Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap Review
Way back in the days of the Sega Master System, there existed a series of platform action games headlined by Wonder Boy. Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap, widely regarded as the best of the games, followed the story of Wonder Boy and his transformation into Lizard-Man following the defeat of the Mecha Dragon. Over the course of the adventure, Wonder Boy could take on additional animal forms, including Mouse-Man, Lion-Man and everyone's favorite, Hawk-Man. The cool switching between forms and powers was nothing short of a revelation back in those days, and thus, the game retains a rabid fanbase to this day, of which this author proudly counts himself as a member. That fanbase also included developer Lizardcube, who have masterfully taken the original game, a relic by today's standards, and updated it with a shiny new coat of paint and much more, giving today's gamers a chance to see what all us ancients are talking about when we fondly remember this forgotten hero and the game he reached his peak with. What Lizardcube has done here is nothing short of amazing, making Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap on PS4 the kind of remake every single older gamer wishes their forgotten favorites would get.
Before beginning this piece, I did a quick check of the "box of old video games" in the basement and, yup, there was my original cartridge, safe at home in its immense plastic Master System box. I briefly thought of hooking up the old Sega to give it another whirl, but decided against it. Well, guess what? The remade Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap contains not just the fantastic new version, with all its graphical and auditory upgrades, but the entire original version as well. No need to break out those old cords and RF adapters; the entire original game is right here. But wait, here is the coolest part: a simple button press allows you to switch between the new and old versions on the fly, a feature so many of us have wished for in other remakes and remasters. Want to fight the final boss with the shiny new graphics and sound? Go ahead! Sick of it mid-way through the epic battle? Just hit a button and there is the original, in all its pixel-y, chiptune glory! For fans of the original, this feature alone makes the new game worth double the asking price, and during my three playthroughs (yes, three - it's that much fun to relive this adventure), I was constantly swapping back and forth, admiring the new artwork alongside the blocky graphics that captivated me all those years ago.
Ok, so I've addressed the absolute best part of the game for existing fans, but I realize there aren't a huge number of people reading this who have even heard of Wonder Boy, let alone played his games. So let's start at the beginning. Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is an unapologetically old-school action platformer, and Lizardcube has changed NOTHING about that fact, for better or worse. Enemies respawn if they are off-screen for even a second, the difficulty can be frustratingly high and checkpoints almost don't exist; this is the kind of game that made people hurl controllers at TV sets all those years ago. But these ancient hurdles aside, the core is still a fresh, fun experience. A precursor to the Metroidvania style of game, Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap had you hopping all over a surprisingly varied landscape, searching out upgrades, new animal transformations and some weird, wonderful bosses (you'll never look at pigs the same way after playing through this game). But as great as it does look and sound now, Wonder Boy isn't for everyone. Like I said, its old-school trappings are very much intact, and I can see these gameplay relics frustrating newer gamers. That said, if you want to see how things were done back in the day, Wonder Boy is a fantastic history lesson.
Now, let's discuss what Lizardcube has done with the game's presentation. They've turned a game that is visually ready for its' close-up in the background of Fred Savage's landmark film "The Wizard" (look it up, kids) into a beautifully animated hand-drawn cartoon with a full orchestral score. The new character designs and fantastic hand-drawn animation are a storybook come to life, and even if the difficulty and lack of QoL improvements brought by decades of gaming make you shy away, you still need to see and hear Wonder Boy in action. Enough can't be said in words about how amazing this game looks and sounds; the best way for me to describe it is to say that it looks and sounds like your memories of your favorite old-school games, not how they ACTUALLY looked and sounded. And the comparison between old and new Wonder Boy is just a simple button press away!
It's pretty clear that as a fan of the original, I loved the remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap. Everything I remember is in place, only with updated - beautifully so - visuals and sound. The whole original game is included and an integral part of the package, and this is the kind of remake that drives fans absolutely wild. Newer gamers may shy away from some of the old-school issues that all games from back then seemed to share, but those willing to look to the past with fresh eyes will find a gem of an action platformer that was nothing short of amazing for its time. Old fan or new gamer, make sure you give Wonder Boy more than a passing glance.
Final Rating: 94% - A remake as wonderful as the original.