No more than a history lesson for fans of the preceding games, the control set is the biggest detractor. Average.
Now as great as the later Adventure Islands are, it would be unfair to judge this game based on them alone. Throwing all of that out the window, you will still find the controls to be some of the most frustrating on the NES. You will suffer death after death as Higgins slides around like he is on ice the entire length of the game. I'm serious, when I finally discovered ice in the game I was completely unphased by it, as I had already acclimated myself as best as I could to the downright slippery and floaty controls. The meager one-hit stamina of Higgins catapults the control issue to unseen heights. Jumping is poorly executed, as Higgins jumps at seemingly random heights loosely dependent on how fast you are moving. This is horribly mis-managed and simply leads to more and more deaths.
Without your dinosaur companions to help you this time around, you'll have to rely doubly upon the throwing axe. Sadly, it doesn't arc high enough and many times enemies will just fly right above it (Especially the bats), making every minute of every stage a chore. The difficulty has little, if any curve. You will slave to get out of the first 4 stages without many continues, and the bosses are downright disappointing. The first two bosses were the same body with a different, misshapen head pasted on. Music is alright, the coast tune is somewhat catchy. The humble beginnings of the Adventure Island series is no more than a history lesson for fans of the later games, the gameplay just isn't totally there.