When I started playing Wonder Boy, I was instantly floored by the beautiful graphics, but I ultimately hated the gameplay. It felt slow and dumbed down as if for an infant, yet the difficulty was far too high for a child of that age. Something felt off. I knew there was an old game called Wonder Boy, so I started looking into it. Wow! I felt like a complete dolt when I found out that this isn’t a sequel, but more of a 1 to 1 recreation of the original Master System game with new visuals. The game’s mechanics are identical to the original which says a lot both for the original and for this “new” game.
By that, I mean that it feels old. One of these things is that enemies flash before they disappear and then drop items, which shoot up into the air and then bounce a few times before disappearing themselves. If you’re any kind of good at platformers, this really slows down the game’s pace because you need the coins they drop to buy upgraded gear. Coins and the things you’ve bought with them are the only things you keep upon dying, so you really want to grab those coins. It really makes me wish that the game was a re-make rather than a re-skin. That said, after I found out that this was a re-skin of a Master System classic, I was actually impressed with how well the game’s mechanics hold up over time. I know, I know! It sounds like I’m completely contradicting myself here, but a lot has changed in the genre since the original was released, and this game could have benefited from some of it.
As I mentioned earlier, the art style is simply jaw-dropping. It looks so much like the concept art and it’s nice to see touches like a turn slide instead of the old “wobble slide”. To clarify, your character will now do a special animation when you quickly turn around while running. It’s a very nice touch that you can press ZR to see the original graphics at any time. I found myself doing this quite frequently, but quickly shifting back to the newer, much better artwork. Likewise, you can press the R Stick down to listen to the music and sound effects from the original.
If you’re like me, and never played any of the original Wonder Boy games, maybe I should tell you what this game is all about. There really isn’t that much to the game. You start off as a child hero at the gate of an enemy’s castle. You’re supposed to slay a dragon. The game seems way too easy at this point, and you have a whole lot of health. When you get to the boss’ lair and destroy him, he curses you and transforms you into a “lizard boy” that can shoot fireballs a short distance. Once this happens, your health is reduced to one heart and your items are taken from you. In other words, you’re extra weak and ready to begin the game.
The gameplay is similar to that of the Metroidvania games in that you traverse a world map fighting off foes and navigating small labyrinths to fight the boss of the area. New areas open up as you tackle new bosses and gain new curses. Curses come in the form of different animal hybrid monsters that each have different special skills. At one point, you gain the ability to change form at will, but until you get the correct item and figure out how it works, this is one of those old game design decisions that really irk me when there are so many available buttons they could have used.
I originally felt that the game was not worth the price of admission, however; after playing through it, I found it a delightful but simple throwback to games of old. If you played the original when you were a kid, you’ll get a kick out of this. If you’ve got kids who would enjoy the art style, I’m sure it’ll entertain them for hours.