Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Wonder Boy Retrospective Part 2: Boy Meets Sword

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Wonder Boy in Monster Land

  • Released: 1987

  • Original hardware: Arcade

  • Other releases: Sega Master System, PC Engine, Atari ST, Amiga, ZX Spectrum, C64, Amstrad, mobile, Wii VC (arcade), Xbox 360 (arcade), PS3 (arcade)

  • How to play today: Xbox 360 (backward compatible with Xbox One, recently free as part of Games with Gold program)

My first venture into Monster Land was on a friends Master System a long time ago in a countryside village far away. I remember being wowed by the colour and hitting enemies with a sword. It doesn’t take a lot to impress me, I also don’t remember getting very far.

I didn’t get to really have a good old go at the game until it’s release on the Xbox 360. This version wasn’t even the Master System port, it was the English translation of the arcade port that was never released in the West. I have dabbled with the Master System port but this piece will mostly focus on my experience with the English arcade version.

Monster Land wiped the slate clean and started the series from scratch. The only main carry over being that the game was called Wonder Boy and it was a 2D platformer, otherwise a lot was thrown in the bin. No Vitality bar, no one hit deaths, no skateboard. Instead we got a health bar, swords, armour, a shield and even shoe upgrades, also you can drink alcohol in this game, yes… really. It’s a arcade game with RPG elements which still feels a little surreal thinking about it. This was one hell of a departure from the blonde kid in the green bush skirt. Of course if you played the arcade game you started out in what looked like a nappy (diaper) until you found your first suit of armour. The console versions showed more sympathy and your character was dressed in armour from the get go.  Our hero is now called ‘Book’ or Bocke Lee Temjin if you manage to finish the arcade game or read the Master System manual.

Wonder Boy in Monster Land is hard. Very hard. This is really not a quick pick up and play happy fun arcade game. This is a brutal die over and over again until you have learned the patterns and mastered the correct route type of game, yes I see you in the corner making a Dark Souls reference. This title features two forms of light grinding money and points. Money is essential to upgrade your equipment at shops, it’s hidden around each level and enemies will drop it once. Enemies do re-spawn but you can only gain points from then on. Grinding points will increase your health permanently but there is a problem. In case the overall difficulty of the enemies and bosses wasn’t enough the game also has timer which is ticking down constantly. So you can’t really grind the game. Each time the timer depletes you loose a whole heart. On my first few plays of the game I tried keeping up with the timer but by doing this it makes upgrading very tricky. One of the essential tricks you need to succeed is with the hidden coins. Money is hidden throughout the levels if you wiggle the movement back and forth really fast you will obtain more money compared to simply jumping making the upgrade process much easier.

Even with the upgrades new swords are only obtained by defeating bosses. Bosses whose patterns you need to memorize in order to master and take a horrific amount of hits to take down. Monster Land‘s setting sits mostly in the fantasy realm. The levels are much more diverse than the previous game with a surprise sci-fi twist right at the games conclusion.

Most Memorable moments of Monster Land

  • Starting almost naked – You look like you start in a nappy. And you spend much of the beginning of the game fighting in said nappy until you finally have enough money to upgrade your armour.

  • Learning the wiggle trick – The Xbox 360 version from pro developers M2 actually provides you with gameplay hints to get the most out of the experience. The main one being to shake the movement stick back and worth when you find hidden cash to increase its value. Better still, this port includes an option to map this technique to a single button hold in case your getting old like me and don’t have the quick reflexes you once did.

  • The Spinx Boss – While many of the boss fights in the game are a monster floating in the air throwing stuff at you. The game does throw a surprise. This is the first time in the series you meet the infamous Sphinx boss who asks you a question. If you answer correctly you bypass the boss fight. You can get hints of the answers by drinking alcohol at the bars and the bartender will possibly share some info.Turns out the Sphinx boss really likes karaoke and Segas After Burner. Get the question wrong and you fight him instead.

  • Legendary armour – This is the first entry in the series where you can form the legendary equipment. That’s sword, shield, armour and shoes which would become a stable of the series moving forward. Collecting all of it basically gives you the max stats possible for the game and makes that last boss just slightly more bearable.

Monster Land is a tough game to replay today. I would suggest only the most dedicated Wonder Boy fan need apply here. I compare Monster Land to Castlevania II: Simons Quest on NES. The game may not have been the best in the series, and it serves as a pretty big challenge returning to it today. But it would be the origins of where the series would inevitably end up, more refined and much more fondly remembered. But before we get there, we have one more arcade title to talk about.

Written by jamalais

December 9, 2018 at 12:00 pm

One Response

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  1. I am from Holland so excuse me for my now and then not so good English…I have this Arcade machine at home and i can tell this is the most kick ass game ever!Hidden doors ,clues etc .etc.Did you know that when you jump up real quick as soon as you receive golds and move fast from left to right,you’ll get so much more golds,what gives you the opportunity to buy the fast boots asap?


    November 10, 2020 at 9:47 pm

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