One of the better Mario knockoffs produced in the 1980s was Hudson's Adventure Island. It featured a fat guy named Master Higgins doing the same sort of running and jumping that Mario did in his games, but with a much greater emphasis on speed. That emphasis helped forge a unique identity for the Adventure Island series and gave people something more challenging to sink their teeth into than Mario's adventures. Now, almost 20 years later, the original Nintendo Entertainment System version of Adventure Island is available as a selection in the Virtual Console library.
In Adventure Island, you have to jump over hazards, shoot enemies, and reach the end of each stage as fast as possible. There's no exploring. Each stage simply tests your ability to quickly press the jump or shoot buttons in response to the bouncing enemies, moving platforms, and bottomless pits that appear as you run forward. At the end of every fourth stage, you'll face a boss that takes multiple hits to vanquish. You can crack open eggs to obtain axes and rocks to throw at enemies, as well as a skateboard that constantly propels you forward but also lets you survive contact with a single enemy. Throughout it all, if you drop into a pit or get hit when you're not riding the skateboard, you'll lose a life. You also have to make an effort to grab the food items that frequently appear so that Higgins doesn't pass out from exhaustion.
On the whole, the graphics and audio are solid, at least in NES terms. Higgins and his enemies are large and goofy-looking. The tropical 2D backdrops are also very colorful and detailed, while the lighthearted music contributes to the game's overall pleasant atmosphere. Furthermore, despite the speedy pace, the graphics never suffer from the slowdown and sprite flicker that are so commonly seen in NES games.
Getting through all 32 stages requires an excessive amount of trial and error. That's arguably the game's most defining, as well as its most potentially annoying, trait. The stages are relatively short, but reaching the goal line without running into a single enemy or hazard is quite a challenge. Doing so for 32 stages is downright superhuman. Also, you only get three lives to complete the whole game. Because of that, you run the risk of growing increasingly bored as you constantly replay earlier levels.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the TurboGrafx-16 version of New Adventure Island is also available from the Virtual Console shop. It's basically the same game as this one, but by spending 100 additional Wii points, you get nicer graphics and audio, as well as unlimited continues. Some people will no doubt prefer the NES version because it's the original. However, the upgraded presentation and the ability to continue certainly make the TurboGrafx-16 version worth the extra dollar it costs.
Regardless of which version you ultimately play, you'll probably dig Adventure Island if you're the kind of person who enjoys tough platformers that require practice, patience, and twitch reflexes. Conversely, if you typically enjoy laid-back, Mario-style platformers, then the repetition and difficulty of Adventure Island will likely only serve to frustrate or annoy you.