Friday, 21 April 2017

Greenalink reviews: Wonder Boy: Dragon's Trap (2017 Lizardcube)

Developer: Lizardcube
Publisher: Dotemu
Price: Roughly £16/$16, different platforms and regions may vary on exact price.

Back in 1989, Sega & Westone released one of the best video games that were not released for a Nintendo platform.
Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon's Trap, also known as Monster World 2 in Japan, is the 3rd entry in the series and a first that was aimed exclusively to a home console. 28 years later, 5 console generations have passed and 2 minor ports were released in the early 90s. In 2017, a new version was released for modern consoles and is by far the most important re-release since the original.

5 Dungeons
6 Dragons to defeat
NAND save (3 slots per account)
Password save feature which can be used to continue playing through the game by using the original Master System/Game Gear copies and vice versa.
Available for Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
PC Steam will be released later sometime around June.
Note: The newest version out in 2017 will be dubbed as Lizardcube.

If you've played any of the previous releases, this needs no introduction, but if you haven't I will tell you that the game starts off inside The Last Dungeon. Based on the last level from the prequels Wonder Boy: In Monster Land, you defeat a dragon and suddenly a plot twist occurs, it curses the hero by transforming them into a lizard, and then the hero has to find an antidote known as the Salamander Cross to regain his true human form.

A nod to a prequel: Wonder Boy in Monster Land

One of the biggest changes is the art style, Ben Fiquet from Lizardcube used traditional animation and increased the number of animation frames for each action from 2 to roughly 10+. There's new hand drawn animation on frames where the original release used stock animation, in the 8-bit style when jumping and changing direction. The only oddity I've noticed with this new style is that the left side designs are literally a mirrored version of the right side. Now usually this is completely normal to save development time, but in the original 8-bit style, the left side sprites were actually unique and not mirrored versions to the right side sprites, therefore, it is a bit unfortunate that this little touch wasn't used in the new version, however good animation takes a lot longer to produce and there's a good chance this game wouldn't be out until late 2017 if left side drawings were taken into account.

Background scenery art is a big improvement as it gave me a bigger impression of the area the hero was at, the early game is notable for adding sunshine related effects if the hero goes underneath a palm tree- it adds a layer of darkness due to the shadows next to the tree and going above the pyramid, to the point that when the hero is in front of the sun, it shines immensely. The visuals were so good that I didn't want to use retro 8-bit mode at all. It's possible to change visual styles on the fly with a simple button, mash it many times to slow down the slider's speed and freeze it to the point where 50% is modern art and 50% is 8-bit pixels.

Spec wise it is a massive jump from:
256x192 (4:3) to 1920x1080 (16:9) and doubling the visual frame rate from 30 (or 25 for PAL users back in the day) to silky smooth 60 frames.

Retro fans will be happy to know that there are 3 extra options besides the 8-bit style that will recreate the 1989 experience including:
scanlines effect,
retro monitor effect and
gamma correction.

Gamma correction only takes effect when either retro monitor and/or scanlines (at 10% minimum) is turned on, it does nothing when both features are set to off.

Top: 2017 modern style
Bottom: 1989 retro 8-bit style

Similar to graphics, the audio had a huge overhaul on almost everything. New sound effects have been added to simple actions that were originally silent such as walking, background environment and enemies grunting when initiating an attack.

Shinichi Sakamoto's original BGM work didn't have a lot of tracks as some were reused in various parts, Michael Geyre who is responsible for re-imagining the original tracks had a smart idea by making variations of the same track to make it sound less stale throughout the entire game. So instead of 1 variant of the dungeon theme, there's now 6 variants of the dungeon theme. The arranged soundtrack incorporates elements from several world music traditions, including classical, tango, Middle-Eastern and Japanese music.

Retro fans do not worry; there is an option to use the original PSG 8-bit sound and the FM sound which originally was exclusive to the Japanese Master System/Sega MARK III, the only problem was that the original Master System wasn't released in Japan and only in the West. It took less than 20 years for players to experience FM sound on a legal console through either Wii's Virtual Console or PS2's Sega AGES 2500 series.

One thing that hasn't changed is the gameplay. Just like the first ever release, it is a fun game to play even today, the controls are simple and tight at the same time, the level design progression is clear and straightforward, you don't even need to speak to NPCs to know what to do next. Magic spells are easy to use once you know how each one works.

New players who probably played through modern 2D platformer classics such as Shovel Knight and Gunvolt may complain that some of the maps (especially some of the dungeons) are a bit too uninspiring with long corridors and basic platforming- but this is a game from 1989 and the engine itself didn't support vertical scrolling. If the tweak was made to enable vertical scrolling it could lead to more creative level design but at the same time losing a bit of charm as it's no longer faithful to the original game.

When remaking a game, faithfulness plays a very important part.
Sometimes it's ok to make major changes, sometimes it's not.

Omar - technical director & programmer did a lot of research by dumping the original Master System cartridge and then reverse engineering to decipher the code. This lengthy process took many weeks and months until he could understand what causes the what item to drop, attack damage RNG and many other things. I recommend you all check out the development blog after reading this review.

After playing through the game, most of the changes I've witnessed were for the better and nowhere near as controversial such as the tweaks seen in Majora's Mask 3D.
Buying new gear gets equipped automatically, you can use shoulder buttons to quickly select a magic spell, the magic command itself is no longer Down + Jump as it uses its own button. You can grab heart containers in any order, a simple yet important change to new players because it can be a very brutal experience if you don't have the right gear and (unintentionally) skip some of the heart containers before certain points of the playthrough.
Anything that is considered notably new is added after completing the game. I won't say much but the new challenges are pretty cool to try out.

It is also possible to play as Wonder Girl by selecting the Girl option, this simple addition reminds me of Pokémon Crystal which was the first game of a popular franchise to introduce a female playable character. Asha, a protagonist from a later released game: Monster World 4 wasn't used because Mr Nishizawa (the creator of Wonder Boy) was against it as the world of those two games doesn't overlap.

One issue the original game had back in 1989 was post game content, as there wasn't much to do after completing the game. Lizardcube added some extra content to encourage players to play the game even more after completing it for the first time. There is an unlockable gallery containing concept artwork, including various revisions of the new design for all 6 hero forms/enemies in the game, and backstage recording of recreating the music. Another addition being that instead of 1 difficulty there are now 3 difficulties.

Easy (as mentioned in the game) is aimed towards newer/younger gamers who want to enjoy the game, and this is done by reducing the number of hits to defeat an enemy. It is still pretty punishing if the hero dies because it will take him/her back to The Village and not to the entrance of a dungeon/room before the boss fight.

For experienced gamers who have never played The Dragon's Trap before, I would suggest Normal as you will get to experience the same difficulty as the original 1989 release.

For the hardcore gamers, Hard raises the difficulty even higher by giving enemies more HP. In some of the rooms, blue class enemies were replaced with even tougher gold class enemies and an hourglass that will slowly drain the player's HP for playing through the level too slowly. There are some safe spots that will reset and/or freeze the timer, such as The Village, picking up hearts or staying inside a treasure room. If you want a really good challenge, try out this difficulty.

I wonder what's in here?


Despite a few aged elements from a 1989 classic, it is a fantastic remake of the original game and I dare to say that it is one of the best 2D remake treatment since Super Mario All-Stars. This is the definitive edition of a 2D platformer classic.

+ New difficulties for everyone.
+ Beautiful Visuals
+ Post ending content
+ Unlockable gallery.
+ Improved controls and mechanics over the original

- Some of the level layouts are a bit dated due to 1989's design
- Lack of extra checkpoints that would have been ok on Easy.

Recommended: A-

Version played: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by DotEmu.

Ideal links to check out!

Reverse Engineering the original Wonder Boy: Dragon's Trap

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