Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Switch
Genre: Platformer, Adventure Platformer
As a child, my first console was the NES. I grew up on classics like Super Mario Bros, TMNT 2: The Arcade Game, and Double Dragon. Before Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis, I had no knowledge of Sega or anything they offered. Now, thanks to the dedicated teams at Lizardcube and DotEmu, I’m getting to experience a modern day take on one of the greatest games I missed as a youth…and I’ve had a smile on my face the entire time.
Our protagonist, Hu-Man, is cursed to be a lizard by the Mecha Dragon. There are various magic spells and fantastical creatures throughout the game.
The game has minor cartoon violence in it. Characters reel back and cringe when they take a hit. When foes die, they disappear in a puff of smoke and various items (money, hearts, potions) can pop out.
The porcine shopkeeper in town occasionally makes fun of you, depending on which form you’re in.
The blonde cartoon portrayal of the nurse at the various medical stations wears high heels and a knee-length skirt. That’s as close as anything in this game gets to sexualized content.
The nature of this game requires patience and perseverance, particularly if you’re trying to figure out the next place to go and some of the game’s environmental context clues aren’t clicking. Inherently, the game is your classic good-versus-evil scenario with our protagonist trying to defeat the dragons of the land to break the curse and restore his Hu-Man form.
With a few minor improvements, Lizardcube’s version of the game is largely in lockstep to Westone’s original release. To say the gameplay mechanics are still fun and engaging nearly three decades later is a testament to the original team’s work. By and large, you start out in the village as whichever creature you’ve most recently been turned into. Using that creature’s unique abilities, you’ll navigate the world to the next stronghold, jumping and slashing the baddies you encounter. Along the way, you’ll collect money and items to assist you, as well as merchants willing to peddle an array of gear. At the end of each zone, you’ll fight a boss that inevitably leads to the next curse, a new creature form, before returning to town and taking the next path.
Later in the game, you’ll have utilize a variety of forms to navigate the world. It causes the game to almost take on a light adventure platformer vibe, as areas are restricted until you get the form that can access them. It’s a formula that has been around for years in various implementations, but The Dragon’s Trap‘s flavor still manages to remain engaging.
It’s pretty clear this version of the game was built on top of the original. While that’s largely a positive thing, there are some frustrations that arise because of it. After taking a hit, you’ll be invulnerable from damage for a period of time. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop them from juggling you around as you can still sustain hits in spite of your vulnerability. This can rear its head when trying to navigate difficult platforming sections, causing some gnashing of teeth. Conversely, this helps in boss fights as you only take damage once in spite of being rocked seven or eight times on a pass.
To this version of the game’s credit, secrets are still intact, but unlike the older game, we’re granted autosaving. Like a classic Mega Man game, you used to have to keep track of passwords. While those are still provided here, the game does us the courtesy of saving major progress. Also, dying will cost you all of your one-time-use items, but gear and money will remain intact for your next attempt.
Visually, this game is gorgeous. The beautiful cartoon aesthetic grabbed my attention weeks ago as I scanned for upcoming releases. Once it was in my hands, I was even more impressed. Every character in the game is hand-drawn and animated, giving it the look and feel of playing a Saturday morning cartoon. Even more impressive, the game has functionality built in so you can swap between modern and retro graphics at the press of a button (much like the Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary). If you dig into the settings, they’ll even let you adjust how much you want simulated scanlines to affect the retro look.
You can swap more than the visuals on the fly. They also give you the ability to change from modern to original audio. It’s pretty cool to customize everything. While the modern soundtrack with instrumentation is fantastic, I’ve always had a penchant for chiptune audio, and I loved playing with gorgeous new visuals and 8-bit tracks, which still hold up wonderfully.
In terms of the narrative, let’s be honest. There’s a setup and premise to drive the game, but little else. You defeat the Mecha Dragon who curses you to take on the form of a lizard man. From there, everything is an effort to reclaim your Hu-Man form by defeating dragons. There is no grand storytelling, no voice acting, or really, any exposition…and really, it doesn’t matter. The game is great anyway.
At the end of the day, the team set out to create a wonderfully remastered classic and they’ve succeeded in virtually every facet. The fresh visuals are jaw-dropping and the modern instrumental soundtrack is an excellent adaptation of the classic 8-bit tracks. The ability to switch back and forth and customize both audio and visuals is a great treat for retro fans. The gameplay is tight and responsive and the world design is still fun and interesting after nearly three decades. If you’re looking for a fun, family-friendly game the whole family can enjoy, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is a must-buy.
Review product provided by DotEmu
The Bottom Line
With this new rendition of Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap, it's easy to see why so many old-school fans loved this franchise. The world design and inventory systems are well designed and the remastered visuals and audio will have you salivating. It's a blast to discover and utilize the special skill of each animal form. The whole family will have a wonderful time with this classic. (The ability to swap visuals and audio to retro at the click of a button is pretty slick too.)