Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is an action adventure game for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Though it takes clear inspiration from Sega's classic Monster Boy platformer series, it's not a direct follow-up to those games (not even 2017's lovely Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon's Trap remake). That said, Ryuichi Nishizawa, the creator of Monster Boy, offered input on the game.
Confused? You have every right to be. I filled up a chalkboard Good Will Hunting-style trying to figure out Monster Boy's place in the Wonder Boy canon. My conclusion: Don't sweat it. It doesn't matter. All you need to know is Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a must-play for fans of platforming adventures, especially people who worship at Shantae's altar. It does an excellent job balancing sword-swinging action with puzzle-solving, and it offers just enough backtracking to pick up missed treasures and upgrades. Better still, Monster Boy's animal-shifting mechanic really does make you feel like a Hero with a Thousand Bods (okay, six or seven), and there's a rewarding build up to the greatest hero power of all time: The Frog transformation.
The titular Monster Boy gains the power to shift into different animal forms after his uncle drinks too much magical nectar (read: Bathtub moonshine) and goes on a spell-slinging tear that turns all the game's characters into assorted critters. Monster Boy, whose actual name is Jin, devolves into a pig with an eyepatch—another adorable but confusing shout-out to the series Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom technically doesn't belong to.
As a pig, Jin can butt-stomp foes and sling magic at them. If all else fails, he can poke them to death with his sharp trotter. He's not helpless, but his moveset is hardly befitting of a hero. His next transformation is a snake, and outside of being able to spit venom with impressive distance, Jin's even less hero-like as a serpent than he is as a lumbering pile of bacon.
After being forced to wriggle his snout and slither on his belly for a few hours, Jin is finally allowed to confront the Frog King who holds the key to the Frog transformation. The second you put on that handsome green skin, Monster Boy's pace picks up exponentially. The Frog has access to a wide array of weapons and armor, and though he can't use magic, he's got something better than 50 Fireball spells: His lightning-fast tongue.
As someone who still loves to play Super Castlevania 4 for the sheer fun of making Simon swing on his whip, I'm in love with how good it feels to grab onto hooks and fly over pits with the aid of Frog Jin's tongue. Monster Boy offers ample opportunity to swing around and springboard up large walls with a little tongue power—and I'm going to apologize right now for making this article sound unintentionally lewd. There just aren't many synonyms for "tongue."
It would've been easy for the studio behind Monster Boy, Game Atelier, to mess up and make Jin's tongue mechanics as appealing as licking a squashed toad. Said mechanics are necessary for making some of the trickiest jumps and solving the stickiest puzzles in Monster Boy, but it's extremely rare for me to miss the hooks that send Frog Jin swinging or flying. When you press the action button for Jin's tongue, the game seems to prioritize what you should hit in that moment. Even if enemies are nearby, Jin's long, slick, fleshy muscle will dart immediately for the nearest hook or handle. Pixel-perfect precision isn't necessary. You just make a stab with full confidence that the game's physics engine will take care of you. Nine times out of ten, it does. It makes playing Monster Boy a fun and freeing endeavor. Fighting feels good. Moving feels good. That's what the best platformers are all about.
Best of all, the good times with Jin's tongue don't stop with swinging. It's useful in battle too, but with some very clever caveats. If you tongue-slap a normal enemy, it pushes them back a bit. This is great for giving yourself some room when fighting in tight spaces, or for knocking enemies off small platforms you want to claim for yourself. You can also lap up projectiles like bombs and spit them back out at armored foes to turn the tables on them. If, however, you lick electrified or poisonous enemies, you risk shocking Jin, or making him sick. It's best to take the advice of retro Canadian PSAs and exercise caution about the things you stuff in your mouth.
I actually stumbled on one of Frog Jin's most useful powers by accident when I ate up a dragonfly enemy. When the little buzzer went down the hatch, it restored some of my health. Enemies pack a punch in Monster Boy, and health power-ups aren't always readily available, so it was cool to discover a good six-legged meal is a decent way to top off my depleted hearts.
And as if being a Frog isn't already next to godliness in Monster Boy, it comes with one more epic quirk: The ability to swim and breathe underwater like a champ. No need to worry about sinking to the bottom of the ocean. No need to worry about floating to the top. The mechanics of swimming as a frog in Monster Boy is much like performing the activity in Super Mario Bros. 3. You just push the controller in the direction you want to go, and you let your little webbed froggy feet do all the hard work while you breeze past unnecessary air bubbles.
The Frog transformation in Monster Boy gives you a wet and wild time, and it's made even better by the build-up to its reveal. Before you can know greatness, you must root through the mud as a pig, and then eat dust as a snake. Only then can you truly appreciate the weightless majesty of flinging yourself to and fro with the aid of an impossibly long tongue.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom helps me embrace ascension through suffering. Good job, Game Atelier. Take all my ribbits of respect.