Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap
Developer(s): Lizard Cube
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Release date(s): April 18, 2017 (June 2017 for Windows)
Remakes are a dime a dozen, especially when developers do little to warrant a second purchase. The modern era is filled with remakes and remasters of games that didn’t really need it in the first place, as not much ends up changing between the two versions. Upping the resolution and/or including previously released DLC does not justify a re-release in most cases, especially not at full price. However, how does his apply to older titles? How should a company handle a remake when the original title came out 28 years ago?
If any company knows how to do this properly, it’s Lizard Cube. Their latest title, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, is the perfect example of how to remake an old cult-classic. The original title, Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, may not have been popular when it was released on the Sega Master System, but it wasn’t because of its quality. It was actually very ahead of its time, displaying many game mechanics that are normally taken for granted nowadays. Lizard Cube clearly saw the potential in bringing this title to a wider, more modern audience, and what they produced is nothing short of spectacular.
What makes this remake more special than the dozens of others that have erupted in the past few years? For starters, this is a frame-by-frame remake of the original game. This means that the levels are completely identical as well as the gameplay itself. Fans of the original game will be pleased to know that the retro experience is certainly kept alive here. However, what this game does better than any other remake before it is preservation and imagination. Lizard Cube has completely replaced the old eight-bit visuals with beautiful, hand-drawn art. Every single frame of this game is breathtaking, especially in motion. Backgrounds that were once blank on the original version have been replaced with sprawling landscapes that add depth to the world. It’s as if they brought the ideas that were stuck in the original developer’s heads to life, now that technology is no longer a limiting factor.
The music has also been completely redone. These remastered tracks do an amazing job of capturing the essence of the scene while also sounding similar to their chiptune counterparts. Each area comes to life when these tracks are playing, with stages like the beach and the canyon being standouts.
Wonder Boy certainly doesn’t leave the retro fans in the dust, however. The game’s most astonishing feature is the ability to swap between modern mode and classic mode in real time. The screen instantly goes from HD hand-drawn visuals to the eight-bit original with one click. The effect is absolutely surreal and really drives home the point that this title is a frame by frame remake. This effect applies to the music as well, however they are mapped to different buttons. This means that it is possible to switch the visuals without switching the music or vice versa. Every player will undoubtedly have their preference, but this feature is truly magical and needs to be seen to be believed.
What hasn’t changed is the gameplay itself. Even in the modern mode, the game still feels decisively retro by design. Wonder Boy/Girl transform into different creatures throughout the adventure, with each having their own set of strengths and weaknesses. They all feel similar in terms of weight and acceleration, however, meaning that the gameplay does not have to be relearned after each new transformation. They also tend to be a tad slippery, which serves as a minor annoyance at first but quickly dissolves once the controls are mastered. Overall, the game feels great and gets pretty creative at times with its use of the transformations.
On the other hand, some gamers will undoubtedly be put off by the way the game clings to its roots. Many of old game design tropes have been purposefully left in, which is bound to annoy some. The game really doesn’t go out of its way to give you direction, and many of the game’s secrets are hidden behind random invisible doors that aren’t even hinted at. It’s not necessarily a negative aspect, as it differs depending on the perspective that the player chooses to take. Some will say it’s an annoying relic of the past, others will praise it for how modern it felt in 1989.
The game’s structure is also fairly interesting as well. While it plays like a standard 2D platformer, there are a few key differences in its design. Attack and defense upgrades can be purchased using coins that are dropped from defeated enemies. These take the form of swords, shields, and armor. Each of these effects the various transformations differently, meaning that one particular shield may greatly boost the dragon’s defense while only moderately boosting the mouse’s defense. The nonlinear nature of Wonder Boy certainly adds to this, as shops can be found all over the game’s world.
While the game is fairly short, there are certainly a few extras to help extend the game time. “Unknown” levels are hidden throughout the world, each with their own set of challenges pertaining to an individual transformation. These stages are much harder than the standard ones, which is nice to see. Unlockable artwork and a hard difficulty setting round out the package, making this title easily worth the $20 asking price.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap sets the standard for remakes in the future. Lizard Cube has done a fantastic job in creating an imaginative world that still caters to fans of the original, as neither party has to make compromises here. The audio and visual switching mechanic works flawlessly and is easily the most exciting part about this title. While some of the game’s mechanics may seem dated due to the original titles age, it’s the gorgeous world and satisfying gameplay that make this game an easy recommendation.