It’s a trap!
It’s been nearly three decades since Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap released on the Sega Master System. The game, developed by now-defunct studio Westone, went on to become one of the 8-bit platform’s most beloved adventures. Now, DotEmu and developer Lizardcube are prepared to bring the 1989 classic to a new generation with Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. Featuring gorgeous, hand-drawn HD visuals, a new playable protagonist, and the ability to swap between the modern and retro versions at the tap of a button, the game certainly seems to have a lot going for it for fans of the original. However, is a fresh coat of paint enough to pull newcomers in?
Setting the stage for adventure
As with most games originally developed in the 1980’s, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap features a simple but perfectly serviceable story. After storming its castle and battling the evil Mecha Dragon at the beginning of the game, the titular hero – or Wonder Girl, if you choose to assume the role of the radical new heroine designed for the game – falls victim for a horrible curse. Transformed into a half-man, half-dragon creature, Wonder Boy must now travel various colorful locales, battling baddies and slaying dragons to collect the Salamander Cross and break the Dragon’s nasty hex.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is essentially a Metroidvania-style game. After you leave the game’s starting town, you can travel travel as far as your feet can take you. That is, until you reach the inevitable roadblock you’ll need to overcome – usually with the aid of another cursed form. You see, being turned into a scaly dragon isn’t the only curse to befall poor Wonder Boy. As you explore the world you’ll battle even more dragons. And with each victory you’ll transform into different half-animal forms, each with their own abilities.
Multiple personality disorder has never been so fun
For example, playing as the Dragon gives you the ability to belch fire. While the Mouse Knight form lacks projectiles, his agility is second to none. He can wield a sword and climb up blocks to reach previously inaccessible areas. Neither of these forms can swim, but Piranha Knight can cruise the seas with ease. These are just a few of the forms you can assume in your journey. Wonder Boy can take on five unique forms total. And each one opens up the door to progress to your final destination while also giving you the means to discover plenty of secrets hidden throughout the world. Each of these unique personas does a great job of spicing up the gameplay, making the action feel fresh and exciting.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is virtually a pixel-by-pixel recreation of the original Wonder Boy III. In fact, you can switch between the newfangled HD visuals and classic 8-bit graphics with the press of a button. It sounds like a minor touch, but in it’s a real treat – especially if you’ve played through the original. I constantly found myself switching between the two modes to see all of the vibrant flourishes the developers used to breathe new life into the game world. Barren deserts are now dominated by striking pyramid backdrops. Empty corridors with spots of weeds growing through the cracks in the bricks are now overgrown labyrinths strangled in weeds. Each area also features plenty of background and foreground scrolling, adding a welcome sense of depth to the visuals.
Haunted by the past
Seeing these humble backdrops evolve into such grand 2D vistas is immensely satisfying. Without question, Lizardcube’s Wonder Boy reboot is quite obviously a labor of love. Still, there are some nagging issues that continue to curse the game some 28 years since its debut. The most serious offender here would be the stiff controls that make precision platforming feel especially difficult. There were countless times that I’d try to inch up to a ledge and drop behind an enemy, only to overshoot my target and land on top of said baddie and receive a savage pummeling. To make matters worse, it’s not uncommon to be struck by an enemy and find yourself being juggled indefinitely. When this happens you can do little but sit there and endure tons of hits until you’re finally able to control yourself again.
The stiff controls are made worse when coupled with just how little range your melee attacks have. Many of the enemies you fight are designed to leap over you when they reach a certain distance. However, the sluggish controls and comically short sword pokes your hero performs can make dispatching enemies very frustrating. I often found myself just running through an area to avoid the stiff and frustrating combat altogether. These problems aren’t new, mind you. They were issues that plagued the Master System version as well. It’s just a shame that Lizardcube hasn’t done more to iron out those kinks for this modern reboot. If the gameplay received the same overhaul as the graphics, Wonder Boy: The Dragons’s Trap would be a must-play adventure.
A fight for the ages
If you’re looking for a challenge, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap will surely scratch that itch. You’ll find plenty of enemies who can quickly whittle down your stock of hearts in just a few hits. And when you die, you’ll always be brought back to the game’s starting village. Having to make the lengthy trek back to a dungeon to defeat a boss who got the better of you can be a pain in the neck. Thankfully, you keep all of your hard-earned gold and items you collect when you die. This makes it pretty easy to stock up on cash to buy new gear to help you overcome the game’s greatest challenges.
Still, even the best armor won’t make you invincible when it comes to the boss encounters. It’s during these mano-a-mano showdowns with these scaly antagonists that your skills will really be put to the test. And no matter how good your stockpile of gear is, pixel-perfect pattern recognition and skilled thumbs are the only things that will save you there. And when the going really gets tough, you can always fall back on those passwords scribbled in your dusty Master System version’s manual. That’s right, Lizardcube has smartly included support for passwords from the retro version of the game. How nostalgic!
Jazz hands not required
Like I said, the game’s totally updated visuals are great. However, they aren’t the only thing that’s been completely overhauled for this remaster. Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap’s toe-tapping chiptune soundtrack has been recreated with an actual instrumental score. This jazzy re-imagining of the original game’s timeless tunes is catchy, and really matches the on-screen action. If jazz isn’t exactly your thing, you can switch back to the original FM-synthesized tunes with a quick trip to the options menu. You can even mix and match the old-school sound effects, music, and visuals to find a balance you like the most. My only gripe here is that the retro soundtrack is considerably quieter than the modern one. This had me fetching my TV remote to adjust the volume whenever I switched between the two.
When all is said and done, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap holds up surprisingly well almost three decades later. This reboot isn’t without its faults, as some of the original release’s quirks rise to the surface quite frequently. But these issues are easy to overlook when you consider just how much charm is crammed into this remastered package. If you’re a fan of the original or just looking for a charming, retro-inspired adventure, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is a game you’ll want to experience at least once.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: DotEmu ; Developer: Lizardcube; Players: 1 ; Released: April 18, 2017 ; MSRP: $19.99
Full Disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher.