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Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap Review

It's amazing what a spit-shine can do for a lost classic.

Review by Mike Williams, .

How many of you missed the Sega Master System? Given that this is USgamer, I would not be surprised if a number of folks did. Even if you owned a Sega Master System, Game Gear, or Genesis, the history of the Wonder Boy franchise is an odd one. Games in the series are either Wonder Boy or Monster World entries, with Wonder Boy V: Monster World III standing as a specific oddity. Then there's Adventure Island, which started as an adaptation of Wonder Boy. Some folks have never played a Wonder Boy game, or only played one of its offshoots.

At the top of the franchise stands a classic: Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap, originally released on the Sega Master System back in 1989. Everything players have come to associate with the "Metroidvania" action-adventure genre was on display in Wonder Boy III. While the game was nominally a 2D platformer, it offered a huge non-linear world, when players had to explore and unlock new abilities to move forward.

While our hero starts the game in human form, defeating the Meka Dragon finds you cursed with a new Lizard-Man form. While the human form is a sword-and-board hero, the Lizard-Man can breathe ranged fire. This idea repeats throughout the rest of the game, as beating a new boss dragon curses you with new form. Mouse-Man can cling to checkboard walls, Hawk-Man can fly, Piranha Man can swim to underwater sections, and Lion-Man swings his mighty sword overhead. Unlike similar titles, you can't switch between forms until later in the game; fight a boss, assume a new form, and use that to move ahead.

There's also collectible sub-weapons and purchasable equipment in the shops spread around the game's world. Dying finds you pushed back to the starting town with all your sub-weapons gone. Luckily, your money and equipment remains, allowing you to buy better stuff to make each round of exploration a bit easier.

Wonder Boy III: Dragon's Trap isn't a very hard game for veteran players. There are three difficulty levels - Easy, Normal, and Hard - and the penalties for dying aren't that bad. The game does require some platforming skill and it doesn't hand-hold you at all. There's no map and there are no real hints to speak of, leading some to wander aimlessly or butt their heads against content that's easier than it seems. This is classic gaming at its best and worst.

If it seems like this is a review of the original game, that's because it is. The fine folks at LizardCube have taken it upon themselves to bring back The Dragon's Trap with a fresh coat of paint, but the game itself is nearly the same. In fact, you can switch back and forth between the original 8-bit presentation and the new high-resolution art at any time simply by pressing the trigger. It's worth noting that on PlayStation 4, there is a windowbox around the entire screen and there was no option to get rid of it with a different aspect ratio.

The work that art director Ben Fiquet has done here is nothing short of astounding. Layered over the original game's engine and gameplay is some hand-drawn and painted art that simply adds life to Wonder Boy III. Every version of our hero, the shop NPCs, and the foes he fights are simply beautiful and the art brings so much personality that wasn't present in the original. Likewise, being able to switch from the 8-bit levels to the wonderfully-rendered 2D landscapes shows how much work was put into The Dragon's Trap. Hell, many of the 8-bit backgrounds are simply blank, while their new counterparts are full of tiny details.

LizardCube also went in and re-recorded the game's soundtrack with real instruments and added a number of new sound effects. Like the visual presentation, you can switch between the original audio and the new, remastered stuff on the fly. The original soundtrack still stands the test of time, but there's a light, pleasant touch to all of the redone tunes.

There are two all-new updates to the game. Previously, the saving was done via a password system like the old Mega Man games. That's still available here in the starting town's chapel, but LizardCube has also added a save system with three available slots. Also, the team crafted Wonder Girl, which gives the human form a new female model and even changes the title card. The animal forms remain the same regardless of who you choose, but it's a nice addition for a modern audience.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap a hard remaster of the 1989 classic. It has a slavish devotion to what came before and a serious love of the original title. LizardCube has crafted a whole new presentation for the game, while not changing anything about how it plays. The ability to switch between both versions on the fly is what makes it work, because you can truly see all the effort that went into this remaster.

The Dragon's Trap also carries forward any gameplay flaws of the original and that may turn off a few folks. If you give it a chance though, I think you'll find something special, especially if you missed it the first time around. It's amazing how a visual and aural rework can bring a classic up to the level of some of the best modern titles. LizardCube did a damn good job with Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap and I can't wait to see what they update next.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Interface: Like everything else, the interface and shops got a new, fresh look.
  • Lasting appeal: You can probably finish the entire game in 7-8 hours tops. Once you've done that, you've pretty much seen all Wonder Boy and Girl have to offer.
  • Sound: The new remastered soundtrack is great, but the 8-bit chiptunes stand the test of time.
  • Visuals: The toggle between the classic and updated visuals was a smart move. The high-resolution 2D art is a sight to behold.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is a faithful remaster of a classic that a lot of folks missed. Developer LizardCube has kept the original gameplay completely intact and laid some amazing 2D art and great remastered soundtrack over top of it. It's a strong preservation of a classic, retaining any of the gameplay pitfalls the original had, but it's surprising how great Wonder Boy III is with some visual and aural polish.

4 /5

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap Review Mike Williams It's amazing what a spit-shine can do for a lost classic. 2017-04-18T04:01:00-04:00 4 5

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Comments 24

  • Avatar for VotesForCows #1 VotesForCows 3 months ago
    Sounds fantastic, and I love what they've done with the art. I played one of the original Wonder Boy games, not sure which one - late 80s anyway. There were a few Master Systems floating around Ireland back then!

    Mike, is Wonder Girl available as a menu option from the start? Planning to play this with my kid, and that'd help pull her in. Strange to be revisiting the series all these years later with a child the same age I was in the 80s!
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #2 Tetragrammaton 3 months ago
    Sounds a lot like the update the old Monkey Island games got. And Halo for that matter. Cool stuff, I'll take a look!
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  • Avatar for I-m-not-Daredevil #3 I-m-not-Daredevil 3 months ago
    I've replayed this game more than any other. I love it so much - highly recommended!
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  • Avatar for SIGGYZtar #4 SIGGYZtar 3 months ago
    I hope they do Zillion next!
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  • Avatar for orient #5 orient 3 months ago
    Picked this up on Switch straight away. As a fan of the Master System in general I can't wait to play it.
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  • Avatar for sketchlayerjosh #6 sketchlayerjosh 3 months ago
    I'm so excited about this one. Played it to death back on the good old TurboGrafx, and it's probably the reason I love Metroidvania titles to this day. The game was really ahead of its time. If it had been on SNES or Genesis I think it would be in top lists of titles for those systems. Either that or its sequel, Dynastic Hero (I don't know if it had a Sega equivalent like this one did), which has a little less charm, but deeper gameplay. And that Redbook audio!

    Either way, it's a great game, and the new art looks amazing. The only note I would add is that you *do* eventually gain the ability to switch back and forth between the different forms. So if you're worried that, based on the wording in the review, you're in danger of missing things if you fight a boss too soon, don't be. Other than that, great review as usual! Hope people pick it up.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #7 MHWilliams 3 months ago
    @sketchlayerjosh Yeah, you have the ability to switch forms via the town's change room later on, if I didn't make that clear.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #8 brionfoulke91 3 months ago
    While I'm not a big fan of the artstyle choice, the amount of work they put into it is pretty clear. And it's awesome that they didn't attempt to "modernize" it by adding tutorials, checkpoints, or otherwise dumbing it down.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #9 SargeSmash 3 months ago
    Boy, that art looks phenomenal.
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  • Avatar for SIGGYZtar #10 SIGGYZtar 3 months ago
    WEST ONE still works.
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  • Avatar for mganai #11 mganai 3 months ago
    Top of the franchise is a bit of a stretch., though it re-codified the series, following upon the work of Monster Land.
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  • Avatar for mattb0527 #12 mattb0527 3 months ago
    Yup, I'll be buying this on the Switch.
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  • Avatar for Modern-Clix #13 Modern-Clix 3 months ago
    @mganai I like Monster Land the best of the original SMS trilogy, but since I never finished this one, this will be perfect.
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  • Avatar for admiralsnackbar #14 admiralsnackbar 3 months ago
    Buying this the moment I get home.
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  • Avatar for Lonecow #15 Lonecow 3 months ago
    So Wonder Boy becomes Wonder Girl? They aren't separate characters?

    Dragon's Trap indeed.
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #16 Vonlenska 3 months ago
    Is there a female protagonist? Or is Wonder Girl one of the forms? That first screenshot leaves me wondering. I'd planned on checking this out, anyway, but that would be pretty cool.

    I played some Adventure Islands as a young Vonlenskette, but otherwise I've totally missed out on the Wonder Boy/Monster World/Whatever series. This one and MW4 have always intrigued me, though, and the new art looks really nice, so I'm looking forward to this.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #17 MHWilliams 3 months ago
    @Vonlenska You choose between Wonder Boy or Wonder Girl at the very beginning of the game.
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  • Avatar for CipherStone #18 CipherStone 3 months ago
    @Vonlenska not only do you get the choice between Wonder Boy and Wonder Girl when you start, but if you choose the female option, it changes the name of the game from Wonder Boy to Wonder Girl on the title screen, which I thought was a nice touch. That said, even if you choose Wonder Girl, all the transformations are still identified as male (Lizard Man, Mouse Man, etc.), which I thought was odd.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #19 SatelliteOfLove 3 months ago
    @CipherStone

    It was a very specific curse.
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  • Avatar for Sturat #20 Sturat 3 months ago
    @brionfoulke91 They did a couple things that might be considered "dumbing it down:" Normal mode is much easier than the original game, it prompts you to press up near doors, the charm stone system is simplified, and there is an optional help screen that shows the controls.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #21 link6616 3 months ago
    @Sturat but hard mode is the original game difficulty wise isn't it?
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #22 brionfoulke91 3 months ago
    @Sturat Well, that doesn't sound too bad. As long as the original difficulty still exists as an option, I am fine with it. What I hate is stuff like Earthworm Jim HD where the hardest mode is the original game's normal mode, the original game's difficult mode no longer exists, and there's no way to play with the original continue system.
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #23 Vonlenska 3 months ago
    @MHWilliams@CipherStone

    Thanks! That's super rad to know. Also super charming that the title screen changes to reflect it! With this and Cosmic Star Heroine (and Freedom Planet and Arcade Racer, before them), is it too much to hope for a resurgence of Sega-flavored indie games? The NES aesthetic does look nice, but it doesn't push my nostalgia buttons. #SegaKidsHaveFeelingsToo
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  • Avatar for apoc_reg #24 apoc_reg 3 months ago
    The art and music is nothing short of stunning, fantastic work.

    Great game too, enjoying it a lot although now I'm at the Samurai bit I'm rather struggling!
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