Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (XOne) - ReviewEvan Norris, posted 6 days ago / 6,245 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.