Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom Review

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Developer: Game Atelier                             Publisher: FDG Entertainment 

Monster Boy is the spiritual sequel to the Wonder Boy franchise, a series Sega has left dormant since 1994. These games were hugely important to me growing up and hold a very special place in my heart. I probably love the Wonder Boy series how people love the Zelda series except without dressing up as one of the characters (real chain mail is expensive). For me it has been a very long wait for a sequel spiritual or otherwise. We have since seen a few re-releases of the previous games on multiple digital platforms. In 2017 developer Lizardcube gave us a beautiful remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragons Trap. Originally we were going to see Monster Boy release that same year but developer Game Atelier decided to halt for a final year to polish up the gameplay and completely redo the graphics. Its been almost five years of development for the team, was the wait worth it?

On booting up the game you’re greeted with an impressive anime style cutscene which gives you a preview of the enemies you will be fighting and the animals you will be playing as. The song playing is also awfully addictive and it hasn’t left my brain since I heard it at E3 this year.  You play as Jin, a young chap with blue hair whose uncle appears to be up to no good changing the people of Monster World into animals as well as having a potential drinking problem. It’s not long into the story when your Uncle turns you into pig dressed in pirate gear (a nod to my favourite NPC in The Dragons Trap). You soon learn that to lift the curse you need to collect five magical orbs scattered across various dark corners of Monster World. The story comes with a few twists and turns and inevitably ends up as a typical save the world type tale. What makes this story stand out however, is its sense of humour. All the characters speak with text boxes including Jin himself and won’t shy away from making a witty joke about the current situation. Right up to the games darkest turns it was hard not to laugh at some of the games witty attempts at humour. The story is straight forward to follow and doesn’t really get in the way of your adventuring. Should you need to repeat sections of the story the game does allow you to skip them.

If you’ve never played a Wonder Boy game, Monster Boy is a 2D metroidvania style action game. As you progress through the game you will unlock new animal transformations as well as equipment which will help you access new areas of the map. The game give you a map to follow and highlights where your next goal is, but it doesn’t hold your hand. Monster Boy is no walk in the park, enemies and hazards do plenty of damage and you can be defeated very quickly if your not careful. If feels the balance of difficulty is just right. Not too hard that you rage quit and frequent checkpoints allow you to continue instantly after an inevitable death.

You can find, purchase, and even upgrade equipment, customising your loadout to suit the situation. Equipment will also change the cosmetics of your character bar two transformations. The perks of each equipment is explained clearly in the menu screens allowing you to use the best loadouts for any given situation. Unless of course you don’t care and want to just kit yourself out in your favourite style.  Every animal transformations feel unique and even later in the game when you’ve unlocked multiple transformations the game does an impressive job of making you remember about the other animals. Dungeons and environments provide subtle hints and you’ll often find you’ll experiment with the transformations to access the multiple hidden chests dotted around everywhere. You can transform into any of the beasts you have unlocked at any time. Each character offers at least one characteristic the others don’t and all animal skills will need to be used to unlock the vast amount of hidden chests and secrets in the game. All of these characters are genuinely fun to play with – the pirate pig most of all, of course – and I often found myself just transforming for the hell of it. The developers also added some funny idle animations for each of the characters which show an extra special attention to detail.

As you travel across Monster World you will encounter several dungeons filled with various monsters to slay and puzzles to solve in order to progress. Some of the puzzles are real head-scratchers which will occasionally cause you to hit a wall and maybe walk away from the game, only for the light bulb in your head to go off when you’re having dinner. The game will sometimes throw you the odd hint for some of it’s more obtuse puzzles. Let’s just say Monster Boy likes to continuously surprise you. You really won’t predict what’s around the next corner, or screen in this case.  Each dungeon ends with a boss battle. Boss characters are surprisingly tough often requiring multiple hits to defeat. Not only that, some bosses require you to use certain abilities and attacks at just the right moment to attack. It’s rewarding once you’ve figured it all out but boy was I getting flashbacks to the Mega Drive/Genesis days.

While “wonder” is no where in the title, Monster Boy is absolutely a love letter to all six previous titles in that series. Yes even the original Wonder Boy, the one people understandably confuse with Adventure Island, and Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair, my favourite arcade game of the series. The nods range from similar enemies and bosses to pretty direct references to the previous heroes in each game. Enjoying Monster Boy does not require you to have any previous knowledge of these games, but if you did grow up with the series, it will likely make you smile frequently with all the references it makes. Monster Boy takes gameplay features from the previous Wonder Boy games and modernizes them for today. Saving is automatic and checkpoints are frequent, but the game still maintains that retro inspired challenge. Monster Boy will easily take you over twenty hours to finish on your first run, and this is coming from a veteran Wonder Boy fan. You don’t need to find every item to complete the game, you do feel drawn in to search for absolutely every chest and secret for the fun of it. Your collectible progress is also noted on the map screen so you know how far from reaching that 100% accolade is.

The graphics are gorgeous in this game, the extra year the developers spent on this really shows. Hand drawn sprites and rich, colourful environments that I would happily have as my laptop’s screensaver. Accompanying the graphics is the excellent soundtrack, which is the biggest stand out for series fans with beautiful remixes of music from the previous games. While many of the tracks are remixes of previous Wonder Boy titles, which is not a bad thing, the composer also added some new pieces that are memorable and addictive. Even when I was struggling in some of the dungeons I never felt frustrated as I often sat back and just appreciated the score. I want this music in my car right now.

Monster Boy is, in a word, wonderful. I feel a sense of happiness playing this game, which I haven’t felt playing a video game for a long time. The game constantly surprised me with nods to the previous series as well as the developers adding plenty of new ideas. If you love the Wonder Boy series you are in for an absolute treat. If this is your first trip into Monster World, there’s still plenty here to love, especially if you’re a fan of metroidvania style games. I was smiling the entire time I was playing it and that same smile continued even when I stopped playing as I reminisced about the musical score. I’ve waited for this game for over 25 years and that wait was well worth it.

The Good Stuff

  • Beautiful art design and accompanying music

  • Animal transformations are fun to play and control excellently

  • Smiles guaranteed

  • Love letter to fans of the Wonder Boy series

Considerations

  • Retro style difficulty from the old Genesis/Mega Drive days

  • Price

  • Reviewer is a Wonder Boy fan

Final Score: 5 out of 5 

A review copy on the Switch was provided by the publisher, you can find our review policy here. Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is available now for $39.99/£34.99 on Playstation 4, Switch, and Xbox One with a PC port planned for Q1 2019.

Written by jamalais

December 7, 2018 at 11:00 am

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