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gaming
17-Apr-21
Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap Reviewed!
Everything old is new again. Remasters, remakes or reboots of classic old games are not a new phenomenon, but as the decades roll around and become cool again, we're seeing an inceasing number of 80's games get the modern-day treatment, and now it's the turn of a Sega classic.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is for the most part a one-to-one remaster of the classic 1989 Sega Master System adventure game of mostly the same name (except the Master System original considered itself a mainline game in the Wonder Boy franchise, and added a III before the colon). I've been told I shouldn't call the original game a "Metroidvania", as this game came out before Symphony of the Night established many of the conventions of that genre, so let's call it a proto-Metroidvania. It's an action-adventure game in which you'll switch to various different cursed animal forms and wander around a large open map (which is carved up into a selection of mostly linear areas with a central hub town), finding shops and treasure chests around the map to upgrade your gear, defeat new bosses, and unlock new forms in your quest to find the sacred relic that will turn you back into a human. All pretty standard action-adventure stuff. Each of the forms has its own benefits, drawbacks, and skills, and will get better or worse stats from certain gear. You can now also play as Wonder Girl, for whom the game will even helpfully rename itself on the title screen.

That said, The Dragon's Trap is not a particularly long game. A few hours play will get you through the main story, maybe more if you find yourself having to grind for more special items or potions. But it can be fiendishly difficult if you attempt things in the wrong order, or in the wrong form, and even after you finish the main game there's always the more difficult Unknown stages to find and play through for 100% completion. And, in true 1989 fashion, much of the game's difficulty comes from annoying enemy placement rather than level design, particularly towards the end of the game. Also, the bosses are honestly pretty rubbish: repetitive, with juggling projectiles that waste your time, and typically much, much easier than the levels leading up to them.

Not that you'll mind looking at or listening to the game while you play it. The game has incredible, entirely hand-drawn animation and beautifully rearranged versions of the 1989 tracks that show exactly how a remaster like this should be done. The art style of the game is amazing, and throws in tons of extra detail and polish to the characters and backgrounds, with smooth animations that add to the character of the original while still remaining perfectly synchronised in terms of character movement. Likewise the music and sound effect are given an amazing upgrade from tracks that were already pushing the Master System's dinky little 8-bit sound chip. They even went to the trouble of creating separate remixes per level for an adventure theme that was reused in each area! And you'll get plenty of opportunities to compare for yourself. With the touch of a button, you can flick back and forward between the remastered graphics and sound at any time, including inside shops or during cutscenes.

Which brings us back to that phrase, "everything old is new again", which is quite literal in this case. One of the retro features in this game is the password functionality, and having this on a game ported across multiple systems allows us to dress up this old system with a new buzzword, namely, "cross-save functionality". Passwords on the Switch version will work on the Steam, PS4, Xbox One or mobile versions, and so faithfully is the game ported that passwords from the original 1989 version will work too. This means that the eighth-generation consoles now officially have a game with cross-save functionality with the Sega Master System, which is actually pretty amazing. What's best about this is that even the cheat password was ported over, the Sega equivalent to "Justin Bailey": the almighty WE5T 0NE 0000 000. And if dropping a nearly-full-completion password in a review doesn't complete the retro experience for you, then I honestly don't know what will.

Sadly, the short length and boring bosses stop this game from being perfect. But these are flaws of the original game, and as remasters go, it's hard to see how they could have done much better. It's with this in mind that I can say that this game is OUTSTANDING.

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