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Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap | Review
LizardBox's remake of a Sega classic is what every video game remake should be.
Trying to explain the heritage of Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap would be like trying to untangle a Gorgon's Knot of the highest difficulty. For those interested in the monstrous lineage of this game, the guys over at Retronauts have it sorted out for you. The whole strange story involves ports of individual games to many systems, rebranding for international markets, and a number system as unpredictable as they come. Fortunately, the mangled and bureaucratic nightmare that makes up the history of the Wonder Boy/Monster World/Adventure Island franchise (yes, that's right, there's three of them) is the antithesis of what it is like to play LizardCube's new remake of the classic Adventure RPG Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap.
A Brief History of Wonder Boy
Originally, Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap was known as Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon's Trap and was one of two different third installments in the Wonder Boy franchise. While Dragon's Trap was an RPG adventure game for home consoles like the SEGA Mastersystem the other, Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon's Lair, was a shoot-em-up style arcade game. The game that we are focused on is Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon's Trap, which also released in Japan as Monster World 2: The Dragon's Trap. (That's the last confusing part, I swear). Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon's Lair was an 8-bit, RPG, side-scrolling platformer in which the hero bounces from one castle to the next fighting dragons. In the 2017 re-release of the game, the entirety of the plot has carried over, with a new, and beautiful, skin.
The Dragon's Trap
The prolog to Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap could just as easily by the epilog of any other game. Wonder Boy (or Wonder Girl - one of the only changes this iteration of the game has on display is the ability to choose the protagonist's gender) wanders into the castle of the Dragon, with all the hallmarks and video game cues of a final boss battle approaching. With all the best gear in the game and a maxed out health bar, your Wonder Kid is nearly invincible. Once it is found deep within its castle lair, Mechadragon is toast. But, as the name of the game suggests, there is more to the story than that, as the Dragon has a few tricks up his sleeve.
With the last of its power, the first dragon transforms the player character into a tiny dragon. With the ability to breathe fire, the player returns to their home village. The adventure then continues, sprawling out across the world which is surprisingly open for a game designed in the late 1980s. In a style that is reminiscent of Metroid or Zelda, the character develops new abilities after vanquishing new dragons. Each dragon transforms the player into a new type of animal (A bird, a lion, a mouse, etc.). Each of those animals have their own unique abilities that help the player on the quest to break the Dragon's curse.
A Sincere Remake
Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap began as an experiment by a programmer and enthusiastic fan of the franchise, Omar Cornut. Without any access to the game's original code, Cornut and his partner Ben Fiquet rebuilt the game from the ground up. With Cornut working on the programming side of the game's development, and Fiquet working as the artist, the pair prioritized fielty to the original game above all else.
The product is a game that feels like it is of a place and time all its own, the way that Braid and Undertale did. The gameplay retains all of the authentic style and grace of the original game's 1989 origins. The equations that dictate Wonder Boy's Momentum, the damage of his weapons, or how frequently monsters drop which items are all straight out of a bygone video game era. Evidence of the painstaking effort Cornut took to honor the original game.
But the animation style that Fiquet strives towards in the game is a far cry from the original style. While video game purists transition back to the original 8-bit video or audio with the touch of a button, there is insufficient reason to. The hand-drawn art of the new game is beautiful, and the soundtrack for the new game is as diverse as the game's many locations. The original game owed its origins to a time of video arcade mania, so the 8-bit pixel sprite design and the grainy music wasn't just regular, it was expected. But in bringing the game from 1989 into an era that expects video games to be equal parts art and entertainment, LizardCube has shown that the most important part of any remake is knowing when to leave well enough alone.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap
Developer: LizardCube | Publisher: DotEmu
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch, Steam
Release Date: April 18, 2017