Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Wonder Boy Retrospective Part 3: Pea Shooters and Beach Balls

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Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair

  • Released: 1988

  • Original hardware: Arcade

  • Other releases: Mega Drive (Europe/Japan only, no Genesis port), TurboGrafx-CD, Wii VC, Mega Drive/Genesis Classics Collection

  • How to play today: PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Switch (as Mega Drive/Genesis Classics Collection)

Wonder Boy III would serve as the Wonder Boy series’ final outing in the arcade world with only two console ports – sad times for microcomputer fans. But this was one hell of a note to end on for the arcade series and would serve as my favourite game in the arcade trilogy. I originally played this game on the Mega Drive (a NA Genesis version never released) as a rental and took to it very quickly. It was colourful, the music was catchy and the gameplay was fast frantic arcade fun. Strangely, when researching for this retrospective it appears the rest of the internet does not share my love. But this is my series not theirs so let the positivity begin.

Monster Lair once again tore down the gamplay style from the previous two games and started with yet another fresh canvas with a few minor things fetched back from the bin. The main carry over being that it still a 2D platformer and the big change was that it was now a sort of side scrolling shooter. Your default weapon was a shooting sword, what I like to call the pea shooter. As you mow down cute monsters you will regularly pick up new weapons which would last temporarily. Each weapon felt quite unique and encouraged you to adjust on the fly to the given situation. Even if the weapon didn’t suit you, at least you knew it would only last for a very short period before you returned back to the pea shooter. The vitality meter would make its final return in the series from the very first game, fitting in quite well with the arcade action. As well as tripping on rocks, enemy projectiles would also assist in draining your vitality. The dreaded alarm sound would fire off once your bar hit the red and you were about to die. Not quite as memorable as Sonic’s infamous drowning music but it still haunts me today. Similar to the first game you’ll still die in a single hit accompanied by an amusing sound effect and your sprite rotating to the bottom of the screen. Additionally your odd avatar picture turns from a boy (or girl) into a creepy green skull temporarily. Unlike the first game you don’t restart the level, instead a handy dragon dumps you back into the game to continue where you left of. Be careful though because if your dumb like me you can sometimes get the dragon to drop you off in a bottomless pit instantly killing you again. This would be the first and only game in the Wonder Boy series to feature simultaneous cooperative play. One of you playing green haired Leo and the other the fabulous Princess Purapril (who would sort of feature in a later game).

Mega Drive version

Each stage is split into two. The first being a side scrolling platformer with a unique level theme and enemies. The second has you riding on a cute little dragon and acted more like a shmup (shoot-em-up) allowing you to move across the entire screen. This second section would conclude with a unique boss and the same menacing music which I love.

Even though I adore this game, there is a major negative to highlight. This final arcade title much like the other games is very long with a huge 14 levels on the arcade and 12 on the Mega Drive. With the arcade you can continue as often as you want, only limited by the depth of your pocket money. The Mega Drive port however, had limited continues making it very hard to see the game to its conclusion without a lot of dedication. When I was younger I did succeed at this. The final level on all versions does not allow you to continue even in the arcade, which is an added frustration. You work very hard to reach the end, only to die and be sent back to the title screen! This used to make my heart just sink…

Most Memorable Moments

  • Co-op -nothing quite beats being able to share the joy of Monster player with someone else. Unfortunately on consoles you share your limited continues between you which really escalates the difficulty depending on your skill levels.

  • Enemy projectiles look like beach balls – Your sword/wand is a pea shooter and the enemies fire beach balls at you. It just works for some reason.

  • Jumping on each others head – An unusual little trick in co op. You can jump on your co op partners head helping you attack those hard to reach enemies. It actually feels like an unnecessary addition but its fun to do and laugh at with your partner.

  • The music – I really dug the music of this game. The shmup section and boss fight had the same music it didn’t have the same brain drilling irritation as the first game. Other opinions very much disagree with this so clearly there’s something wrong with my music preferences.

  • Slot Machine Boss – Giant mushroom baddies are nothing new to the Wonder Boy series. However, there is a pretty unique boss fight where a giant mushroom will periodically spin a roulette on his head and the result will sometimes result in him chucking beach balls at you, throwing candy at you (which will replenish your vitality) or expose his heart which will help you kill him.

While Monster Lair is seen as an average game by the chorus of the internet I still love it. It felt like they had finally nailed the arcade gameplay and its still dam fun to play on consoles. Who knows if things had been different maybe this formula would have been improved upon. As of yet I’m yet to see a game to replicate the style of Monster Lair, so while its not beloved it does stand out from the series and Wonder Boy games in general. As the conclusion to the arcade trilogy it doesn’t get much better than Monster Lair, especially if you can share the experience with a friend. Laughs are definitely guaranteed.

With the sun setting on the arcade series. Wonder Boy would continue on consoles which is where we head to next time starting with another third entry in the series. Wait? There are two Wonder Boy III games? Stay tuned.

Written by jamalais

December 10, 2018 at 12:00 pm

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