The Wonder Boy series has largely flown under the radar, despite having such a rich history. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, a remake of the 1989 Sega Master System game with the same name, seeks to revitalize interest in this oft-forgotten franchise. Though this seems like an oddly specific game to bring back, especially since it’s the middle entry in the series, it’s clear that indie studio Lizardcube has put a lot of passion into this remake. Completely remastered visuals and an updated soundtrack breathe new life into this non-linear platformer.
The remake is completely faithful to the original, keeping the story and gameplay intact. You play as the titular Wonder Boy (or as the newly added Wonder Girl) and start out in the final area of the previous game in the series. As it turns out, defeating that boss cursed our hero, transforming him into a dragon-like Lizard-Man. The rest of the journey is a quest to restore your human form, while gaining additional transformations along the way.
In a nonlinear gameplay design that was ahead of its time, you venture out from a hub town, seeking the path towards the next dungeon. You have free reign to explore, though you are limited by what your current form can handle. Luckily, your alternate transformations have unique powers, such as the wall-climber Mouse-Man and the agile swimmer Piranha-Man. Each anthropomorphic form has different stats and powers, but you lose the abilities of the previous transformation as a result. There are only a few select areas where you can switch between forms. Although it was always fun to see what new places you could reach with each animal’s powers, I would have liked the ability to transform at will. The design only makes it more apparent that your available paths are actually limited.
Regardless of form, you must equip yourself with appropriate weapons and armor to take down increasingly stronger foes. By defeating enemies, you can acquire special sub-items and coins for purchasing equipment. Wonder Boy shares a similar combat system to Zelda II; run around a 2D environment, swinging your sword (or in Lizard-man’s case, fire breath) to vanquish enemies. I found fighting enemies without getting hurt easier than in Zelda II, thanks to the smooth controls and fair hit detection. However, combat can get pretty overwhelming when multiple enemies bombard you. The game is pretty fair with regards to death. Though you start over back in the hub town, you keep any coins you’ve earned, so you can hopefully afford better armor and revitalizing medicine before trying again.
Even after several retries and a bit of getting lost, it’s entirely possible to beat the game within five or six hours. While the world is nonlinear, it’s not very large, and there are only a handful of dungeons. Obtaining 100% doesn’t take that much longer, though it can provide some added replay value. Interesting to note, if you have passwords from the original Master System version, they will still work here.
By far, the biggest draw is the attention to detail that Lizardcube has put into remastering this game. The hand-drawn animation is very stylized and smooth, and the backgrounds look stunning. The cartoonish character design may not be for everyone, but there’s no denying that it’s animated well. What stood out most to me were the subtle touches that were added to streamline the experience, such as adding a light gleam to signify an exit that might have not been clear before, or a broken store sign to hint at the existence of a hidden shop. In addition, the new soundtrack compared to the 1989 original is like night and day. The team went all-out revamping the original 8-bit tunes with a bevy of instruments that is a treat to the ears.
A neat feature that more remakes should include is Wonder Boy’s option to switch between retro and remastered aesthetics with the press of a button. You can even switch visuals and audio separately from each other in case you have a preference. I switched back and forth often to compare the designs, and it only highlighted just how improved the remastered version truly is. A gallery of extras is icing on the cake, revealing a behind the scenes look at illustrations, animations, and even studio recordings. You can just sense the passion oozing from the gallery.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is an excellent remaster of an underrated game. Though the playtime is short, it’s a worthy experience for anyone who enjoys nonlinear “Metroidvania” styled platformers. It’s great to see such a faithful adaptation, but it would have been nice to see new content other than the gender option. Either way, it’s clear that a lot of passion went into making the game look and sound as great as it does. Lizardcube has set a new standard for remaking an old game, and I’d look forward to seeing what’s next on their table. Perhaps we’re due for a proper new entry in the Wonder Boy series.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!