I was hoping that fans of the original could buy this without hesitation, but FM sound was missing on day one. Fortunately, it has been patched, which leaves no annoyances big enough to justify missing an otherwise exemplary restoration.
Unfortunately, there are some bad additions. Veterans will spot these like Mickey Mouse hands on a Rolex, and avoid them accordingly. It's new players who might suffer through parts which are the antithesis of the original.
Still, novices will almost certainly feel that £15.99 was justified on completing the apex of eight bit. If that's your weekly food budget, wait for the sales. Otherwise, skip a complex two-for-one pizza deal and get this. Switch owners: it's the perfect tonic for post-Zelda blues.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap, is an expert interlinking of exploration, swordplay, and growing abilities. It's Mario, minus frustration. Clever as Metroid, and more fun. The original cheat codes still work, but the real satisfaction comes from teasing out the puzzle as intended.
It begins with a playable prologue, which is flawless, despite being a first. Starting super- powered fits the narrative, and is lenient on mistakes during a subtly comprehensive introduction to sneaky monsters and environments. There's just enough risk of failure to teach that timing, rather than brute force, is the most reliable way to get through.
Having unceremoniously returned to a pleasant village hub, non-gamers have the advantage. They can simply assume that games encourage exploration and experimentation, unconditioned by historic beatings off the beaten track. Falling down holes means new discoveries, not death, and failure often helps the next attempt.
There are pleasant surprises for the jaded. Special abilities work consistently, rather than mysteriously malfunctioning where they would be most useful. There is no exposition. Instead, you are trusted to interpret what is shown, like the cigarette-smoking, sailor pig who casually runs the shops and church.
There's the entire original game. Code, graphics, sound, maps, everything. If this image hasn't been compressed by some interfering content management system, you could crop out the magenta, save the rest as a raw binary, and it would run perfectly in an emulator. Or perhaps this is another hidden Found Footage message (lie.)
Such limited cartridge space drove a design with no padding. There were no loose side- quests, because everything linked together. You won't know how at first, but each time another piece falls into place, it's like discovering the World 1-2 Warp Zone in Super Mario Brothers.
Those 262,144 pixels (numbers) are the foundation of this remake. Most represent graphics, which have a fairly simple pattern to decipher, but the code that makes them move is an arcane sequence of things like DJNZ and PUSH IX.
The programmer has been fluent in such garbage since last millennium, when they wrote a Master System emulator named after the first boss. Be assured, no important numbers were harmed. Some were tweaked, but only to fill extra frames: everything moves like the original but twice as smoothly.
Revised graphics and sounds perch on top like a hat, which players may remove at any time. This game has skeletons with lovely hats.
Perhaps you will remove the hat when its attractive brim obscures your vision. The new backgrounds, excellent for spectators, are occasionally awkward for players. Can you spot the unsportingly stealthy Ninja?
Less fatally, some cues towards secrets are harder to distinguish from scenery. Despite best efforts towards clarity, all that newly-crafted, loving detail can be detrimental. Good news: where the subtleties of light and shade go too far, press a button and retro graphics return. Hurrah!
I hope the next patch features a monster-free sight-seeing mode, because there's little space for admiration. Outside safe areas, which create rhythm with tension, there are always monsters to beat. Once they're gone, there's normally somewhere new to explore.
There is only one artist, so the revised graphics are wonderfully coherent. It's not quite how I imagined Monster Land to be, but a single vision is far more interesting than design by committee.
There are no jarring solid models. Subliminal floor tilts and parallax tricks give depth and interest, in perfect harmony with hand-drawn animation. Which moves energetically, without muddying hit boxes, and builds up to action yet snaps to attention on command. Perhaps the original monsters are a touch more goofy-cute, but the new bosses have quirks which make me grin like an idiot.
Thumbs down for inconsistent handedness when characters turn around. Yes, that means twice the drawings, but it was done right in 1987.
If you remember this from the Master System, rather than emulation or the Wii Virtual Console, turn on the FM music immediately. It was always there - Sega were just cheap with their sound chip for Europe. Enjoy the compositions you remember, without the harsh edges that eventually became tiresome.
Like the graphics, the new soundtrack is by one person and can be toggled at will. It's not synthetic enough for my tastes. There's no risk of distraction, but perhaps it's too subtle, occasionally inaudible over a whirring console fan. I do like the concept of regional variations on the dungeon theme, even though only one complements being "in the zone."
In fact, I might have been listening to the new soundtrack now, but there is no sound test. Granted, most games settle for day-one crashes, broken progression, and characters randomly becoming Bob Carolgees, but the best deserves the best. Here's hoping that such nitpicks are sorted before the PC version arrives in June.
The secret to satisfying progression is understanding that attacks leave you vulnerable, inertia meaning missed blows line you up for ripostes. Unavoidable damage is a rare edge case, and learning the safe way is eased by the gradual introduction of obstacles. The health bar and potions allow mistakes, and the doubled frame rate feels more lenient on timing. It just takes a little observation, and persistence, to feel like a pro.
Even catastrophic failures are only temporary setbacks, because this world is tightly interlinked with passages and warp doors. It never takes more than a few minutes to return for another try, with loot from failed attempts building towards better gear. Which isn't all essential: practised players can skip from start to finish in about two hours.
I do miss the charisma system, even though it was first dropped from the Game Gear port. Perhaps for the best - it was a bit grindy - but games need more fickle reactions to appearances. You know, shopkeepers who question why the chosen one wears a tatty cagoule and no pants.
A simple change for the better is sub-weapon switching, previously hamstrung by two- button pads. Now I can fire arrows into every cloud as a matter of principle. I love to hate all the dear monsters, but those loftily smug shade-sporting smogs most deserve their punctured pride.
What interrupts the flow of exploration and discovery are new bonus areas. These wouldn't matter if optional, but are near-seamless integrations that can't be switched off. They are cleverly devoid of fun, and rudely change your form without warning.
The tough-spike monsters in the original only scolded complacency. Wacky concepts were fleeting, playful moments. Mistakes were immediately recoverable, or led to alternate paths. Critical platforms were at least two blocks wide, or had toe-guards, because the inertia that makes combat breaks precision landing.
It's like Nintendo peppering their next game with random Super Mario Maker creations. Chaps, you are a supergroup of programming, graphics, and sound. But, you made me sad with grimly-exacting exercises in sustained jumping that were unacceptable in the 80s.
Please, for the sake of new players, confine them to New Game+.
Less critically, the hard mode timer feels wrong, like a two hour virtuoso performance of Yakety Sax.
I knew this remake was safe the first time I saw Ciggy Piggy, still wheezy after all these years, untouched by focus groups or nervous lawyers. Wonder Girl seemed a curious addition, Hu-Man being the least interesting form, but she handily diverts attention from the refurbished Sid James Memorial Hospital.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is so charming that even PEGI couldn't resist. Or they didn't spot that tobacco, and a hilarious 16 reclassification will follow. Imagine all those children, excitedly starting their clandestine purchase, only to get accidentally get hooked on whimsy in their fruitless search for naughty bits.
My annoyance at tweaked enemy placement is for historical reasons. The original needs preserving, warts and all. It probably flows better for changes, but without an option to restore rough edges, it's easy to dismiss how few there were.
It's normal to assume that remakes mostly fix problems, but the raw original instead reveals thirty years of regression towards sloppy, sprawling blandness. Early gaming history is fragile, with copyright outlasting most companies. Works like this should be cherished, but the preservation currently stands minutely, agonisingly short of perfect.
Tomorrow's academics won't care, because it's all funny animals and no angst. Me, I feel tears at the credits, because I don't want it to end and know it must. It's the favourite film that goes back on the shelf until next year, when I can spot new details and be pleasantly surprised by what I've forgotten.
SCORE: EA5T 9880 OUT OF WE5T ONE0
Guest review by David Walford