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Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: DotEmu
Developer: Lizardcube
Release Date: April 18, 2017

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PS4 Review - 'Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap'

by Brian Dumlao on May 24, 2017 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

A good curse makes a good game (or so they say)! turned into a half-human, half-lizard monstrosity by the Meka-Dragon, a lonesome adventurer is facing the challenge of a lifetime!

Buy Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap

One common thread among remastered games is that they originated as polygonal titles. With the exception of DuckTales Remastered, remastered games are no older than the PlayStation era. Titles comprised of sprites seem to have a timeless look, and many would say that it's blasphemous to alter them. Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is a rare remastering effort that actually improves upon Sega's 8-bit sprites for modern displays. The result is a game that catches people's attention.

The story takes place at the end of Wonder Boy in Monster Land. As the fully powered-up hero, you're assaulting a castle to take on the Mecha Dragon that has been plaguing the land. After navigating through the labyrinthine levels, you defeat the dragon, but winning also means losing because you lose your human form and become a baby dragon. Your goal is to traverse the world and find a way to break the curse so you can return to your human self.

The most striking thing about The Dragon's Trap is the graphics. Everything from the characters to the backdrops are bathed in a European 2-D cartoon style that evokes rich watercolors with expressive animations and facial reactions for every character. There's a tremendous amount of depth for the backgrounds, with far-off objects moving at a snail's pace and clouds lazily floating in the sky. There is a lot of background and foreground detail that enhances the scenes, making them look richer than some modern titles. The hand-drawn animations are full of life during combat, and going into storefronts makes the squiggly lines on characters appear thicker and more active. It also helps that some characters look downright adorable. It isn't an exaggeration to call this a living cartoon, and you'll marvel at the upgraded characters. Overall, it looks like Child of Light but with a more lighthearted tone.

The audio has also been upgraded, with the sound effects taking on more modern tones for attacks and reactions. The highlight are the musical tracks, which are the tunes from the original game but redone with an orchestra. The compositions range from whimsical sea melodies to more subdued tones at a Japanese castle, but the work matches the absolutely stunning visuals.

For those who don't want to pull out a Sega Master System or the Wii to play the original 8-bit game, The Dragon's Trap lets you go retro or modern at the press of a button. The game updates the older visuals to the more modern 16:9 aspect ratio, but it doesn't look horribly stretched out in the process. The changes to the audio and visuals are the difference between night and day. In some cases, the more subdued colors of the modern look are easier on the eyes when compared to the old title. The same can be said for the sound effects, which are a huge improvement over the original screeches. As a nice bonus, the toggles for sound and graphics are separate, so you can mix up both according to your tastes. The only exception are the sound effects, which go along with the music toggle unless you specify that in the options screen.

The updated presentation certainly captures the attention of anyone who gives this title a passing glance. Unless you were living in a region where the Sega Master System was popular, this title would be certified as a cult classic. This is especially true for anyone who bought the Sega Vintage Collection: Wonder Boy title on the previous console generation, which had all of the other games in the series except this one.

The Monster's Trap can be considered an adventure game in the vein as Metroid, but with a light currency and upgrade system attached. The first town after the castle battle acts as your hub world, and it's full of shops where you can buy upgraded weapons and defensive items with coins you obtain from treasure chests and defeated enemies. Some of the weapons and artifacts give you special abilities, like creating blocks, destroying them, and increasing the chances of getting item types from enemies. However, all of these are blocked off unless you are in the correct animal form.

There are a total of five animal forms, each with different strengths and weaknesses. The dragon you start off with has no shield, but he has projectile attacks by way of fireballs. He's also the only one that can duck. The mouse knight is smaller in stature, but he has the ability to walk on special walls. The merman can swim underwater, while the lion has the largest sword arc of all, so he can hit anything in front of him, both above and below. Finally, the hawk allows you to fly, but you'll get hurt if you touch water. In addition to their powers, the five forms have specific traits that can cause your armor and weapons to strengthen or weaken.

You'll stay in one form for most of each world section and hopefully find a boss. Beating the boss allows you to gain the next form in the list until you get all five. The only exception are special rooms that transform you to the next form in the chain once you jump on a platform. The same thing happens if you find the special sword that allows transformations. Though the sections are pretty straightforward since you'll instinctively know where you should go next, it pays to explore different sections and break bricks to uncover secret shops for more items. The same can be said for hitting Up on any sections, since the worlds are all full of hidden doors that serve the same purpose.

For the most part, The Monster's Trap is very faithful to the original, as no new stages were added to lengthen the experience or trip up veterans. All of the old rules concerning money amounts and hit damage apply, as do the secondary attacks you gain throughout the adventure, like the tornado that sticks to the ground or the lightning bolt that hits everyone on-screen. Death is harsh, as you'll always lose your secondary attack items, and you'll restart at the town center no matter how far you went. Your progress — in terms of coins, key items and transformations — remains untouched. The store locations, both obvious and secret ones, are also unchanged, so those who want to dig up old strategy guides on this title can do so. The game even lets you input a password once you create a save file, and the classic passwords still work — even the dev password that grants you everything at the start.

However, there were a few changes to some of the gameplay elements. The presence of more buttons on the controller means that selecting and using secondary attacks is much easier, so you don't need to revert to classic button combinations. Automatic saving is here as well, so the inclusion of passwords is more of a quaint relic than a necessity. Beyond the gameplay front, shopkeepers and nurses now provide funny quips when an item is purchased or bought, and only the nurse ever repeated some lines. You can also choose to play as Wonder Girl from the start instead of Wonder Boy. The change is more aesthetic than anything else, but the inclusion is nice for those who don't want to play as a male character. The fact that the old sprites and new hand-drawn style reflect this change is noteworthy and positive.

The only issue you'll have to contend with is momentum and the jumping that goes along with it. Take a few steps in any direction, and you'll notice that you'll still have a bit of movement in that direction if you decide to turn. Likewise, you'll need that momentum to get a good distance jump, since taking leaps from a stationary position won't get you very far. This wasn't necessarily a new mechanic even in those days, as games like Super Mario Bros. perfected the idea, but even the advanced movements provided by the new art style make gauging it more difficult than expected. You won't die via pits and falling from long distances, so this is only a nuisance in some areas, but you'll have to quickly get used to it.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is an excellent example of the right kind of remastering for a sprite-based game. Everything from the original is kept intact, with only a few changes that make the game more bearable in the modern era without affecting the difficulty at all. The presentation is what everyone will be talking about, however, as this game surpasses expectations, which is a bigger feat for an indie developer than a larger studio. The game length may be short initially, but the many secrets will keep you coming back, making this title a must-have for platforming fans of all types.

Score: 9.0/10

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