I wrote several years ago, when I was thinking of getting into the youtube game with a series of videos about Sega Genesis games (a desire that hasn’t really went away), about the best Genesis game that was not released, at least not on that console, in America: Monster World IV. That game was something of a revelation. It is a near perfect 16-bit action platformer, as good as anything on the Genesis or SNES. Recently, the previous game in that series’ convoluted lineage got a remake. Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap (Alternatively Monster World II: The Dragon’s Trap) is one of the absolute best Master System games, and this very faithful remake proves that it mostly holds up.
While Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap – or Wonder Girl if you so choose – is most striking for its marvelous new visuals, it is a very faithful to the original in how it plays. Despite featuring some of the most impressive 2D visuals I’ve ever seen, the game still plays almost identically to its original version. In fact, with the press of a button you can switch from the new graphics to the old and nothing else changes. It is astounding that they managed to get it to look so good with compromising in regards to controls or animation. There is usually some sort of trade off there, but here it is seamless. I have praised Wayforward, the best in current 2D games, for their efforts in games like Shantae ½ Genie Hero and DuckTales Remastered, but this game both looks and plays better than either of those two games. It is really just an astounding achievement.
It isn’t a perfect package, though. Sometimes a game from 1989 plays like a game from 1989. It can be obtuse at times, with unclued secret doors, as well difficult in ways that feel unfair. There is no way to square this circle. The game likely would have been improved for modern audiences if it was friendlier with checkpoints and respawns, but I can’t fault them for sticking closely to the original.
As for what it is, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is a sort of metroidvania exploration focused platformer. It really is mostly straightforward, with each level largely being a straight line to the end, followed by a trip back to the hub town to follow the next level to the end of its line. You collect subweapons, live extenders and gold to buy new weapons and armor. It isn’t anything you can’t find in a dozen other games, but it was something of a trailblazer in its day and it is all around really well executed. The game’s gimmick is that at the beginning the protagonist is cursed and turned into a dragon. As the game progresses, similar curses turn the player character into several other forms, like a mouse and a lion. Each form has different abilities and eventually you can use each of them to traverse the stages.
Really, it is a great game that has aged better than many of its vintage given a wonderful fresh coat of paint and presented with love and care that is all but unmatched. Any fans of 8 and 16-bit games owe it to themselves to pick this game up.