Review: Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap (PS4)

Review: Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (PS4)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Nintendo Switch

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap
Format: PSN (1.11 GB)
Release Date: April 18, 2017
Publisher: DotEmu
Developer: Lizardcube
Original MSRP: $19.99
ESRB Rating: E10+
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
If you’ve never heard of the Wonder Boy series, don’t fret. They’re very old games that were available on the SEGA Master System and PC Engine and this is a remake of one of them. The original Wonder Boy was a platformer starring a curly-haired, hammer-throwing jungle boy.

For some reason, the sequel, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, put our hero in armor, gave him a sword, and thrust him into a quest to vanquish an evil Meka Dragon. I’m not quite sure why the developers went with such a drastic change, but whatever the reason, I fell in love with the series with because of that sequel.

I often use Wonder Boy in Monster Land, which was the prequel to Dragon’s Trap, as an example of classic game brutality. The game had no save feature and was nasty with its continue system, despite its otherwise evident role-playing components.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is the direct sequel to Monster Land. And I mean “direct sequel”, taking place moments after you defeat Meka Dragon. In fact, Dragon’s Trap lets you relive the final moments of Monster Land.

Not content with being defeated, he casts a curse on you that turns Wonder Boy into a small fire-breathing dragon. It would seem like a frog or something would have been more effective. Needless to say, you begin Dragon’s Trap, not as a Wonder “boy”, but as a beast.

As you journey through the land trying to end the curse you will take on the form of other creatures, from a tiny wall-climbing mouse, to a giant red bird. So despite having the option to play a female protagonist, something not available in the original game, you won’t be seeing your human character initially.

… gameplay mechanics are identical to the original …
One thing that made Dragon’s Trap engaging, particularly in its time, was the role-playing element, something that was not nearly as available in video games as it is now. There are some elements of Zelda 2, with towns, shops, and dungeons to work through.

You can buy upgraded weapons and armor and collect projectile tools to help in combat. The game doesn’t have an overworld, but there’s plenty to explore and discover. And while the original game had a password save, you are now able to save anywhere, making for convenient gameplay sessions.

The translation of this “remake” if flawless, which may be a turnoff to some. This is by no means a complaint. The original game was a lot of fun, with plenty to do and places to explore. But gameplay mechanics are identical to the original.

In fact, with a simple press of the R2 button, you game will visually turn into the old pixel-based game. With a press of the R3 button the sound and music will also degrade to the original sounds. There are no added sword animations or upgraded attack options.

You swing your sword and jump. You can also use spells and arrows, but this is a faithful recreation with a gorgeous coat of paint, so the gameplay is pretty rudimentary. Where diversity is introduced is with the different creatures you control.

For instance, becoming a mouse allows you to climb walls and your stature makes it easier to avoid projectiles. He also carries a small shield, so deflecting enemy fire is easier than, say, with the dragon. The brilliance of its simplicity is based on its challenge and learning enemy patterns, which was the way we fought monsters two decades ago.

… brilliant character design and expressive animation …
Visuals:
This fresh coat of paint is nothing short of breathtaking. I kept tapping the R2 button to remind myself of my youth, but almost immediately returned to the lush graphic novel-like visuals of this modern take.

The developers at Lizardcube didn’t settle for just updating the pixel art with a higher resolution and a new color pallette. Instead they redrew everything with a gorgeous art style reminiscent of a comic book, complete with brilliant character design and expressive animation frames. Even changing directions with certain characters yields the cutest animations of the creature struggling to stop.

The backdrops received the most love, as you will see from some of the comparison screenshots I took. Trees that used to be simply cut-and-paste are now gorgeously rendered with detailed roots and wonderful shading.

There’s even a lighting system at work here, where your character is silhouetted when he stands in front of the sun. But one area where some fun liberties were taken was with the shopkeepers.

Originally they were viewed through a small window. One in particular was a smoking pig with an eye patch. The developer took those subtle hints and explored the surroundings with the updated visuals, showing the rest of his sleazy shop. Yes, he is still very much a smoking pig with an eye patch.

The same treatment was used with the sexy nurse that provides healing services. And yes, even these shop sequences allow you to switch between retro and modern versions so you can see how much the devs expanded on these characters.

… The love poured into this remake is evident …
Audio:
It’s a great testament when the original music is still enjoyable in a retro video game. That said, the updated version of those familiar tunes is remarkable, as are the sound effects.

I do love that you have the option to switch between old and new effects while maintaining the modern visuals. This give you the ability to play the game with a mixture of new visuals and old sounds or new sounds and old visuals.

When I did switch to those old BMGs, I was immediately teleported back to days of playing Phantasy Star for hours on my SEGA Master system.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

Conclusion:
If you enjoyed this game in the past, you will no doubt feel right at home. If you are playing this for the first time, there’s still plenty to love about Dragon’s Trap. It’s a wonderful little action-adventure game.

The love poured into this remake is evident in the oozing visual style and care given to every frame. It shows a respect for the original content with liberties only taken in the design and not in the actual gameplay.

As a result, it no doubt harkens to simpler times, but the gameplay was solid back then and continues to be so this day.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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