Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap – First Sip Review
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is an interesting platformer based on Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap. And by based on I mean it is an HD remake. But, you must keep in mind that I said remake and not remastered. While plenty of classic games have been given lovely HD remasters to update the graphics and sometimes even the features. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap was reverse-engineered from the original Master System code. This also puts the game in a unique position as the original Wonder Boy series was published by SEGA. But this remake is published by Dotemu.
The game is developed by Lizardcube and lead by director Omar Cornut as a passion product he had wanted to do since 1998 (the original game being released in 1989, development on the remake began in 2013 and was officially announced in 2016, releasing in 2017). Another factor that sets it apart from a remastering is that Lizardcube worked with the original game’s designer Ryuichi Nishizawa during the production.
The story of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap development and production are probably more interesting than the actual story in the game. However, once you factor in that the original was released in 1989 you can excuse the fairly minimal story. That being said, the story may be minimal, however, it’s still quite fun and holds up well. The game opens at the end of the previous game (which might be confusing for newcomers to the series, but they do give you a few lines of dialogue to fill in the blanks).
Wonder Boy or Wonder Girl (who is newly available in this remake, the title even changes if you select her which is just awesome), begin the game with max health and the best equipment in the MEKA Dragon’s castle. After a short run through the castle and the defeat of the dragon, a curse is placed on you. The curse turns you into Lizard-man and from there you go back to a village and the game starts for real. The game is non-linear and involves a lot of exploration with nothing really explaining your goal. However, as you play you’ll be able to figure things out and find out that you must defeat dragons to reverse the curse.
It’s minimal but it’s cute and it’s a good enough reason to go on a journey.
The graphics for the remake were completely redone in a hand-drawn style. While the original game was 8-Bit being on the SEGA Master System, the new art fits so well you’d almost never notice. However, if you’re a big fan of retro art you can still select it as an option. But not just that, you can actually swap between the modern and retro graphics at any point while playing. With just a tap of a button the world swaps between the two styles. Swapping between them you can see not only how well the new version matches the old one. But also the level of detail that Ben Fiquet (who single-handedly handled the art and animation) added. There is a really great smoothness to the characters and the animations are fluid.
The updated designs of the characters actually look better than the original games’ promotional art. With a really cute animated style that the original probably would have gone for if the technology was available. Beyond the character designs, the backgrounds were also upgraded. For instance, in the desert level, the 8-Bit version had a solid blue background. But the hand-drawn style includes pyramids and other wonderful imagery.
Along with the graphics, the music has been updated using the original as a template. Michael Geyre reimagined the original 8-Bit chiptunes into fully organic tracks played by real musicians. Once again, if you are a fan of the retro version it is an option. And again it can be changed on the fly with a simple button press. This one is less of an obvious choice to make though. The hand-drawn art has a lot of detail that the 8-Bit art doesn’t and it makes it easier to see in places. Especially in the water as the tileset used there is kind of hard to look at with the crispness of an HD screen.
But in contrast, the 8-Bit music still sounds as good as it used to so it becomes more of a preference decision. However, the new score is really well done. There are a ton of different influences and Michael Geyre really took the level design into account for his versions. For instance, the desert level contains a Middle-Eastern flair that is far more noticeable than in the original.
But the music wasn’t the only part of the sound design to be overhauled. The sound effects themselves have received a timely modernizing. And once again you can revert back to the retro ones if you desire.
Basically, if you like a fresh new sound or an older classic one you’re covered.
Exactly like the original, the remake is a 2D platformer. Once again pretty basic stuff, run, jump and attack are your staples. However, even the original games had a quirk that is present here in the remake too. As mentioned in the Story segment you begin as a human adventurer. After beating the short intro stage you become Lizard-Man who seems to be more of a dragon as he has a ranged fire breath. As you continue to beat the dragons in the quest to reverse your curse you’ll gain access to more forms. including Mouse-Man who can walk on certain blocks even upside-down. Piranha-Man who can swim freely underwater. And Hawk-Man who can fly but is also the only form to take damage from water.
Using each of the different forms you’ll be able to navigate to new areas. The new forms will also mean that you’ll be able to access areas previously inaccessible so you’ll have your fair share of backtracking. Defeating enemies will also sometimes grant you health, money or items. The money can be used in shops to upgrade your weapons and armor. The items are special attacks that each have their own hitboxes for different situations.
Naturally, the game feels very retro, but unlike StretchBot there is an obvious reason for it. But even compared to another modern platformer with a retro spirit like Awesome Pea 2 or Ghosts’N Dj’s it doesn’t feel that retro. Maybe it’s the art and music but if I didn’t know it was a remake I would’ve assumed Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap was just a solid new platformer.
Seeing as the game is a remake of an old game does it need to exist? The answer is that no games need to exist but I’m glad it does. Because it’s well worth playing. The original game was released in 1989 and the original series last entry was 1994 (not including re-releases). This means that a few generations may not have ever heard of the series. And that’s a shame because they are genuinely inventive and fun games. So just bringing the series to a new generation of gamers makes it worth it. But on top of that, you have lovely new art, music and sound effects. And even new secret areas to find and explore.
Lizardcube has an obvious love for the original game. And they have managed to put their own mark on the game while keeping true to the original. A lot of the older games now are hard to find or very expensive, and then you have to find the console and a TV that’s compatible too. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is a wonderful love-letter to a classic game and deserves a place in a modern gamer’s library too.
In Coffee Terms
In coffee terms, the game is like a classic well-made black coffee. The same recipe has been followed, but it’s now being made with ingredients and equipment that wasn’t possible back then. Older generations and younger ones can all rejoice in the enjoyment of such a fine brew. It even has some new subtleties that weren’t present before. But even though the barista is adding their own flavors there is a discernable reverence for the original recipe.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap Links
Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap Review Summary
One half of the YouTube brother duo, The Game Bros with Sirhc and Ar0n, Chris is a lover of games, movies and other great things you can do from home.
Coffee of choice: I like the sweeter kinds, mixed with chocolate, coconut, caramel etc. but I won’t turn down a flat white or a straight black either.