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Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap review

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap

So this is pretty weird. There’s 2 games based on Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap (third in the really weird Wonder Boy series) this year. There’s Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom which is basically a spiritual successor, and this one, which is a port/remake of the original. Both looked pretty good.

I actually never played the original Dragon’s Trap, which was on Sega Master System, Game Gear and TurboGrafx-16. I was always looking for it back when I was collecting “retro” games, but it’s a game that has alluded me (as far as finding it for reasonable non-ebay prices). So it was great to get a chance to actually play it. (note: I believe the TurboGrafx-16 version is called Dragon’s Curse, in case you were wondering)

So let’s go and see if I was missing on something cool!

Developer: Lizardcube
Publisher: DotEmu
Date of Release: April 18th 2017
Platform: Switch, PC, PS4, Xbone (Switch version played)
Genre: Side-scrolling platformer

Rated E10+ for Everyone over 10

Presentation

This being a remake of an old game, it features this occasional feature where you can switch between classic graphics and the new ones. The new ones are these beautiful 2D drawings that happen to move. Really nice design-wise. They clearly put a lot of effort into the visuals, both from a quality perspective, but also environmental effects and lighting. It looks really awesome. The original graphics are no slouch though. The retro graphics are probably slightly altered, partly to fit more on the screen than originally (it has to fit in a different screen ratio after all), but it looks quite nice. Fairly simple backgrounds, nice big sprites, really colorful. It goes kinda abstract at parts (and gets a black background when in buildings), but that’s kind of a product of the time. This is a game where I could play pretty easily both ways. There’s a few parts (specifically the final boss battle) where I had less trouble playing with the “retro” graphics though.

On the sound side, you have the choice between new music and old music, as well as the choice between old and new sound effects. As for the music, both versions of it are really nice, I could go in-between them no matter what, however I find the volume to be a bit better on the new music, so I prefer to go with that. However there’s no doubt in my mind you should be playing with the classic sound effects, they sound a lot cooler. I must say it’s really nice that all these options are separate, I tended to have the new graphics and music but the old sounds.

Story… well you play as Wonder Boy (aka Hu-Boy) or Wonder Girl (aka Hu-Girl). You’re all decked out in really good equipment and you’re up against the final boss. But when you beat him some weird spirit pops out and when you touch it you get cursed and transformed into a dragon (and lose all your end-game gear). So now you must travel the world and figure out how to fix the curse. Very simple stuff. There’s barely anything there, and that’s completely fine.

Gameplay

So this is a side-scrolling platformer. Some might call it a Metroidvania, it’s pretty similar.

The controls are very simple. One button to jump, one to attack, one for subweapons, and the D-pad moves your character and opens doors.

You start as Wonder *insert gender here* and before long you’re transformed into a dragon. The dragon can shoot fire, unlike the really short sword stab the human could do. So the goal is to explore a fairly straightforward world to find the cure to the curse. As you kill enemies you find subweapons and money. You can use money to buy equipment. Equipment comes in the form of swords, shields and armor. Even though you’re a dragon, equipment does still boost your stats. A weird thing, getting hit gives some knockback, but as long as you’re flashing you get bounced around (and the flashing reset) by following hits. That’s kinda odd to me, but that means following hits don’t hurt you since you’re flashing. I assume there’s some exploitation of that mechanic possible.

After fighting the first real boss as the dragon, money spawns but there’s another curse, and you become a mouse warrior. Despite being smaller, and his attack being back to a really short-range stab like the human character, is actually statistically stronger than the dragon. Plus he can climb up checkerboard walls. With that ability you can explore more of the game. As you advance you do find more transformations, which give you access to more areas and so on. Each transformation gets different stats from different equipment.

You can switch between transformations but it requires finding rooms that have a pedestal that will transform you. They may or may not be a bit hidden. There is a sword you can find that let you switch on-the-fly but I don’t know where it is.

The boss battles are pretty fun for the most part. Strangely the subweapons do nearly no damage on them, so you have to get close and personal to damage them significantly. The final boss I found a lot easier with the graphics in 8-bit mode actually. Maybe it’s just me.

Minor annoyance for me, grinding cash is slow and annoying. One part I found was pretty good for grinding cash but it’s a bit hidden and is still rather slow.

Changes from original, as far as I can find

The original had something called Charm stones (which you had to grind for). They’re not here, or at least not quite in the same fashion. There’s an area called “The unknown”, one for each of the transformations. These are challenge sections that have some difficult puzzles and platforming, using the characters’ unique abilities. You get rewarded with a stone. I don’t know what doing all of them does, I’ve only found 2 (though I think I know where a third is).

Also, once you beat the game, you do get to play as the human character in the normal game (and get a new Unknown), so that’s pretty cool. I was actually wondering why they added the choice to play as a boy or girl, since the transformations are actually the same visually between them, but once you finish the game you do get that one small visual change. Yay?

I don’t know if they changed any of the level design. I doubt it though.

Overall

This seems to be LizardCube’s first game (though the people at the company are veterans, some that worked at Media Molecule… so it’s nice to see them making good games for once), and I hope to see more from them soon if this is their standard of quality. Despite it being essentially a port, the presentation and gameplay are both really solid. I honestly have almost nothing to really complain about here that isn’t either petty, or my own fault. Happy I got to finally play this classic, and in a new way at that. Fans of the original should love it, new players should love it too.

This is a game I do recommend, though the 26$ (canadian) price might be a bit high for some (I think that’s 20$ US), but then again the Sega Master System version is gonna cost you WAY more (plus extra if you don’t already have the SMS… and the TG-16 version costs even more). So it’s a decent bargain and, despite not being a super long game, it is one I do consider very fun. Not sure how 20$ US became the standard for “indie” games (this isn’t indie, though people will call it that).

Can’t wait for Monster Boy, hopefully a release date for that gets announced soon (and a confirmation for the physical Switch version).

Random Switch note

I played this entirely in handheld mode on Switch. The button-based D-pad on the left joy-con? Perfectly viable for this type of game. (I might have mentioned that in my Specter of Torment review, don’t remember, so I thought I’d mention it here too)

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