The ubiquity of game remakes is hardly surprising. After all, it’s cost-effective for publishers to either emulate yesteryear’s titles (see the release of this week’s The Disney Afternoon Collection) or port over existing code over onto modern platform. But the release of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is something exceedingly extraordinary that seems to shirk any traditional shortcut.
Paris-based Lizardcube has rebuilt Westone Bit Entertainment’s 8-bit opus from the ground up, endowing the well-liked Sega Master System and TurboGrafx-16 title with accomplished aesthetics. Although the nearly three-decade old gameplay might alienate fussy audiences with the occasional dated design decision, retro enthusiasts are in for one hell of a treat.
Like the original Ryuichi Nishizawa-helmed title, The Dragon’s Trap picks up after the events of Wonder Boy in Monster Land, as the game’s plucky protagonist seeks to slay the Meka Dragon. And while the confrontation foreshadows some of the fun in store for players, when Wonder Boy beats the foe he is turned into Lizard-Man, his abundant health gauge squashed and trusty sword replaced by a fire-breathing ability.
What follows is an undoubtedly Mega Man-inspirited expedition, where Wonder Boy inherited the traits of each beasts he bests. But where Capcom’s creation is unified by a selection screen, The Dragon’s Trap offers a hub with paths forking out in a multitude of directions. While Mega Man supported non-linear play through the selection of six separate stages, Wonder Boy extends a bit more guidance, gating off certain areas until you’ve secured a specific animal form.
Yet, there’s still a firm sense of exploration that runs through The Dragon’s Trap. Some of this stems from the lack of contemporary amenities like a mini-map. But even if scheming players unearth diagrams which show the title’s labyrinthine layout, they’ll likely face an elevated difficulty level. For better or worse, there’s the expectation for grinding, collecting coin from defeated monsters and using the currency to purchase weaponry for each different creature.
Beyond the inherit abilities of each transformation, with Mouse-Man able to climb certain walls and ceilings and Piranha-Man making subaquatic navigation manageable, forms also have their own ideal loadouts. Depending on if you’re playing as Hawk-Man, Lion-Man, or Mouse-Man, there’s an ideal weapon, armor, and shield, so expect to occasionally find yourself facing danger to gather every single bouncing coin.
Interestingly, The Dragon’s Trap abandons the segmented health system of most games, with damage from each enemy shaving off a distinct amount of health. Given that death strips your possessions and returns you to the game’s hub, you’ll want to approach each antagonist prudently, memorizing their attack behaviors. One peculiarity that’s poised to peeve contemporary players is the hit system. While a brief moment of invincibility isn’t surprising, the way you can be hit again during this period can lead to some aggravating juggling during boss battles.
Beyond that quirk, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap eight-hour journey is largely enjoyable, filled with enemy encounters that offer an enjoyable test of reflex and awareness. And when these battles do converge on the demanding side, there’s often a find item that can be used to give players the upper hand, ensuring a sense of tension. These traits reveal why Lizardcube selected the title for remake and signal why the studio was so meticulous about the restoration.
Press the R2 button and The Dragon’s Trap exposes it’s eight-bit origins, instantly showing the sights and sounds of the original game. The feature was built in for more than mere vanity, it also demonstrates downright faithful the effort is to the source material. Every sprite flash, leap, and guard is flawlessly recreated, with the additional of a playable Wonder Girl being the only real change. Amazingly, you can even enter the old alphanumeric codes of the original game. In an era when most remakes are fraught with all kinds of little glitches, Lizardcube’s fastidiousness is praiseworthy.
As enjoyable as Shinichi Sakamoto’s original soundtrack is, you’ll definably want to enjoy The Dragon’s Trap’s more contemporary amenities. Michael Geyre’s aural reimaging extends an orchestral interpretation of the original game’s melodies, with actual musicians tackling the array of global influences. From Argentine tangos to more traditional Eastern pieces, the variety of inspirations meld together effortlessly. Likewise, Ben Fiquet’s artwork endows the game with a masterful hand drawn quality, transforming impressionist pixel forms into a water-color work come to life. While faithful to cartridge versions, the artist converts austere backdrops into distinctive contexts.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap stays unerringly faithful to the mechanics of the twenty-eight old Sega Master System classic. That could be a deterrent to players accustomed to contemporary conveniences like check-pointing and auto-cartography. But Wonder Boy doesn’t seem interested in chasing the bulk of modern audiences. Instead, those who spent their formative years clutching controllers, soaking in the flickering light of a CRT screen are ones bound to appreciate this effort. Unlike most remakes, The Dragon’s Trap is unquestionably, a labor born of love, rather than a disingenuous hope of a quick buck.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap was played on the PlayStation 4 with review code provided by the publisher.