Remember the Sega Master System? I sure don’t! I was a Nintendo kid. A lot of people do, though, and Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap was a classic title for Sega’s venerated 8-bit machine back in 1989. It was an early example of the genre we know now as the “Metroidvania” – a sort of pseudo-open-world explore-’em-up that’s all about fighting enemies, finding new paths and defeating bosses as you make your way toward the end.
If, like me, you never had the chance to try the original version of this game, you’ve now got a modern, visually resplendent update with Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap to check out on contemporary consoles and PC.
The plot here isn’t exactly deep or involving, though given this is a game from the 1980s you might not be all that surprised. You’re Wonder Boy – or Wonder Girl if you prefer, a new addition to this version – and you’re all geared up and ready to slay the mighty Meka Dragon. After doing so, hwoever, you’re struck down by a curse that transforms you into a puny lizard-creature and strips you of your powerful equipment. If you want to feel like your old self again, you’ll need to go slay more dragons, collect new gear and desperately avoid being killed in the process.
Of course, it’s not like slaying one additional dragon is enough to solve your problem. That just gets you re-cursed and turned into yet another form. All in all, you’ll cycle through six different forms, ranging from your standard human form to a lizard, mouse, lion and more. Each has their own special abilities that you’ll need to use to progress; the mouse, for instance, can walk on the walls and ceiling, while the lion can smash blocks directly beneath you. The forms also have varying degrees of proficiency with weapons and armor, so you’ll need to make sure you’re using the right gear for the right situation; in addition, the game doesn’t provide a huge amount of direction when you obtain a new form, relying on you to experiment as you search for your next goal.
Put all this together and you’ve got a great example of an early Metroidvania game. All of the exploration and adventure is fun and rewarding, though Dragon’s Trap can become notably difficult as you progress through the game. In particular, if you miss a shop or don’t upgrade your gear when the opportunity is offered, chances are you’ll run into a situation where you’re taking way more damage per hit than you should. Health restoration is rarely dropped from defeated enemies and typically involves paying a decent sum to your local nurse, so taking too much damage at once is a big problem. You’ll want to progress slowly and make sure to scour areas and collect as much money as possible to make sure you don’t fall behind the curve.
It’s a tough game that doesn’t hold your hand as much as some modern examples of the genre, but at least it looks great while it’s kicking your butt. Dragon’s Trap may have some of the best graphics of any game released in the past few years, frankly, thanks to its insanely gorgeous hand-drawn style. The music is likewise amazing, and the best part is that if you’d rather play using old-school aesthetics, then you can swap back and forth freely just like you would in Halo: The Master Chief Collection. There’s even a gallery full of making-of videos, sketches and concept art to help you really appreciate how lovely this game is.
Fans of the Master System classic have probably already made up their mind about this one. If you didn’t have a chance to play it when it was new, though, then Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap will likely capture your heart much like it did to game-starved fans back in the 80s. It’s a beautiful game that’s steeped in the design of its era, for better or worse. You don’t see many games like this anymore, and it’s worth your time to check this one out.