Poor Wonder Boy. He's finally managed to defeat his arch nemesis Mecha Dragon once and for all, and then he's cursed by the robot dragon and turned into a lizard. How typical. Maybe not his proudest moment, but when Sega released Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap back in 1989, it was the highlight of the series. Now the boy and the lizard are back, and we couldn't be happier as Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is still a very entertaining platform adventure to this day, in spite of closing in on being 30 years old.
The reason for this is that the original Dragon's Trap had an excellent foundation back in the day; pixel perfect controls and a simple (yet interesting) core mechanic. Don't worry if you haven't heard of the game before. The franchise hasn't been heard from since the mid-90s, so it's no wonder that some you mightn't know about it, but here's a great chance to catch up on what you've missed out on. Lizardcube's new version is built on top of Westone's classic game, and with a simple press of a button, you can switch between the 8-bit graphics of the Master System version, and a brilliant hand drawn art style that Lizardcube has blessed this version with. The new look gives Wonder Boy the appearance of a brand new adventure.
As if that wasn't enough you can switch out all of the music and sound effects to the 30-year-old chip tunes if you want a sure cure for the nostalgia blues. This is an incredibly faithful remake, and it's apparent that Lizardcube holds the original in high regard. The old password system is even maintained, so you can import your old save file from the original if you've still got that password lying around on a piece of paper. When this new Dragon's Trap is at its best, we almost forget that the adventure is as old as it is; the mechanics are still that good.
As Wonder Boy (or the new addition, Wonder Girl) we get to run, jump and crawl through a dangerous land full of monsters, and the goal is to lift the curse. The boy (or girl) is turned into a fire-breathing lizard in the playable intro, and during the course of the game, you get to play as a mouse (that climbs), a piranha, a lion, and a hawk. You switch back and forth between these creatures to progress, and they each come with strengths and weaknesses. The concept is really well crafted and it's just as excellent today as it was back in the '80s.
Something that hasn't held up quite as well is elements of game design and less-than-logical level design. The game world is open to exploration, and it contains a lot of secrets, much like in most Metroidvania games, but there is no map here to turn to. Instead, you'll have to rely on your own sense of direction to navigate wastelands, deep forests, and caves. And there are doors everywhere. Many of them are locked, and when you finally locate a key you're often forced to run back all the way to where you came from. Meanwhile, all the enemies have respawned. This wasn't an issue during the Master System era and added longevity to the game, but these days it is a source of frustration.
To recreate a 30-year-old game and stay this true to the original comes with both advantages and drawbacks, but the end result is still very successful. Lizardcube has, with a new presentation and minor, subtle tweaks, managed to breathe new life into a classic, without ruining or distorting what was there in the original.
If you've loved Dragon's Trap since the '80s you'll feel right at home, but even if you've never heard of Wonder Boy before now there's lots of enjoyment to be had with this wonderful new version. Particularly given the reasonable price tag. Now we'd love to see a brand new Wonder Boy adventure from the French indie studio, because if they've managed this well with this remake, there's no telling what they could dream up for a proper sequel.