Boy oh boy what wonder do we have here?
Originally released in the arcades in 1986, the Wonder Boy story is more than a little confusing! Developed by Westone and licensed to Sega, the first game was a huge hit and so the developers found other ways to leverage their creation. So as well as selling the game to Sega they also sold another version to the famous PC Engine developers Hudson Soft as Adventure Island. The only difference between the two was in the change of the main character – from Sega’s Wonder Boy to Hudson’s Master Higgins. From here the story just gets even more complicated as Sega followed their own game up with a number of equally successful sequels such as Wonder Boy in Monster Land and Wonder Boy in Monster World, while Hudson created completely different follow ups of their own, including Super Adventure Island and Adventure Island: The Beginning. Just to add to the confusion, there are also two completely different versions of Wonder Boy III – the Arcade/PC Engine/Mega Drive game Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair and Master System/Game Gear title Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap.
Now you are probably glad that with all that explained your brain can take a rest and we can get on with the review. Well I’m afraid you’re wrong! We have just one more thing to go over (I promise!) and this is regarding Wonder Boy’s return to the world of video games. This began with Sega releasing a Wonder Boy themed compilation as part of the Sega Vintage Collection for Xbox 360 and PS3 in May 2012. Strangely this didn’t contain the original game but did feature Wonder Boy in Monster Land, Wonder Boy in Monster Land and the formally Mega Drive exclusive Monster World IV. After the success of this re-release several announcements came in seemingly quick succession. There was the big reveal by former Wonder Boy developers that they were creating a new series called Monster Boy, which would take up right where Wonder Boy left off. Then we heard that a remake of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap was being produced, the game that many consider to be the best in the series. And finally there was the announcement of this title – Wonder Boy Returns! This promised to stay faithful to Sega’s original arcade game, bringing something different again to the table (the later Wonder Boy titles being more adventure based).
And I am pleased to say that Wonder Boy Returns lives up to its promises in that regard, and unlike the other Wonder Boy games in development, this one is officially licensed from Sega, so contains many nice touches we might not have otherwise seen. To start with, Wonder Boy Returns seems to be almost identical to the original, just with a new graphical style. The level designs are the same, power-ups are retained and there is even the same jolly music playing in the background. But as you play on, you find that rather than just copying the original Wonder Boy game, this new title actually enhances it. New sets of levels have been added to the mix that can be completed in chapters. These all follow the same themes as the original Wonder Boy but add in new enemies, additional power-ups and even some massive bosses that have to be defeated! If you love the original Wonder Boy (like I did) then you are going to feel right at home here. Along with difficulty levels there is also the ability to unlock different characters to play as, which include an original Wonder Boy sprite in all his pixelated glory and a female companion who appeared in the Brazilian releases of the Wonder Boy series.
So basically what we have with Wonder Boy Returns is a huge slice of authentic old school arcade platforming action. Once again you get to guide Wonder Boy around this prehistoric world throwing axes at octopuses, jumping boulders on his skateboard and leaping across clouds. This is a game that really doesn’t fail in the joy department. At first I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly keen on the graphical style but it does grow on you. That said, I still find the way that Wonder Boy dances on the spot a bit weird! Musically the game is great with the original tunes present as well as new ones that fit in nicely. Gameplay is mostly good but it does take a little while to get used to the physics. This is because Wonder Boy slides a little whenever you stop, making it far too easy to fall off platforms. You will also need to master the double jump technique if you are going to get anywhere here. Probably the most important part of Wonder Boy is grabbing the fruit to keep your ever decreasing health bar topped up and some of it is pretty hard to reach – requiring precision in the fine arts of running and jumping.
In conclusion, as a gamer that is as old-school as they come, I couldn’t help but enjoy Wonder Boy Returns, despite not usually being a fan of platform games. Sure there are some minor issues around the controls and it’s ridiculously easy to gain extra lives, meaning you can seemingly go on forever, but essentially it’s a good game. I do have to mention the price though, because at an eye-watering $14.99 it’s far too expensive for what it is. That said though, it’s currently available at 40% off in the Steam sale, which is a much fairer price, so I suggest grabbing it now if you are planning to. And any fans of old-school arcade platformers probably should, because this is one of the best ones I’ve played for quite a while. Here’s looking forward to what the other Wonder Boy remakes and sequels bring to the table!
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed) ; Publisher: CFK Co. Ltd. ; Developer: CFK Co. Ltd. ; Players: 1 ; Released: 13th October 2016 ; ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $14.99 / £10.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Wonder Boy Returns given to Hey Poor Player by CFK Co. Ltd.