Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Wonder Boy Series - Part 2

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (2017)
By: Lizardcube / DotEmu Genre: Arcade Adventure Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: PC
Also Available For: PS4, Xbox One, Switch


Whatever name you might know it by, and it has had a few, Wonder Boy 3 (as I've always known it) is one of those rare games that seems to be universally loved. Not everyone has played it - it was only available on the Master System and PC Engine in its day after all - but those who did were forever taken by its considerable charms and have remained loyal fans ever since, eagerly extolling its virtues to any gamers unfortunate enough to have never been touched by its brilliance. Unsurprisingly, therefore, us fans were more than a little intrigued to hear news of a fancy new remake from those splendid fellow at Lizardcube and DotEmu as well. Would it be a fitting tribute to a much-loved classic or a ghastly desecration fit only to soil its memory?

The information and images which accompanied its announcement looked promsing, as did footage of the game (which retained the name, less the numeral) when it appeared later, but it would take an actual hands-on playtest to be sure. Those pesky console gamers got the opportunity first but early word was very positive. This only increased my anticipation further of course, until finally I got the chance to give it a go myself just a couple of weeks ago when it released on PC via Steam and the like. After its initial announcement I had intentionally avoided more information about it so I wasn't even 100% sure what to expect, but I quickly discovered that it was a direct remake as suspected.

This includes the splendid playable intro sequence (which I looked at here a while back - compare the screenshots to the equivalents here), and indeed all of the many areas that follow it are present and correct too. For those who have never played the original game (for whatever weird reason), it follows directly on from Wonder Boy in Monster Land. That game's final battle comprises the intro to this game which reveals that its final boss - Meka Dragon - left behind a little gift for Wonder Boy in case of defeat; namely, the curse of the title which turns our valiant human hero into a similar-sized but far scalier (and more fiery) dragon himself! The adventure that follows details Wonder Boy's efforts to regain his familiar human form, but it won't be a simple matter.

As with most games of the type, the fruit of Wonder Boy's labours lie at the end of an epic journey that sees him visit many strange and dangerous lands, but unlike most of those other games it's also a quest that sees him assume some other unusual forms including Mouse-Man, Piranha-Man, Lion-Man, and Hawk-Man, each of which, in the truest spirit of what would later become known as 'Metroidvania', is uniquely skilled to access certain areas of the game that are inaccessible to the others - something helped further by the accumulation of the golden rewards dropped by defeated enemy monsters which can be used to buy new, and often vital equipment and supplies.

All of this stuff - the locations, the characters, the equipment - is all reproduced here accurately as you would expect, and it should be very well known to most gamers already. What's different, however, is how it's all presented. The original game, while colourful, full of charm, and technically superb in its day, obviously looks its age a bit now, what with being released on 8-bit systems and all. For this remake, Lizardcube sensibly left the core of the game barely touched and instead focused on bringing its audio/visuals up to date. With the latter, they didn't opt for millions of polygons or lifelike CG environs though, as you might expect these days. They instead went for hand-drawn cartoon-style artwork and the results are... quite remarkable.

Every area in the game is modelled on that of the original but each has undergone a complete revamp. Most of these are at least lovely but some are genuinely stunning. A few times when entering a new area I had to actually stop and just stare at them for a minute, drinking in the gorgeous artwork. Some parts of them are animated now too, such as the flickering fire coming from the ruined castle at the beginning, and the backdrops, most of which are new but retain the relevant themes, are fantastic. Perhaps even more impressive than the 'reimagined' backdrops are the characters. All of the enemies have been brought up to date while remaining recognisable and retaining the charm they've long held, and the player characters are even better. Each is beautifully drawn and features amazing, silky smooth animation, giving them masses of charm.

The audio has similarly been tarted up, with Shinichi Sakamoto's ultra-catchy compositions getting new renditions composed on a variety of classical instruments. The change here isn't as dramatic as that of the visuals but the new tunes are still lovely. Even more impressive though, is the ability to change back to the original graphics and music. This isn't done via some fiddly menus or anything either - you can switch back and forth between new and old styles 'on the fly' using the shoulder buttons, and the transition is immediate and seamless with not even the slightest of pauses or glitches. Not vital to progress in the game, admittedly, but great when you can't remember what an area used to look like or feel the nostalgia creeping up on you!

It's a great example of the kind of love and commitment that has very clearly gone into this project. There are tons of other nice little touches through the game too. The shop pig and the helpful nurse have seen redesigns, as have the dragon bosses who look fantastic. There are now three difficulty levels too, and you can choose to play as Wonder Girl instead if the fancy takes you. Remarkably, you can even use your password saves from the MS game! It's a curious game to play for fans of the original actually - so familiar in so many ways but so much lovely newness to see as well. It really is lovely too - I don't think I'd be exaggerating to say that this is the most beautiful game I've ever played, and a perfect example of how to remake a much-loved classic.

I suppose that shouldn't be a huge surprise really though, when you consider they had the assistance of Ryuichi Nishizawa of Westone, the developer of the original game. I don't know how involved he was but I'm sure he was very pleased with the end product - perhaps as pleased as he was with his own version all those years ago. Well, who knows? All I can tell you is I love it. I was a little worried I admit, Wonder Boy 3 is a very important game to me, but Lizardcube along with DotEmu have done a fantastic job - about as good as anyone could have to be honest. I imagine existing fans will love it as much as me, but when it sounds so great and looks so absolutely stunning, hopefully this wonderful game will find a good few new fans as well.

RKS Score: 9/10


 

6 comments:

  1. Definitely one of my favourite games from the era, and I too jumped on the PC version as soon as it was released. I love the new graphics, but I have to admit I still play with the old music on. The new music's good and all, it just doesn't have the immediacy and vibrancy of the old tunes.

    Also, I'm not sure about their decision to get rid of charm points. Sure, they were a right pain to collect back in the day (they were only random drops and demanded a lot of grinding), but there was something quite nice about the conceit that the shopkeeper wouldn't sell you things unless you were really charming. It gave you another thing to think about when choosing your armour, too. Still, that's a tiny niggle for a lovely game. I'm really happy it's back.

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    1. Some points there, I agree for the most part. Those graphics really are stunning too. Best of all, we still have Monster Boy to come yet! :)

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  2. It's clear they've spent an enormous amount of time on this. Fantastic touches such as the pyramids, shipwreck and blissful cherry blossom tree. I've read many reviews on steam with hardly a bad word being uttered! Very few games can say the same, thanks for making this :)

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    1. Yeah, the new backdrops are wonderful. Everything about the game is wonderful actually - it's the perfect mix of new and old in my opinion. Do you plan on getting it? I'm confident you will love it :)

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  3. Good review, it's certainly on my list to buy!

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