately as the Master System version but is still a pretty good port. The gameplay here is more difficult than the arcade version as the enemies are more numerous than before, more aggressive, and also have new abilities (the snakes can now breath fire), not only this but now you are limited to only three lives to complete the entire game (unless you use a cheat).

Out of the changes the one I dislike the most is definitely the fire breathing snakes as these guys really make it difficult to keep hold of your skateboard, in fact, due to the snakes and changes in enemy placement the skateboard is generally much weaker and more dangerous to use in this port than it was in the arcade and Master System versions. Apart from those changes the NES version has replaced the doll items with pots, however due to the final extra level automatically being unlocked in this version, the pots literally do nothing here but give you points.

C64 - This version is a very commendable effort, its not as accurate as the console ports but still retains the spirit of the original game very well. Most of the level layouts are simplified but still recognisable, and still manage to offer a decent representation of the original's gameplay.

I think the only big criticism I'd level towards this version is that the character doesn't really control like he should, the momentum for jumping is still apparent, but there's no skid or feeling of weight behind the character anymore, and this simplifies the gameplay a little.

Amstrad - This port is basically just a slowed down version of the C64 game, very slowed down, the skateboarding speed is about as fast as the arcade's walking speed! all in all though it still manages to be fairly fun, if a little bit subdued.

Spectrum - Like the other computer ports the level layouts here are simplified but still recognisable, however due to some slightly off controls this version tends to feel much more finicky. The programmers have attempted to put in the momentum and skid of the original arcade game but the character skids so much he controls kind of more like a bike than anything else.

Another issue is that whilst the screen is scrolling everything slows down, but when not scrolling it speeds up, this causes an inconsistency that can often get you killed (for instance whilst running forwards you are scrolling the screen, but if you turn backwards everything will suddenly speed up substantially causing you to often misjudge and run into a hazard).

Even with the problems this version of the game also plays surprisingly decently.

Winner is: Master System
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Presentation

The arcade original didn't really have anything noteworthy in the way of presentation and the ports have nothing extra added to them in this area.

Winner is: Draw
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  Conclusion
 

This comparison is a clear and easy win for the Master System, its version of the game plays, and looks quite comparable to the arcade original, even exceeding that version in some areas (the extra levels for instance). Although the NES version has a more diverse soundtrack, it just really doesn't play anywhere near as polished, the graphics are noticeably inferior, and it even has kind of a unlicensed pirate feel permeating it due to the cheap sprite swaps.

Fortunately Hudson Soft really improved on the sequels though, with the second Adventure Island game definitely feeling much more polished, even sporting a new Master Higgins sprite which looked a little bit less like a crazy vietnam veteran suffering from some kind of post traumatic stress disorder and a little bit more like a hero.

Out of the three computer ports the only version which manages to compete properly with the console ports is the C64 version, but its low resolution graphics and simplified play control bring it down a little bit. I would say that this version did however probably represent the best value for money at the time, seeing as it sold for roughly 1/3rd the price.

  Overall winner is: Master System
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