That all changes with Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap, a classic Metroidvania-style game remade with gorgeous art and music from indie developer Lizardcube and DotEmu. And 2D games this beautiful don't come along every day!
A brief history of Wonder Boy
The Wonder Boy series began as a clumsy 2D platformer starring a tribal boy who traveled across islands to battle an evil king and save a princess. That game is available as an HD remake on Steam called Wonder Boy Returns.
Oddly enough, the original developer Westone licensed the exact same game, except without the title and characters (owned by Sega) to Hudson Soft. That game became Hudson's Adventure Island, which would go on to have its own unique sequels separate from the Wonder Boy series.
Wonder Boy games (and the spinoffs under the Monster World name) would proliferate on the Sega Master System and Genesis/Mega Drive. For some reason, there were two different Wonder Boy III games: 1988's Monster Lair and 1989's The Dragon's Trap. Lizardcube has wisely chosen to remake the latter as Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap for Xbox One and other platforms.
Meanwhile, a brand-new spiritual successor, called Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, is due later in 2017.
Boy meets girl meets lizard
Before the game begins, you choose between Wonder Boy or Wonder Girl (new to this HD version) and select from three difficulty levels. Dragon's Trap is tough as nails, even on easy, but at least your hero can take more damage and gets a potion (extra life) by default. You can choose to enter passwords from the original game, although this version also saves your progress automatically.
The Dragon's Trap starts players out in the final area of the second Wonder Boy game (Monster Land), fully powered up and ready to take on that game's boss, the Meka Dragon. Upon defeating him, our hero finds himself (or herself) cursed, trapped in the form of a Lizard-Man. Thus begins the journey to reclaim your Hu-Man form and rid the world of the remaining evil dragons.
Being a Lizard-Man isn't so bad. He can spit fire a short distance, giving him a greater attack range than Wonder Boy's sword. But he has lost all of his equipment and heart containers, and the world has many areas that are inaccessible to a Lizard. Our protagonist must search for new equipment and a way to change forms.
Metroidvania before it was cool
Post-transformation, players awaken in a town that serves as the hub of the game. From here, you can set out in numerous directions and even climb a tower that leads to the final boss. The town also contains a handful of shops, a fortune teller who provides passwords (originally the only way of resuming where you left off), and a hidden chamber from which Wonder Boy will be able to change between unlocked forms.
The game plays much like a Metroidvania game (an exploration-focused action-platformer), although it predates the popularization of that term and subgenre. Wonder Boy will explore various regions, encountering places he can't reach or enter without specific forms or equipment. Doors, some hidden, provide shortcuts back to town or other areas in lieu of a fully-fleshed out fast travel system.
Scattered throughout the world are a series of towers, each presided over by a deadly dragon. Manage to beat these bosses and Wonder Boy will change to a new animal form. Initially, he is stuck in the new form. Being trapped as a Mouse-Man is especially tough because of the super short range of his sword. But soon, you'll find the changing chamber in town and eventually a sword that lets you change forms at any time.
Each of Wonder Boy's forms has its own distinct look and powers:
- Lizard-Man: Breathes fire and can duck.
- Mouse-Man: Tiny and can walk on certain walls and ceilings.
- Piranha-Man: He can swim in water rather than sinking to the bottom like others.
- Lion-Man: His sword has a wide arc that allows him to break blocks above and below.
- Hawk-Man: Played by the worst actor by far in Legends of Tomorrow. Whoops, wrong Hawk-Man! This one can fly and reach high areas but takes damage from water.
Enhanced versions of older games aren't all that unusual – see Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition. But games that let you switch back and forth between the new visuals and old ones are far less common. Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap lets you do just that at any time with a press of the right trigger.
What's more, clicking in the right stick changes the music and sound effects back to the original Sega Master System sounds, separately from the graphics. So at any time, you can play the game with new graphics and old sounds, or vice versa. You can even go into the options and individually toggle between new and old music and sound effects.
The Dragon's Trap plays virtually identically to the original version of the game, albeit with functions that previously required button combinations now assigned to single buttons. You can switch between secondary weapons, like boomerangs and fireballs, via the bumper buttons rather than selecting them from the pause menu, for instance.
Words can't do this remake's visuals justice. It's quite literally the most beautiful 2D platformer I've ever played. The new art perfectly brings every character and enemy to life, now looking like actual cartoon characters (they remind me of DuckTales) with loads of expression and charm.
The backgrounds show tons of thought and care, with loads of parallax scrolling and lighting effects. Newly-added signs appear only with the HD visuals, pointing to the best pathway so that new players don't get lost.
Being able to hop back and forth between the new graphics and (similarly beautiful) sounds really shows just how much work the developers put into this remake. They really spared no expense to make the best possible version of The Dragon's Trap.
The Xbox One version of Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap has 13 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. These tasks involve finding each form's magical stone (always located at the end of a challenging hidden section), defeating every dragon boss, and beating the game on hard.
Knocking out the game on hard would be excruciating, if not for the password system. Because The Dragon's Trap supports all of the original game's passwords, you can input a special password to skip basically to the end of the game. Thus I was able to beat the game on hard as my first Achievement in about five minutes! Similar techniques work for the stone Achievements, too, although they're much more challenging.
Having knocked out the game on hard, you're free to play on easy and just enjoy the experience. A speedrun takes about two hours, but a normal playthrough should clock in at six hours or so. I only wish this one had more Achievements. There should at least be some for collecting all the swords, shields, and armor in the game.
Overall impressions of Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap
Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is an absolutely perfect remake of a classic game that predates many of today's gamers. Lizardcube and DotEmu not only brought The Dragon's Trap back for a new generation to appreciate, they also lavished it with utterly incredible artwork and newly performed music.
The only thing you could possibly want that's not found here is more story. Besides the intro, ending, and new shopkeepers' dialog, there really isn't any narrative. It's just one big world filled with exploration, challenges, and platforming goodness. The goal of this remake is to let players jump between new and old at any time, so extra cinematics would gum up the work anyway.
- Switch between new and old visuals and sound at any time.
- One of the best-looking 2D games of all time, and it sounds good too.
- An expansive Metroidvania-style platformer filled with secrets and challenge.
- Even on easy, it might be too tough for some players.
- Very little story, owing to the game's 80s origins.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap costs $19.99 and is now available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. The Steam version will come along in June. You 2D game lovers don't want to miss it!
Xbox One review code provided by the publisher.
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