For some of you older gamers, the name Wonder Boy might well sound somewhat familiar. You’ll need to cast you mind back quite some way however, all the way back to the 8 bit era of the late 1980s. Wonder Boy: The Dragons Trap is a remake of Wonder Boy 3 which was originally released on the Sega Master System back 1989. Developer Lizardcube initially announced the remake back in June 2016 and just under a year later the final product is now ready for a glance through those rose tinted glasses.
For those new to the series, like myself, the game is very much an Action-Adventure game with some platforming elements and draws some parallels to the 2D Metroid titles. The game itself picks up the story from the end of Wonder Boy 2, or now also Wonder Girl if you prefer, and kicks off with a battle with Mecha Dragon. During the battle however, you are cursed and turned into a lizard. This initial section of the game serves not only to establish the games story, but also as the initial tutorial and breaks you in to the games control and non-linear world. The games plot revolves around seeking out a cure for curse to restore you back to your initial form, and from the games central village hub you’ll need to explore several branching routes which span various locations such as deserts, beaches and volcanic lava fields.
Accessing and traversing each area requires a different set of traits and abilities which are granted to the player in the form of ‘transformations’. Leading on from your initial cursed form, there are 5 other forms to be unlocked. Each form bestows upon you a set of skills unique to that character and are critical in helping you explore deeper into the world. Your initial form is that of Lizard-Man who has the ability to launch fireballs from his mouth towards on coming enemies. Alongside this, other forms include Mouse-Man who can stick to certain types of walls/ceilings and ascend to locations that other forms can’t. Piranha-Man allows you to swim in water rather than just sink to the bottom. Lion-Man has the ability to break certain types of blocks to access new areas and finally there is Bird-Man who can fly. Switching between your various unlocked forms isn’t just something you access at any time, instead requiring you to visit special hubs which can mean a fair amount of back tracking should you proceed too far down a certain path as the wrong form.
Alongside each forms unique abilities, you’ll be able to draw upon a selection of special attacks such as a mini tornado which is great to drop into an enemy filled hole, or an arrow which shoots skyward useful for dispatching particularly annoying airborne enemies. There are also various shops scattered around the world, some obvious and some hidden, where you can purchase weapons and armour to boost your attributes and help defeat some of the more tougher enemies.
On the technical level, the game itself does some rather impressive things. Under the hood, developer Lizardcube has reverse engineered the original Master System code starting with a ROM dump and painstakingly study of the assembly code to understand exactly how important engine functions such as hit boxes, movement and AI worked. Without the original source to work from, this process is very involved and extremely painstaking but the reward is a remake that replicates the feel of the original. What is particularly telling is that the save code system from the original, a mechanism to restore progress in a game by entering a code in the absence of battery backed SRAM or memory cards, is perfectly emulated and as such if you have codes from the original they will work for this remake. Alongside understanding the original code, the original art and audio assets have been extracted which can be switched to at any point during game play similar to the recent Halo anniversary additions. The attention to detail and dedication undertaken certainly demands appreciation.
This approach hasn’t however stopped Lizardcube from adding their own touch. They have updated the art and audio to modern standards and adapted everything to work at a solid 60 FPS. As previously mentioned, there is now an option to play as Wonder Girl and also great effort has been taken to adapt the game to support modern 16:9 displays. Its a perfect harmony of the old and new, and at no point does it feel that the scales tip particularly one way or the other. The ability to switch between classic graphics and audio is a nice touch, and you can even mix the modern with the old for example settling with the newer visuals whilst listening to the classic 8 bit audio. Having not played the original, it’s a surprisingly interesting formula that has stood the test of time reasonably well. For me it drew comparisons with Metroid for its platforming and exploration mechanics alongside similarities to Disney’s Magical Quest for the different forms you can take. It can be a little frustrating in places, but a generous health bar helps to keep these moments few and far between.
For fans of the original, then this is certainly a must buy. As far as remakes go, I don’t feel that they get much better than this and the attention to detail and passion has really come through in all aspects of the game. For those of you who like me hadn’t heard of this series before this point then what you have is a decent action adventure with some platforming elements and nostalgic, challenging gameplay.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap was provided to us by Xbox via a digital code for Xbox One.