Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Wonder Boy Retrospective Part 4: Flight of Dragons

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Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap

  • Released: 1989

  • Original hardware: Sega Master System

  • Other releases: Game Gear, TurboGrafx-16/PC-Engine, Mobile, iOS, Wii VC

  • How to play today: PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Switch (on the remastered version of the game)

Yes, this is the second Wonder Boy III in this Wonder Boy retrospective. In all regions Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair was also released, and technically it was first if you count the first release in Japan.  This is not the case on consoles in the West, where The Dragon’s Trap actually released first. You see, on consoles in Europe The Dragon’s Trap released first in 1989 on Master System and Monster Lair released on the Mega Drive in 1991.  In North America The Dragon’s Trap released in 1989 on Master System alongside Monster Lair on the Turbografx-CD, and while Turbografx-16 owners could get this title as Dragon’s Curse in 1991 there was no Genesis release.  Confusing, right?

Monster Lair would be the first Wonder Boy III game I would play.  I first played The Dragon’s Trap when I downloaded the Master System version on the Wii Virtual Console (an online store now closed) and this would actually be the last game in the series I would play.

The Dragon’s Trap is very beloved by Wonder Boy and Sega Master System fans alike with good reason. The game is a direct sequel to Monster Land only this time the game has finally been adapted for consoles in all the right ways. The stupid timer is no where to be seen and you actually grind enemies for gold to upgrade your equipment. The level based design is also gone and the game now plays out as one large connected world you can explore at your own pace. I hear people call these sort of games metroidvanias now for some reason.

The game starts out with you playing the ending to Monster Land, only this time it’s significantly easier you have full health, full gear and the last level is not as convoluted and confusing as Monster Land. You fight the final boss the Meka Dragon but rather than saving Monster Land and finishing the game super early you get cursed and turn into a cute little dragon yourself. The goal of the game is pretty simple lift the curse and turn back to the boy you once were. As you travel across Monster Land you will fight other large dragons and this in turn will turn you into another weird wonder animal thing. Playing as these animals will give you a unique ability which will access a new area of Monster Land to help you further your quest. Here’s a quick summary on their abilities:

  • Wonder Dragon – Breaths fire can duck and can’t be harmed by lava

  • Wonder Mouse – small, fast and can climb walls. Has a little sword so less reach but is dead cute

  • Wonder Lizard – Can swim into the watery depths

  • Wonder Lion – Strongest physically. Swings sword in a arc motion and can break bricks.

  • Wonder Hawk – Can fly to the heavens

The area designs have been further expanded with each area associated with each dragon boss feels unique with desert settings, haunted ships, beautiful gardens and more.

The boss fights themselves are much less frustrating than Monster Land. The boss fights are locked to a single screen but feel much more manageable now the timer is dead and buried. Death is probably certainty for your first trip through The Dragon’s Trap and when you die your character will slip on an angels outfit and have a very derpy expression on his face. You can instantly continue the game it will throw you back to the main hub town so you often don’t need to do a tremendous amount of backtracking.

Shops are positioned around Monster Land, often in weird locations it’s no surprise the cost of good items is so much. Again, like Monster Land you can upgrade your equipment and heal even if you are a naked dragon. If you lack the funds you can roam out into the plains of Monster Land and grind away at enemies to pay for it sometimes for a horrific amount of time depending on the item. If you learn where the good spots are to make cash it does help. There is no score in the game this time so you can increase your health permanently by finding tough hidden chests something of a essential task when you start taking on the games later areas.

A weird observation I noticed is that projectiles do a shocking amount of damage in this game even if you have better armour and there are a lot of projectiles in this game. I found it was better to take a hit touching an enemy rather than risk the hit from a fireball or arrow which could wreck your day.

This would be the first game in the series to offer password saves so have your note pad at the ready if you choose to play the original version of the game. Finally you can play the game in short bursts instead of attempting to complete the quest in one epic game session.

Most Memorable Moments

The Smoking Pig – you’ll come across this little chap with his eye patch and cigarette in hand who will sell you all sorts of wares to aid your quest.

Wonder Mouse – of all the animal transformations its Wonder Mouse who nets the win for me. Small, cute and climbs all over those walls. Closely followed by Wonder Dragon just because well its a dragon and he breathes fire.

Secret chests – finding one of many secret chests and upgrading your health so you don’t die so quickly

The Haunted ship section – When your on route to the Pirate Dragon boss you go through a haunted ship featuring creepy ghosts.

Discovering you can transform back to other animals – initially it feels like you are locked into your cursed animal but as the game progresses you will eventually find secret doors which will help you cycle through your animals.

The Dragon’s Trap was remade by developer LizardCube in 2017 and released to all modern consoles. It was an impressive remake of the game with hand drawn sprites and remastered music. The gameplay matched the original Master System version perfectly. The main changes the game offered were different difficulty settings, save the game to the system, you could play as Wonder Girl and a few hidden areas were added. One of the best features is at a tap of a button you could instantly switch the graphics or music (or both) to its original 8-bit version. If you held onto your passwords from the original Master System version these could also be transferred over. This version is highly recommended to new and old fans of the Wonder Boy series.

The Dragons Trap is an excellent entry into the Wonder Boy series. The series finally found a style that it would continue to stick with and grow. It only gets better from here.

Written by jamalais

December 11, 2018 at 11:00 am

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