Not too long ago, the Retronauts podcast tackled the long and convoluted history of the Wonder Boy series. Well, that history just got a little longer and a little more convoluted, as Chinese publisher CFK has announced a "new" entry in the Wonder Boy series called Wonder Boy Returns.
By all appearances, it looks to fall somewhere between remake and sequel; while it features gameplay taken directly from the 30-year-old arcade game that began poor Wonder Boy's tortuous franchise lineage, the actual scenario looks to be somewhat different. There's a snowy stage populated by penguins, which never appeared in the original, and the bosses no longer consist of the same dude's body wearing different heads. This time, Wonder Boy will face off against a more varied array of big-bads, including a polar bear and some sort of bodybuilder or something... all seemingly entranced by a small purple demon. Hard to say; watch the announcement trailer for yourself:
For those keeping count, yes, this is effectively the third Wonder Boy-derived project currently in development. Or rather, currently known to be in development; who can say what other remakes will be announced in the coming weeks? The rights to Wonder Boy have always been awfully hard to pin down thanks to developer Westone's eagerness to license it out, which is why the original game has also appeared under a variety of seemingly unreleated titles like Adventure Island and Revenge of Drancon. You can check out the podcast for more details, or at least for an opportunity to suffer alongside us as we try to sort out the franchise's endless licensing convolutions.
In any case, Wonder Boy Returns looks by far to be the least impressive and appealing of these projects. Unlike Game Atelier's Monster Boy, it doesn't appear to have the involvement or blessing of the series' original creators. And unlike the direct remake of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap, it decidedly fails to impress on the visual front. While the candy-like art style CFK has adopted isn't bad, its stilted animation and generally stagnant presentation have the look of a mediocre mobile game. Meanwhile, Monster Boy boasts lively classic sprite art, and The Dragon's Trap features rich, detailed, painterly animation in a European style.
On the other hand, as many times as the first Wonder Boy has been remade, at least this latest interation isn't simply a direct 1:1 recreation of a 1986 arcade game. It may play identically, but the addition of some new content and level designs should appeal to... someone, presumably. People who love the old arcade game and long for more of the same. Clearly CFK believes enough of those people exist in the world to justify this project, and who can say they're wrong?
Anyway, Wonder Boy's star has never been brighter than it is here in 2016, more than 20 years after SEGA and Westone stopped working on the series. What a world we live in.