It’s been a long time since I’ve heard anyone talk about the Wonder Boy franchise. Thought to be long dead, one of the best titles in the franchise Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap released back in 1989 for the Sega Master System. Wonder Boy III innovated the platformer in more ways than one, and thanks to developer LizardCube and publisher DotEmu, everyone will be able to experience a reimagining of the Dragon’s Trap on their modern consoles.
The story puts you in control of a young hero who, after defeating the evil Mecha Dragon in the prologue, is struck with a curse, turning him or her into a Lizard-man. The premise of the story is to return to your human form by defeating the five evil dragons that plague Monster Island. The story isn’t presented in any sort of cutscenes or dialogue conversations. Rather, it sticks to its roots and allows you to simply imagine the story for yourself much like you had to with platforms from that time period.
The first thing you’ll notice about Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is the phenomenal art design. The 2D character sprites and backgrounds are a sight to behold and the animations are just as amazing. From sunny beaches to deep cavers it all looks stunning. The most impressive achievement; at least in my opinion is the ability to play The Dragon’s Trap in its original form. With the simple press of the R2 button The Dragon’s Trap seamlessly transitions back into its 8-Bit form. It looks, plays, and even if you want sounds exactly like it did back in 1989. How LizardCube was able to achieve this so seamlessly is a work of magic.
What made The Dragon’s Trap stand out was its use of different character abilities. Due to the fact that the Dragon’s Trap allows you to explore the world at your leisure, you do have to tackle certain areas before proceeding. Throughout the journey you’ll notice locations that you just can’t seem to reach. As you defeat the other Dragons, you will be cursed and transformed into a new creature. Every time you are transformed, you will be able to reach new areas and revisit and explore hidden paths in locations you’ve already visited.
Each of the new creatures you transform into will change the way you play the game. When you’ll cursed and turn into a Mouse for example will give you the ability to walk on walls and ceilings which are marked by specific blocks. While the Fish-Man will allow you to swim underwater. Each of these abilities add a unique flavor and change to the pace of the game that keeps it from getting stale. Unfortunately, it’s not until the second half of the game until you discover that you can swap between these creatures in a hidden room. I wish I could swap out with the press of a button, but once again LizardCube decided to stick to the game’s original design.
As I played through this reimagining of The Dragon’s Trap, I was blown away at its accuracy to the original title. Every jump, every enemy attack, every enemy placement, every secret room, and, yes, even some of the original title’s cheap enemy encounters. When I got to a dead end in the Egyptian pyramid location, I remembered there was a secret path I had to take by simply falling through the floor. I also remembered the two secret paths on the wall beneath the statue shooting fire projectiles at me and on the ceiling above it. Much to my surprise, both those secrets remained intact and the items I got were exactly the same as they were in 1989.
Unlike other platformers of its time, The Dragon’s Trap utilizes an equipment system much like an RPG. Buying weapons and armor in stores help you get through difficult locations much easier, but what makes the equipment system so great is that every piece you buy or find has a specific uses. Weapons well do different damage depending on the creature you’re using. So if the samurai sword only gives the Mouse +34 attack for the Fish-Man, it may give +64 attack instead. Weapons and armor also come with special abilities as well like dropping extra gold coins from defeated enemies or armor that allows you to walk through lava without taking damage.
If you’ve played Castlevania, you would remember tools you’re able to use, like the throwing knife and Holy Water. This system is also utilized in The Dragon’s Trap. Defeating foes will drop special items that you can store and use at your leisure. These tools are a great help, especially in the latter part of the game and range with various effects. The arrows item is used to attack enemies directly above you, the lightning storm will kill all the enemies on screen, and the tornado will bounce off walls and enemies, hitting everything in its path.
These items are great to have, but it’s important to note that if you die at any point, you will lose all of these items. I should also mention that there isn’t any sort of checkpoint system to fall back on. If, for example, you die during a boss fight, guess what? Unless you have a healing potion, you’ll have to start all the way back in the hub town. It will surely upset a lot of people, but this is how it was back in 1989; it’s something that I actually appreciate from LizardCube, as it keeps the spirit of games from yesteryear. In the original Dragon’s Trap, you have to use a passcode if you want to return to the game where you left off. The Dragon’s Trap utilizes a modern save system, but those feeling nostalgic can actually use the old password system to retrieve their saves.
I loved my time with the reimagining of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Curse. The attention to detail and love that LizardCube put into this reimagining is something that I wish every developer and publisher would do with their old franchises.