Hudson's Adventure Island plays rather well considering it was originally released in 1986 (in Japan). The controls are solid, although having to hold the run button to jump high even when standing still takes some getting used to.
You start off defenceless but once you pick up the axe icon you can fling axes at your enemies. There are other cool power-ups like the skateboard, which lets you speed through levels until you get hit and a fairy who makes you invincible for a short time.
Like a lot of early NES games, the fun gameplay and original concept of Adventure Island is let down by the difficulty of the title. A single hit will kill you stone dead and you start off with only three lives. The game utilizes a checkpoint system, so that you don't have to restart from the beginning of the level but this only makes things fractionally easier.
Thankfully help is at hand via a cheat code, if you find the 'Hudson Bee' in the first level you can hold right and press start on the game over screen to continue as many times as you please which certainly goes some way to making the game slightly less impossible.
There is no time limit, per se, but unfortunately Master Higgins has the same metabolism level as a humming bird and if his food meter drops to zero you lose a life. Luckily there is (usually) lots of fruit around to keep him going. His food meter drops quite rapidly, the player is forced to run through the levels at a fairly quick pace to avoid the poor boy dying of hunger.
After a while you'll notice that a lot of levels are just repeats of earlier ones but with a higher difficulty level. The boss fights at the end of every 4th level are also very similar to each other. These aren't necessarily bad things (Super Mario Bros. also repeated levels and bosses) but may frustrate gamers who like to feel a proper sense of progress. There are 32 levels in all, but only those with Jedi joypad skills will get to see them all. Adventure Island has multiple hidden items and bonus levels scattered throughout its worlds, so even if you do manage to complete it the chances are you still haven't found everything the game has to offer.
Adventure Island is a tough game but it manages to be entertaining if, and only if, you exploit the infinite continues cheat. If you don't, nothing but frustration and swearing awaits you.