Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (XOne)

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (XOne) - Review

by Evan Norris , posted on 21 April 2017 / 7,820 Views

Survey a list of the best 8-bit games and you'll see a lot of familiar titles: Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania III, Mega Man 2, etc. Often missing from the list is action-platformer Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap, which debuted on the Sega Master System in 1989. Although Wonder Boy III developed a cult following over the years, it never found a spot in the pantheon of the 8-bit generation. That history could be rewritten by Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap, an artful and loving remake of the Master System classic.

Developed by LizardCube, working with original designer Ryuichi Nishizawa, The Dragon's Trap maintains the core gameplay concepts and level designs of the 1989 original but adds beautiful hand-drawn graphics and a re-imagined soundtrack. In addition, LizardCube has streamlined some features and added new options.

Wonder Boy lizard

The story of The Dragon's Trap remains unchanged. At the beginning of the game, Wonder Boy (or Wonder Girl, unique to this remake) suffers a curse that turns him into a lizard. He must spend the remainder of the game searching levels and fighting boss dragons to reclaim his human form. Upon defeating each dragon, Wonder Boy unlocks a new animal form, which allows him to explore further and deeper into Monster Land.

Also unchanged are the game's central motifs and gameplay loops. Part Metroid, part Zelda II, The Dragon's Trap is an action-platformer with light RPG elements and a penchant for backtracking. Players will need to unravel clues, visit shops for powerful weapons and armor, grind for coins, and re-visit areas with different animal forms to find secret rooms and power-ups.

Wonder Boy piranha

At your disposal are Lizard-Man, who breathes fire; Mouse-Man, who can fit through small spaces; Piranha-Man, who can swim underwater; Lion-Man, a powerful hero who swings his sword in a 180-degree arc; Hawk-Man, who can fly; and, finally, Hu-Man, Wonder Boy's original form.

LizardCube's decision to preserve the mechanics and layouts of the original game is successful, mostly because it is as challenging and enjoyable in 2017 as it was in 1989. Its non-linear nature translates well to the modern era and its combat, dependent on careful timing and placement, has a timeless quality.

Wonder Boy shop

That said, there are a few warts and design quirks carried over from the 80s that don't translate as victoriously. The game's already considerable difficulty level jumps dramatically in the second half and, in general, it's not uncommon to get stuck in the game's hub world, unsure of where to go next. Luckily, the remake mitigates some of these quirks by introducing item menus that are cleaner than those in the original, a "password pig" who offers hints, and an optional easy mode. 

While LizardCube seems comfortable retaining the original title's mechanics with a few modern touches, it ventures into uncharted territory with a complete audiovisual overhaul. The new graphics in The Dragon's Trap, hand-drawn by animator Ben Fiquet, are colorful, expressive, and very attractive. Its soundtrack, based on Shinichi Sakamoto's original compositions and re-imagined with classical instruments, is equally charming. Best of all, players can switch between retro 8-bit graphics and audio to modern visuals and sound with the click of a button.

Wonder Boy mouse

When fans recount the classics of the 8-bit era, Wonder Boy III for the Sega Master System is frequently neglected. Developer LizardCube has gone a long way toward rectifying that oversight with this remake, which preserves the original's addictive mechanics and adds gorgeous new graphics and music, plus a few gameplay conveniences. Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap sets the bar high for retro remakes. It represents the celebration and conservation of an unrecognized classic. 

This review is based on a digital copy of Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap for the XOne, provided by the publisher.

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nemo37 (on 21 April 2017)

I have the Switch version of the remake, and so far I am loving it (although, I really liked the original game as well; so I guess that helps). If you want a light RPG game/platformer game then you should seriously consider this (particularity considering the love and attention to detail put into this; everything from the option to choose between retro or updated graphics and/or sound as well as the hand drawn animations for the updated game).

Bristow9091 (on 21 April 2017)

I'll be picking this up at some point in the future I think, it looks great!

Podings (on 23 April 2017)

I love the original and I'm really looking forward to getting a Switch so I can play this version. Thanks for the review!

zwei (on 23 April 2017)

I love this game

Johnw1104 (on 22 April 2017)

When I started collecting for the SMS (a console I had no experience with as a kid) this was one of the first games I got based on the reviews I'd read. Given the current reviews I'm reading on metacritic (79 at the moment), it sounds like a perfect remake, which includes that old school difficulty lol... I hope there's eventually a physical release for the Switch, perhaps with a manual akin to what Binding of Isaac just did.

Veknoid_Outcast (on 22 April 2017)

Oh I would love a physical release!

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thetonestarr (on 23 April 2017)

The art style of this really reminds me of Calvin & Hobbes