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.
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