FLY MY HAWK-MAN!
In an age where HD remasters are a la mode there are only a few that particularly get me excited when they’re announced. Final Fantasy VII for example whets my appetite and so did the unexpected announcement of Wonder Boy (3) The Dragons Trap last year.
I owned and played the original release on the Master System and hold fond memories of the whole series. It was arguably my first RPG or at the least the first open world setup I came across (even Wonder Boy in Monster Land had levels). It was also a game which I remember being initially disappointed of as I thought it was the same as the Wonder Boy 3 (Monster Lair) arcade game. After getting over that disappointment I grew fond of it as its own title that I’d not heard of or heard my friends talk about. Upon the announcement I was confused as to why this entry was chosen for remaster when the other titles in the series were in my opinion more popular or just all round better games. It made sense to me upon reflection, this was an entry in the series which was a console exclusive and is probably one of the more unknown at that (in the UK at least). Also for what plot is there it’s quirky and not too distant from something you’d find on the indie scene these days. Pair these reasons with the fact it probably doesn’t draw premium licence rates at it all starts to make sense why this was chosen for a HD re-release.
So plot wise it tells a rather novel story which has you starting by playing the finale of the previous game, albeit overpowered, when upon slaying the final dragon you become cursed and transformed into (a) Lizard Man whilst losing all your upgrades, lives, weapons etc. Que a dynamic escape from a crumbling castle and the beginning of your new quest to find the sacred item which will lift the curse and turn you human once again! The journey proves to be taxing however as you repeatedly get cursed and change into various different forms (each with their own unique abilities and weaknesses) until you reach your end goal.
Whereas I had a manual to fill me in with all these plot points as a kid, here a handful of still screens do the same job.
To sum up the remastered aspect I think the one word that will do is “charming”. Replacing the chunky sprites of the original there are hand drawn Locations and characters, all of whom have that sort of scratchy pencil drawing aesthetic and animate in a silky smooth fashion. The soundtrack has been updated and covers of the original themes using real instruments rather than being electronic. The Beach soundtrack featuring steel drums and a trumpet is particularly nice.
Not unlike the Halo Anniversary remake, you’re able to switch between the original graphics and the remastered version at any time. This is done with the touch of a button and goes to evidence that all the controls, hit boxes and physics remain intact from 1989 and they work surprisingly well. The remastered graphics add some welcome variety to the various (and varied) settings which you’ll visit and you can independently change the graphics, music and sfx to their original versions to suit your preference.
The game is a 2D platform come RPG affair which is based in an open world. Being an early example of the trope it unfortunately suffers the same issues which were synonymous with the time, the main of which is the lack of signposting. You can be left with no real idea as to where you’ll be needing to go next and it’s very easy to take a wrong turn later on and repeatedly stumble into an area where you’d be completely under-levelled.
Some effort has been made to signify where a hidden room might be (broken signs showing that something was once there) and there is some additional dialogue in the stores you visit but it’s not quite enough to explain that you have to go to a certain area, pick up a certain item (which doesn’t hold a clear description of what it lets you do), to then travel back to the area which you’ve already been to but now your characters ability lets you progress…
The game can be unforgiving at times if you don’t take the opportunity to buy certain items (which won’t be immediately obvious). I found myself barely surviving a dungeon only to die mere feet from the boss. I then found that had I purchased and equipped a certain shield I wouldn’t be having anywhere as near much trouble however said Shield was a 10 minute backtrack to a corner of the map I had no other reason to revisit (and I’d already been to and foolishly decided I didn’t need at the time).
You begin the game with a single heart and 1 “Revival Potion”, you’re able to increase your quota of both as the adventure progresses. The setup is such that you only have 1 life but essentially infinite continues. When you do inevitably die (and without some sort of guide it’s pretty much assured you will at some point) you’re respawned in the main hub town with none of the spells that you accumulated and depending on a roulette style gamble will determine whether you get another potion too (I died a handful of times and didn’t win one once!). The Revival potions kick in automatically when you’re out of health and can be obtained via certain chests or if you’re lucky enough by killing an enemy. It’s entirely possible to stockpile 2 or 3 only to take a wrong turn and end up in a situation where you’re so out-levelled that you lose them all and then end up thrust back to the hub town with nothing (good luck!).
To top this off the game appears to auto-save (a welcome new feature as the original ran on passwords which are still also present) every few seconds so the moment you die, lose all your collected spells and are transported back to the main hub town, it saves it.
To be honest if you were able to carry on from whence you fell you’d likely only take 90 mins to storm through the whole title. I managed to take an educated play through in little over 3 hours all in.
So the result is ultimately a mixed bag. What I mean here is that some aspects have rather surprisingly stand the test of time and some that don’t. It’s a bit of a shame as the design choices could have rectified this a little to shave down that final layer of frustration. Specifically some guidance as to what items actually do and where they could be found would enhance the experience.
They clearly very much loved the source material and done the right thing keeping all the main changes cosmetic. This is a lesser known game that gamers should look up, it’s worth the few hours fun you can have.