Some games don’t deserve, or need, a second chance. For all of the recent raft of remakes and remasters, how many of them did we not have enough time with the first time around? And in too many cases, didn’t we seemingly just finish playing them? Thankfully Lizardcube’s remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap manages to buck the trend, bringing back one of the Sega Master System’s key titles and giving it a lovingly-applied lick of paint.
And what a lick of paint it is. The hand-drawn visuals virtually burst from the screen, and have a wonderful painterly quality to them. They simply ooze quality, and this is the level of 2D art that all modern game artists should be aspiring to.
However, if you’re in danger of losing that nostalgic buzz while playing, you can always turn them off. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap let’s you turn back the clock with a single button press, swapping out the gorgeous new skin for the original sprites. It’s a significant step back into the past – you’ll perhaps have forgotten just how simplistic 8-bit visuals were – but purists will probably get a kick out of not having to set up their Master System to play anymore. The rest of us will likely forget it’s an option after the first five minutes, though you may see it unintentionally, with the toggle having been mapped to a trigger and mine seeming to press whenever I set the Dualshock 4 down.
Alongside the visuals you can also opt between the updated soundtrack, which boasts an array of orchestrated pieces, and the original 8-bit compositions. It’s brilliant switching back and forth between them, with the melody lines transposed very effectively from the Master System masterpiece, though once again the novelty wears off quickly and you’ll soon be opting for the far superior modernised renditions. You can mix and match though, so if you fancy 8-bit visuals with modern tones you’re all set.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is a classic action-platformer, doused with some light RPG elements, and as a whole it still works incredibly well. Despite the new aesthetic, this is resolutely an old-school experience and even route finding through the different areas is an exercise in trial and error.
You set out from the village, where you’ll find multiple doorways to different areas. The first time you enter a door you have no way of knowing where it’s going to lead, and indeed some of them are loops that take you nowhere, sometimes returning you back to where you started. Once you begin to understand the game’s logic though you should be able to find your way around without too much fuss.
The ‘story’ such as it is, sees you cursed by the Mecha Dragon, and as you progress and despatch the array of monsters that lie in wait for you, you’ll transform into an array of different beast-men, from a fire-breathing lizard through to a clambering miniature mouse. With each transformation comes a new set of skills, granting you access to previously unavailable areas. There’s elements here of a classic Metroidvania, and modern gamers who haven’t played the original should find plenty that they recognise from recent indie games.
Killing enemies often sees them drop a coin, and you can use your hard-won loot to buy enhanced weaponry and armour to sway the odds in your favour, with the nonchalant porcine proprietor popping up in various locations with different wares. His offer of goblin armour that let’s you “cross-dress as a goblin” still raises a smile.
It’s damned hard though and you’ll need those upgraded threads just to vaguely even the odds or to simply let you take more than one hit. You’ll be dying a lot, which will mean plenty of backtracking from the Village over and over again. If you’re stuck on a particular portion this can become demoralising – most people won’t enjoy the repeated punishment that comes with lacklustre gaming skills – but if you’re up for a challenge it’s a great amalgam of classic platforming action and traditional 8-bit difficulty levels.
In a great little touch Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap allows you to use the same password system as the original game. It’s unbelievable to think that you can effectively continue a game from where you left it thirty years ago, all decked out with a modern aesthetic, and it’s clear that this is a real labour of love rather than a simple cash-in.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is a perfect example of a remake that’s been done for reasons beyond simple material gain. Lizardcube have clearly put everything they have into making it unerringly respectful of the original – for good and bad – but this has all the look of a gorgeous modern indie platformer, while retaining the old-school gameplay that made it so memorable the first time around.
Version Tested: PS4