Re-Tro-View - Wonder Boy Series Part Two

June 19, 2017

Sitting There So Proudly

                                                  

So we’ve covered the first 3 games in the series which all started life in the arcade and I’m going to conclude here with the final 3 games in the series which all actually saw release on consoles. If you've just stumbled upon this post and haven't had a chance to check out part one you can do so HERE

 

Wonder Boy 3: The Dragons Trap

 

SO as previously mentioned, contrary to the title this is actually the 4th game in the series and the 2nd in the Monster Land/World series. The 3 in the title actually relates to this being the 3rd game which was released for the Master System.

 

This is also the title which has most recently received a remake which actually inspired this post. They dropped the “3” from the title which I’m sure was to save on confusion and certainly makes sense!

 

The game actually retells the finale from Monster Land starting in the final labyrinth on your way to face the Meka (Mecha?) Dragon. Upon Fighting and defeating the Dragon a curse is released (geddit?) which will chase you around the screen (spitting coins for a set amount of time) until it catches Wonder Boy. This transforms the character into a Lizard-man to whom apparently all weapons and armour are useless as he can now breathe fire instead. So leaving his (presumably Legendary?) equipment’s behind. Escaping the collapsing castle you head to a village where you’re advised that you’ll need the Salamander Cross to lift the curse and so it begins.

 

 The game plays similarly to the original Monster Land albeit with many improvements over the original formula.

My first memory of this game was actually one of disappointment, but not because the game was bad. My parents surprised me having purchased it knowing how much a fan I was of the third game in the arcade and upon booting it up it wasn’t what I was expecting. Persevering I gave the game a go and steadily grew more and more fond every time I played it.

 

The other feeling that is conjured up is one of mild frustration as the game makes use of the pause screen on the Master System to show your current equipment layout and the like, for which the button is actually located on the console rather than the pad! 1 reason to be jealous of my best mates NES at the time. Monster Land 1 did a similar job however your best loadout (doubt it was referred to as that at the time) was automatic and hence wasn’t as essential as it is here.

 

This is one of the first non-linear games I ever played so it took some getting used to at the age of 9.

The village acts as a central hub which you can explore and will soon find that you can traverse a few paths and you cannot some others for the time being at least. As you progress in the game you will fight various dragons who will each transform you into a different creature each time you defeat one which in turn grants different abilities, allowing you to access a new part of the world. By the end of the game you’ll have transformed from Man to Lizard to Mouse to Piranha to Lion to Hawk and back to Man once more (phew). Each form also has weaknesses preventing you from accessing eachother’s dungeons ie. Water causes damage to Hawk man etc. In order to retrace your steps there is also a hidden room which allows you to flick through the various forms in case you missed anything previously and want to go back. 

 

Given the open world nature of the game you’ll not want to play through in a single sitting. Battery backup for saves is a crying omission here and instead you’ll be using a password system to carry on the adventure. Fun (questionable) Fact – I have never forgotten the master password which unlocks everything being “WE5T 0NE 0000 000” … sad really.

Thankfully (and no doubt due to the hardware) the series ditched the time limits found in its previous instalments allowing you as much time as you please to dig for its secrets and explore it’s colourful world. The world looks like it was put together with a tileset, which wasn’t uncommon at the time and I assume was a memory saving device. I instantly thought of Mario Maker when revisiting now and with that came a flood of excitement of the prospect of there being some sort of Monster World Maker. Apparently Legend of Zelda Maker is not on the cards at Nintendo (why bother making something that people are asking for when you can release deluxe versions of all the games on the WiiU?) so it would be amazing if Sega took the opportunity. Won’t happen. The dream 10 year old me didn’t know he had.

The plot is a quirky one and it’s not surprising to hear it was the title chosen for the remake. The indie game scene has opened the doors wide for solid game mechanics to hide behind strange tales and that’s exactly what you’ll find here.

In honesty I never finished the game back in the day. The number of secrets and the slight obscurity of some of the “puzzles” (I didn’t work out piranha’s can swim in lava) stopped me as by the time I owned it the magazines had stopped writing guides. Thankfully with the internet to hand now that is not a problem and my sleepless nights can finally end!

 

This probably won’t be the only reference I include to the likes of Shovel Knight or Shantae, but these 3 games in particular are essentially the source material for those titles (these and Ducktales naturally). The hardware constraints of this episode in the series do let it down, and it’s a style which doesn’t appear to have been revisited with the NES style being more favourable for developers.

 

I am yet to play the remake of this title (but can’t wait at the same time) where I’m hoping the gameplay is essentially untouched.

 

Good solid work from Westone. Still stands up and avoids being too slow at the start like the original owing to the fact that different shoes are not a thing.

 

 

 

Wonder Boy in Monster World

 

This was the pinnacle for me back in the day. Complete graphical overhaul using the next gen muscle of the Megadrive (Genesis if you like) to pump out more colours, larger sprites, better sound, the lot.

 

Unlike its predecessor the game keeps you firmly as Wonder Boy, or “Shion” in this game rather than transforming you around between different creatures.

 

The game is very much a retelling of the original Monster Land albeit rebuilt from the ground up (and not ending in quite the way it needs to). In line with Dragons Trap it’s now an open world, but one which exists in only 2 dimensions. The game actually begins with the same map as stage 1 of Monster Land, without the boss. Very quickly however you are crossing oceans (now with fully animated water! #blastprocessing), exploring forests, temples, deserts etc.

 

Similar to The Dragons Trap the game plays as an action RPG platformer. No time limits, gradual equipment improvement, money from killing enemies and chests and leveling up your hit points.

 

Replacing the variety of attacks are different types of weapons in the form of spears. Rechargeable Magic also makes an appearance with collectibles building up your bank of how many are available. These along with your health are recharges at the various Inns throughout the world. Thankfully Inn’s also act as a first in the series – Save points, yes the cartridge packs a built in battery and you can continue from a previous playthrough albeit with just the one slot. It’s handy as the whole quest will take you circa 5 (whole) hours to work through. You’ll visit a whole variety of locales including lava filled volcanoes to slip-slidey Ice Worlds too…16bit platforming staples. 

A nice touch is the inclusion of enemy health bars whenever you attack. Previously you’d continually stab (yes, stab) away at your enemies trying to count the amount of hits it takes to kill them with your given weapon, which naturally would reduce the stronger your sword got. Not anymore, there are actually a couple of paths throughout the game which you can access early on but would be under-levelled should you continue and the fact you can visibly see you’re doing little to effect the monsters inhabiting the area lets you realise it’s probably best to come back later on…or dare you venture on and find what advanced treasures they hold? No. best you’ll do is take 10 times as long to kill anything and get twice the cash which isn’t worth the investment (fyi, you don’t generally find any better weapons or armour in the various chests you discover).

 

A new addition to the formula is the inclusion of familiars who will help you the first time you access the various dungeons. These will assist in your progression and are sometimes essential to opening the route to the next dungeon. Their presence doesn’t change the dynamic entirely but each is useful in finding hidden items and doors etc. They make cameo appearances along with others in the final game in the series too.

 

Another cool touch is the presence of some old enemies from the other games in the series and not even just from the Monster World/Land games. The eagle eyed will spot the fish and bat bosses from the Monster Lair, along with fully functioning attacks where they fire smaller versions of themselves at you. Nice bit of fan service but also ties the Monster World games into the arcade canon…kind of. There’s even a boss based on the recurring boss of Wonder Boy 1 near the end of the game.

 

Rather than rely on different forms to access different areas of the world, the game instead uses its myriad of items to expand your repertoire. A trident allows you to swim underwater. Collecting the Pygmy armour allows you access to a room which shrinks you etc. The hub village also slowly becomes littered with doors which lead back to the dungeons you have completed so you can then have a loot around with your new items/abilities and can top up your count of hearts.

 

Had the game not been so paint-by-numbers regarding the style and location I’m sure this would have been ripe for the modern makeover rather than Dragons Trap. It would have made sense to have tweaked the plot and they could have started here or even extended this story to include Dragons Trap and made a new title with a bit more longevity.

The only thing that really grated this time was reintroducing the different boots. Sounds simple but early on it can take so long just to walk from screen to screen, exacerbated by the fact that you need to walk down a big flight of stairs early on, it gives the game a slow pace which will put people off in the first few minutes.

 

That said, the graphical style is one which is mimicked today and was not unpleasant on the eye. It may be more straight laced and less quirky than the other, but it is the title I find to stand up the best in the modern day.

The finale of the game holds a “shocking” twist whereby you are told that rather than it being The End…

Sadly outside Japan this wasn’t the case as there were no more games in the series released to this day (check the date as I have a suspicion that this may change.

 

Monster World 4 (MW4)

 

And on we go to the final entry in the series. Still developed by Westone the version I have played is actually on a repro cart which has been posthumously translated into English and I must say they appear to have had a lot of fun with it;

The game makes many grand steps forward for the series, however also, I personally feel, takes some unnecessary steps back. 

 

An example of the former would be the appointment of a female protagonist (we are always doing our bit for the battle of the genders at NOWO), this however resulted in the dropping of the Wonder Boy name from the title, but to be fair…no-one called him that anyways…

 

The game also is relatively unique in the fact that it has a middle-eastern theme featuring Genies and magic carpets and the like. Absolutely nothing to do with the release of Aladdin only a year or so earlier.

 

The game is set many years after Shion’s previous adventure and the world has been at peace for a long time. Shortly after you begin your adventure you hear that the evil is returning to Monster World and the 4 guardians have been sealed away. Naturally they are awaiting the legendary hero to arrive and save the day.

 

The game once again follows the gameplay format of the other Monster World games. This time however the experience is enhanced with cut scenes, both full screen and in-game.

 

Graphically the title really pushes the boat out on the previous instalments and even against the competition out there at the time. It’s filled with multi-layered parallax scrolling and animated background and even includes pseudo 3d effects in the bosses and reflections in the water(albeit selectively).

 

In Monster World the game sort of existed on 2 planes, those being the world and the rooms and paths that lie behind doors. MW4 extends this again to allow you to explore even deeper into the screen where you’ll find hidden items behind the backdrops and paths behind buildings. It’s a refreshing touch which makes you try and explore in interesting ways.

 

Now I mentioned the game did disappoint me a little and an example of this is the linearity of the story and dungeons. After an initial intro where you want adventure…for the sake of it (not sure if the translation is to blame here) and the first dungeon, you find yourself in a hub town which upon exploring has 4 sealed doors within it. You enter these in order, each leading to the next varied land.

 

It’s worth mentioning now that you are not alone in your quest. Early on you’ll be gifted an egg and from it will hatch a Pepelogoo, which essentially a reject flying type pokemon. This creature assists you in a similar way to the familiars in Monster World but also affords you a double jump, glide and some other location specific actions. In between dungeons you’ll be unable to progress until you feed the little blighter and each time this happens he’ll evolve grow a bit and change abilities.

 

It’s thanks to your pet that you’ll be unable to revisit any dungeons once completed. Sure the game advises that the door has been “resealed” but the truth is that due to its, and ergo your abilities changing, you’ll be unable to retrace your steps as you’ll lose the ability to do certain things. In the previous 2 titles you’re actively encouraged (with treasure! and Hearts!) to further investigate anywhere you’ve been before when you’ve “leveled up” a bit and can now jump further or swim higher etc. but here you just can’t… It’s a disappointing omission which could have been worked around easily.

 

The dungeons themselves here are MUCH larger than they ever were in the previous games. Start to finish these can take an hour themselves whereas before, probably 20 mins tops. As a result there are only the 6 of them and no discernible open world to explore beyond the village itself. You are given the option to return to the town at any point if you need to but this will result in you having to venture from the beginning again. 

There is a stronger reliance on puzzle solving in the dungeons too with key items being used in numerous locations, such as statues and a bucket to move water from source to extinguish fires etc. These parts a welcome change what I fear would be a bit of a monotonous trek.

 

In order to keep the pace up you can now, and for the first time since the original game, run. Removing boots from your upgradeable equipment this time and just letting you leg it around the stages at a satisfying pace.

In the previous Monster World titles you were constantly on the search for heart containers ala the Zelda series to boost your overall health. This time around you’ve actually got 2 methods to do this exclusive of each other which come from buying better armour, which directly affects your heart bar or via collecting Life Drops which litter the land. Every 10 of these provides an extra hit too with your final life bar maxing out at 30 overall.

Sadly they also opted to remove the enemy health bars this time round however with the lack of freedom this doesn’t have much impact as you’re always going to be in the right place.

 

The game takes an average 9 or 10 hours to get through (series record) and they’ve managed to squeeze on a second save spot for the pleasure. One can only assume this is so your friend or sibling can avoid writing over your progress as the replay value isn’t high unfortunately.

 

Playing this now I know I would have ADORED this title back in the day and were it not for the handful of flawed design choices I think it would have been best in the series. Sadly the linearity is the killer here so it rates in just under Monster World in my opinion.

 

​So that’s it.

 

I’m certainly glad that Sega have seen fit to now revisit the franchise. I always found it rather odd that with the development of the Sega All Stars series that Wonder Boy didn’t make an appearance either holding a tennis racquet or behind the wheel of a go-kart. What with the revival maybe we if we wish hard enough he’ll get his own statue in Smash Bros…
 

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