The poor, poor Master System. Coming out as the NES was gaining serious traction in America, it stood no chance of competing with the big N over there. In Japan it was a similar case, exacerbated by some dubiously anticompetitive tactics from Nintendo that prevented third parties putting out games for both systems.

Many point to Europe as the territory Sega’s 8 bit console succeeded in, but it’s all relative. The Master System, thanks to competitive pricing and good advertising (most people of a certain age recall our TVs asking us to do them a favour and plug them into a Sega) was markedly more popular in the U.K., and arguably outstripped the NES. The 1980s were a computer age however, and it was the Spectrum, C64 and Amiga that won nostalgic hearts and minds far more than the Sega’s machine.

Less familiarity with the system meant less familiarity with its games. The result is a nod of vague familiarity when it comes to titles like Wonder Boy 3, instead of poetic waxing. This is a shame, since Wonder Boy 3 is a cracker of a game.

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While Wonder Boy originated as a simple arcade platformer (we won’t digress into the whole Adventure Island name based confusion), this third entry had much more of an action RPG vibe. After a brief set up and easy boss fight, you find yourself starting the game proper in a village that serves as a non linear hub. From here, you use different abilities learned to get into the game’s levels, all connected in wonderfully surreal fashion. The locales themselves are all typical platform game settings, from volcanoes to ancient pyramids to spooky castles, but having them connected to the village hub by simple doors you walk through gives Wonder Boy a sense of whimsy similar games lacked.

Once in these stages, you’re inevitably going to find yourself the wrong end of their inhabitants. Refreshingly though, death means a return to the village hub, but with the money you earned intact. You’re then able to buy improved gear to attack and defend more effectively for your next venture forth. Had WB3 been a product of the modern era, it would be easy to imagine it as another Rogue lite affair, but the run like nature of the game along with the traditional memorisation required by tough 80s platformers works in a way that still feels fresh 30 years on.

Alongside the run based nature of the game, Wonder Boy 3’s other calling card is hinted at in the Dragon’s Trap subtitle. See, WB 3’s bosses take the form of rampaging dragons, each in possession of a curse. Dispatch them, and in their death throws they’ll unleash said curse on you, transforming you into a different animal. Each animal has its own set of abilities, from the lion’s broader attack swipes to the mouse’s ability to scale walls.

The levels are laid out in a non linear fashion, and you can uncover secrets by returning to areas as a different animal. You can’t hot swap between creatures however; even switching animals at all isn’t an option until halfway through the game. Rather than a Metroid like expansion of your verb set, it’s a fixed list that changes each time, with its own positives and drawbacks.

Sitting down and playing Wonder Boy 3 in 2017, it’s striking how fresh it feels. This redux does make minor changes to the original, true, easing some sections, making some abilities easier to obtain, and adding new challenging areas. Yet for the most part, this is the game those few of the Master System faithful sat down to back when. While irritations are present (the latter stages of the game, when things start getting rough, are crying for checkpoints, but you have to undertake the whole long journey back to the scene of your death should you croak) the overwhelming sensation is that had this been published by Nintendo, it would have received decades of wistful nostalgia.

So Wonder Boy 3, while flawed in some parts and showing its age in others, is pretty great. Wonder Boy: the Dragon’s Trap, as a 2017 HD redux? Flawless. Lizardcube tweaked certain parts of the game, adding sections here and removing irritations there, but their real work has been aesthetic. And my god, this game is gorgeous. Its graphics exude hand animated flair, with unspeakably cute protagonists given painstaking animations choc full of charm. As the fire breathing dragon boy in the early stages of the game, you’ll find yourself changing directions and crouching just to see how he animates (yes, the game has a really good *crouching animation*. I mean it), and cooing at how the Fire he breathes casts its own light on the dragon himself.

Compare this shot to the fancy one above. Nice, right?

Compare this shot to the fancy one above. Nice, right?

The game’s locales are just as full of character, enough for you to reach for the right trigger every now and then to flip to 8 bit visuals and wonder at just how much life has been breathed into the game. Should you really want to play in old school style, there’s the usual level of scan line and monitor style filters you might expect, but it’s nevertheless nice to see purists catered to.

That same level of dedication to original fans can be found in the game’s sound and music. You can opt for retro or modern music and sound effects separately, and even toggle on and off the FM Sound Unit effect. Wonder Boy 3 was one of few Master System/Mark 3 games that supported Sega’s FM sound expansion, a Japanese exclusive piece of kit that added extra sound channels to games.

Not that you’d want to go for the retro music. The rearranged music, performed on strings, clarinets and guitars is nothing short of stunning, hooking quickly into your brain and not letting go. Between fantastic new presentation and comprehensive options for enjoying the original, Lizardcube have sent a new benchmark for retro updates.

Often retro remakes and reduxes are tough to look at, either with redone visuals that feel clumsily put together, or serving to remind you a game wasn’t as good as you remembered it. Wonder Boy: Dragon’s Trap not only serves as a great way to experience a piece of history, it deserves to earn new fans of a game that was criminally overlooked in the first place.

KAIJU VERDICT
3/4 Pops: Exceptional A significant cut above the crowd. Though flawed or otherwise not necessarily for everyone, it does things other games in the genre do not, or tries something new with a great deal of success.
Switch version tested.

About The Author

Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)