It has been 28 years since Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap appeared on the Sega Master System. Many things have changed in the years since. Games have gotten more detailed and, in some cases, easier. Systems have gotten more complex, allowing us opportunities to expand and explore in a nonlinear fashion. Whenever you go back to a classic game, it feels like a byproduct of its era. Even though Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap was reverse engineered from the original game, it feels like an entirely modern and updated experience.
Part of this is a testament to how extraordinary the original Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap was when it debuted. It was a game that demanded the best from its players. You needed to save money to get better equipment, because it made a marked difference on the adventure. You could collect spells and items like arrows to complement your basic abilities. Enemies, even ordinary folks, can cause major damage or death. More importantly, each transformation changed what you could do. It was among the early games that allowed you to progress on your adventure based on your capabilities.
All of these things are why Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap endures here. These same elements are all still there. The transformations, with the Lizard-Man ability to breath fire and survive lava, Piranha-Man’s swimming skills, Mouse-Man’s capability to run along certain walls and ceilings, Lion-Man’s greater range with the sword, and Hawk-Man’s ability to fly, each offer new battle strategies and access to different areas. The different spells, like fire, and arrow attacks help increase your versatility when it isn’t possible or feasible to transform. The remake doesn’t change anything to make these transformations weaker or stronger. Everything works the same as it did in the original, which helps you admire and appreciate its design and the work that went into it.
This means the difficulty remains the same. While there are different levels, which can make Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap more accessible, even the easiest level offers an adequate level of challenge. This isn’t a game that babies a player. It respects your intelligence and expects you to explore every nook and cranny. It rewards you for your dedication and patience, but doesn’t exactly penalize you if you’re just attempting to get from point A to point B.
Even the way to become overpowered remains the same. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap can use Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap’s passwords. This means the WE5T ONE cheat code still works. You’ll have all possible hearts, every item and piece of equipment, 900,000 gold, and be in the Hu-Man form if you use this when creating a new game. Combine that with chests that don’t contain hearts refilling after loading a save, and you can keep your character in tip top shape.
You know what some people may not realize when playing Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap for the first time? The way everything connected. There are pathways to different areas immediately available, but locked away because you don’t have the transformations to get there. That doesn’t mean you can’t try to get a glimpse ahead and perhaps purchase some better equipment if you can afford it. Dropping down a gap will lead you to an undersea world. (Unless you’re Hawk-Man, in which case that’s a way to immediately die.) The level design is so well thought out.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap looks and functions so well. It’s only if you go to Retro Mode and take things back to 8-bit that it really hits home. The visuals and audio are a perfect revival of what you would expect from a game that appeared in the late 1980’s. Yet, when you switch to the more modern look, with its hand drawn aesthetic, it’s difficult to believe it could be represented any other way. There’s this seamless transition. It’s a testament to its quality that it remains appealing regardless of its skin.
I’m tempted to call Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap a comfort game. Even though there are times when it will definitely challenge and push you to be better, it’s a soothing experience that brings up fond memories. No matter which appearance you choose to use, both the modern and retro modes do a wonderful job of keeping things fanciful and friendly. It’s just a gorgeous game that makes one wonder why it took so long for this series to make a comeback.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is available on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. It will come to the PC in June 2017.