For Sega Master System aficionados, the Wonder Boy and Monster World series need no introduction. For the rest of us, it's a franchise of mainly platform games with heavy Metroidvania elements that predate most titles of that genre. Featuring a shape-changing system that requires players to choose the right form to progress through various puzzles, the game boast boss fights, tight platforming, equipment and loot, great music.
Luckily for us in the modern gaming landscape, French developer Lizardcube and publisher DotEmu have seen fit to grace us with an absolutely beautiful remake of one of the series' best entries, Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap. You can grab a copy for Switch (which we review herein), or grab a Steam key at the KeenGamer Eshop.
The story is light but delightful, featuring a storybook-style intro and outro. Our wandering adventurer first defeats a robotic dragon, who then curses said hero by turning them into a lizard-man. In an effort to return to human form, the adventurer must find and defeat a number of humorously-themed dragons (pirate-dragon, zombie-dragon, etc.), each of which transmute the hero into a new animal-man.
Luckily for the game's protagonist, each new animal form features new abilities, such as the ability to swim, fly, or cling to certain walls and ceilings. There are five forms in total (not counting human form), which are: Lizard-Man, Mouse-Man, Piranha-Man, Lion-Man, and Hawk-Man. Each form has different strengths and weaknesses, and can help the player reach new areas.
While this mechanic is straightforward, there are several factors that make the gameplay and puzzles more challenging. For one, forms cannot be changed at will, and require the player to find golden pedestals that switch them between their animal forms. To make matters more difficult, these are often hidden behind invisible doors, beyond trick walls, or in watery areas or stretches of blue sky.
This can make the going tough, and its made tougher by a wide variety of attractively illustrated enemies, which range from ogres, to ninjas, to pirate skeletons. Some jump, throw stuff, or rain down fiery death from above. Fortunately, players have several items that can be collected to help them defeat their enemies, in addition to their swords and shields. Collectible items that are removed upon use are: boomerangs, fireballs, mini-tornadoes, lightning bolts from the heavens, and arrows that shoot straight up.
All of these can be collected occasionally from fallen foes, and so can coins or bags of cash. These moneys can be used to purchase special swords, shields, and armor sets from occasional one-eyed-pig shop-keeps scattered throughout the land. Each piece of equipment provides different damage or protection values based on what animal form you are inhabiting, meaning you'll want to switch sets whenever you swap bodies. Some pieces of equipment also have special skills to pay attention to, such as protecting you from lava pits.
Another item that can be collected or bought are blue potions, which allow you to be resurrected immediately upon death, and these are a great help during later areas. If you die without one of these potions, you are returned to the town, which is fairly central to all the areas you'll need to seek out to find bosses. There are also keys that can be found or bought, as well as heart upgrades that can boost your total health.
Something that will throw off those raised on Zelda is the game's health bar, which looks like individual hearts, but is actually a numerical bar; this means that you'll end up taking minute fractions of the visible hearts in damage, or multiple hearts, depending on the damage a particular enemy does to you. That's why it's especially important to manage your equipment, as it can make or break your survival.
There's only two areas of Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap that some players may get hung up on, the first of which is the slight over-run of the character. This was present in the original, and was not a misstep so much as an intentional design decision. It makes the player judge when they need to stop running, lest they slide into an enemy, or off a precipice. A few minutes of play will teach veterans the ropes of this system, but those wanting easy-peasy gameplay might be irritated.
What will irritate them more is the lack of a checkpoint system in the various locations, which means players are sent back to town with every death (except in cases where they possess a blue potion). This is a hassle in modern terms, but it's important to note that the areas are not far away, and every return gets easier as enemies and obstacles are memorized. It's very early Megaman in this way, and it ultimately helps the player by building up their gold reserves (which are not depleted upon death), helping them beef up their equipment stores.
graphics and sound
As mentioned several times, the graphics are really stellar. They surpass in pleasing design other gems such as the Shantae games (yes, I know those are intentionally pixelated), and while it's unlikely any but old-school fans will want to swap to the classic view, it's a nice feature to have.
Likewise, the new musical renditions are top-notch, and worthy of a soundtrack purchase (as is the unused track album, also available). The fact that, like the graphics, a button press switches to the classic sounds and music is icing on the already delicious cake.
Overall, if you're a fan of pretty platformers such as the recent Rayman games, or Metroidvanias that don't require massive amounts of aimless backtracking (I'm looking at you, Axiom Verge), then you'd be a fool not to spend some time with Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap.
Lizardcube and DotEmu clearly put a lot of work into deciding the right game to remake, and enhancing it's appeal extremely with the amazing visual makeover. There's not much to dislike, and playing it on the go without a lick of lag via Nintendo's Switch is a great opportunity not to be missed.
|+ Totally Excellent Art & Animation||– No Checkpoints Will Turn Off New-School Gamers|
|+ Totally Faithful Gameplay & Level Design||– Character Sliding Will Annoy Some Players|
|+ Ability to Swap to Retro Visuals & Sound at Will|
|+ Great Metroidvania World Design|