A wonderful remaster.
Format: PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PS4 (Reviewed)
Released: April 18, 2017
2017 has gotten off to a weird, but wonderful start for me. Just as some examples, in the past four months I fell in love with Resident Evil all over again, got into the Mass Effect series through arguably its worst entry, and I’ve ruined the childhoods of the many readers who were hoping Yooka-Laylee would be good. And now, I’m about to consider a near thirty-year-old game as a contender for my personal 2017 “best of” list.
Why? Because after lovingly remastering the Sega MasterSystem classic, Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon’s Trap, the team at LizardCube have shown that even a three decades old game can still hold up in 2017 with the help of some aesthetic TLC and some small, but welcome tweaks to its original gameplay.
It barely took me a few minutes to absolutely fall in love with Wonder Boy’s presentation. The sharp, hand-drawn 2-D graphics are absolute eye-candy, filled with wonderful little details that make what should be drab, boring dungeons look like incredibly charming and lore-filled locales. Even the animations of the characters, from Wonder Boy (or, in a bit of modern inclusion, Wonder Girl) to the various foes you’ll face off against, have this delightful and cartoony bounciness to them that makes simply just watching characters run bring a smile to your face. But most impressive of all in my mind is the game’s soundtrack, sporting crisp orchestral remasters of the original game’s 8-Bit tunes.
One of the game’s most notable new features is that you have the ability swap between both HD and 8-Bit audio and graphics whenever you like with the quick push of a button a la Halo Anniversary. And while I think I’m far too enraptured with the game’s HD aesthetics to ever play through the game with its original presentation, I still appreciated the ability to see how the original game looked and sounded, showing not only how true this remaster is to its predecessor, but also just how far games have come within the last thirty years. It really makes you feel the love and appreciation the team has for the original game when you can see for yourself the amount of modern style they’ve put into some of the 8-Bit version’s more lacklustre screens, as if the game has been freed from the shackles of graphical limitations.
The story itself is a very simple one, left untouched by the remaster. You play as the titular Wonder Boy (or Wonder Girl), a young hero who has been cursed by a mechanized dragon and turned into a fire-breathing lizard man. To break the curse and turn back into a human, you’ll need to explore the dangerous world of Monster Land, defeat the five remaining dragons and banish their evil from the land once and for all.
With absolutely no experience with the original Wonder Boy, I went in expecting it to play as a standard linear platformer, the basic “jump and shoot” package. So I was pleasantly surprised to find out it played something more akin to an early “Metroidvania” platformer, sporting an open map filled with little hidden nooks that reward exploration and curiosity when you have the right abilities and equipment.
You begin the game with barely any health and stuck in your lizard man form with only the ability to breath fire, jump and crouch. Already I was having a blast with the game, enjoying the tight controls and challenging gameplay. But after facing off and beating the game’s first boss thirty minutes in, the game completely threw me for a loop and suddenly changed my form again, turning me from a rough-rumbling lizard man into a small and adorable mouse knight. This was the moment I was completely invested in what the game had to offer, discovering the game’s central mechanic actually revolved around the cursed transformations themselves.
With every dragon you defeat, you’re given another curse that changes you into a new animal form, each coming with its own unique abilities and playstyles. One moment you’ll be a piranha man with the ability to swim underwater, only to be changed later on into a hawk man that can fly through the air freely, but takes damage whenever it’s underwater. And since your time with each form is only somewhere around thirty to forty minutes each, Wonder Boy’s gameplay always feels fresh and engaging. It felt like the game was constantly offering new ways to explore the game’s map, as well as different approaches to fighting the game’s wide variety of enemies, such as bored-looking octopi and even shuriken-hurling ninjas.
I feel like I should point out, however, that while the Wonder Boy looks absolutely adorable in its new HD makeover, it’s an incredibly brutal game. Aside from small changes like tightening up the original platforming physics and adding a much-appreciated auto-save feature, LizardCube has left the original game’s challenge completely intact. It requires players to approach it cautiously and intelligently, using the game’s collectible powerups against enemies only in certain situations where regular attacks either won’t work or put the player at risk of taking a ton of damage. It’s more than happy to mercilessly beat down players who get too cocky with their powerups or try to rush through the game.
But despite this traditional difficulty, I never felt the game was ever unfair, rather tough but also gracefully lenient. For example, death grants you access to a small roulette minigame that, if you win, grants you a single-use potion that refills your health once it runs out. While dying does take away any powerups you were carrying at the time, you do at least get to keep all of the gold and equipment you had on you before biting the bullet, meaning you don’t need to waste time grinding for cash all over again just so you can purchase a new piece of equipment to boost your attack or defence. And even though the game drops you back in the starting area after you die, I never felt like the distance I needed to travel to get back to where I died was all that far. If anything, death in this case just felt like I was learning what enemies I would encounter in that particular area, along with a quicker and easier way to deal with them next time.
While Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is a relatively short experience, clocking in somewhere around four to five hours long, I absolutely loved every moment of it. At its core, Wonder Boy is a challenging and engaging platformer with gameplay that still holds up after 30 years of age. And through the new gorgeous and detailed art design, adorable animations, and a bombastically fun soundtrack, LizardCube have gone above and beyond to pay homage to a beloved game from their childhoods that they clearly hold close to their hearts.
Grab it now! You’d be foolish not to check out this wondrous, remastered gem.