Review: Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (Nintendo Switch)
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is a game with a lot of history. The title was originally released in 1989 for the Sega Master System (and received ports on the Sega Game Gear and Turbo-Grafx-16) and launched to near universal acclaim. Some even say it was the best game of the 8-bit era. However, those accolades were doled out a whopping 28 years ago. The industry has evolved at a rapid rate, tastes have changed, and the world moved on. Can this remake push back the tides of time?
The Dragon’s Trap picks up after the events of the second game (yes, this title is a remake of the third game in the Wonder Boy series), after the titular hero is transformed into a lizard by the evil Meka-Dragon. From there, Wonder Boy sets out on a journey to restore his human form, while using other animal forms to his advantage.
Structurally, Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap resembles a simplistic Metroidvania title. At the outset of the game, nearly all paths are blocked, requiring special abilities or weapons to pass. As Wonder Boy takes down dragons, the game's bosses, he receives powers to open up new swatches of the map, where there will be another boss to fight with another ability to bestow.
To keep things interesting, the abilities that Wonder Boy acquires come in the shape of new forms, which include a mouse, lion, hawk and more. Each transformation impacts gameplay in significant ways. For example, the hawk form takes serious, continuous damage while in the water, and the mouse takes a defensive hit and loses significant attack range.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is a pixel-by-pixel, frame-by-frame remake of the original game, which brings with it a list of pros and cons. On the positive side, the game plays exactly as one remembers. On the negative side, the game plays exactly the way one remembers... in 1989. Movement seems rigid one moment, and too floaty the next. Wonder Boy's momentum takes a serious learning curve, and the controls seem far less responsive than they should be. I consistently found myself jumping too far, colliding head-first with an enemy, or jumping too short and missing a platform. I can't help but wish the developer took the same care with the movement, physics, and controls that they did with the visuals.
For those new to the series, the rigid controls will feel foreign and dated, but for series veterans, Wonder Boy will fit like an old glove. Still, it's hard not to feel that there's a middle ground somewhere in-between.
Without a doubt, the highlight of Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is the visuals. Everything in the game, from the characters to the various environments, are meticulously hand drawn and animated, and when in motion, the game looks like a cartoon popping off the screen. Wonder Boy's world is painted with bright colors and imaginative environments, all of which breathe renewed life into the old 8-bit aesthetic. At times, I stood still to marvel at the layered backgrounds or simply watched the animation of the characters. Simply put Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is one of the most stunning 2D platformers I've ever played, and it sets the bar for future remakes and remasters.
If the compelling style isn't enough, the game also features a Halo-Anniversary-Edition-style graphical swap feature, allowing users to instantaneously switch between the new style, and original 8-bit aesthetic. Likewise, depressing the right analogue sticks results in the ability to choose between the revamped music or the catchy MIDI tunes of 1989. It's a fun feature that should please longtime fans of the series.
On the Switch, Wonder Boy suffers no frame rate drops and runs buttery smooth. The same is true for the other versions of the game-- no small feat considering the hand-drawn beauty of the game.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is a simplistic game, which veterans should be able to complete under 3.5 hours. That being said, it's a fun, compelling trip down memory lane, and serves as a masterclass in game remakes.