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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.

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Written by jamalais

December 11, 2018 at 11:00 am

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).

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Written by jamalais

December 10, 2018 at 12:00 pm

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.

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Written by jamalais

December 9, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Wonder Boy Retrospective Part 1: Grass Skirt Roots

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One might argue that the Wonder Boy series has a more convoluted timeline than Zelda and since no one will make a book about it, I thought I would give it a bash in this series of articles. While this article series will explore the facts, it will be from my perspective, which means I’ll mostly be discussing the PAL (European) release of each game and only referencing other regions where necessary.

The Wonder Boy series holds an especially large place in my nostalgic heart. When I was growing up I didn’t have a Nintendo so the idea of the Zelda series being this amazing adventure title, was more of a myth that I’d only read about in magazines than a reality. For me, it was a very different kind of ‘Boy’ that took me on multiple adventures and filled my head with ‘wonder’ and captured my heart.  I’ve wanted to delve into the Wonder Boy series for a long time so thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Now without further adieu let me take you on a wonderful journey back to the first….

Wonder Boy

Released: 1986

Original hardware: Arcade

Other releases: SG-1000, Sega Master System, Game Gear, ZX Spectrum, C64, Amstrad, mobile, Wii (Virtual Console)

How to play today: PS4 (Japanese Store Only)

It seems appropriate that my introduction to Wonder Boy would begin with the very first game of the series. Although Wonder Boy did make it to the arcades in the UK my first experience of the game was on Sega’s portable system: Game Gear. Yes, that little portable system owners used to think was better than the Game Boy because it had colour! The Game Gear port was practically the same as the popular Master System port, the only main difference between them was that the screen size was adjusted for the portable system. A lot later down the road, at a retro convention in Blackpool, I was eventually able to appreciate the original arcade game. It was great to get that added wow factor of it being an arcade game, but I was more impressed by how similar the arcade was to the Game Gear version.

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Written by jamalais

December 8, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Horror Obscura 2018: Dark Castle (Mega Drive/Genesis)

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In the past Horror Oscura I have explored games which are focused around horror and the use of horror in games you would not class as a horror title.  This year I wanted to go back to my childhood and re-visit one of my biggest horrors: Dark Castle on the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis in North America).

Back in my childhood I was scanning the cheapest of the used Mega Drive titles in the retailer “GAME” on the South Coast of England when I came a came across Dark Castle. This was back in the 90s, I saved up my cash long and hard to treat myself to a video game. At a young age I was drawn to dark themes and games that just weren’t well known so Dark Castle, matched that category. Looking at the box now though one may question what I was thinking. The front of the box has a gargoyle on it stuck like old Clip Art on a background of a castle entrance. Not particularly appealing. The back of the box quotes, “climb the ramparts of the Dark Castle and dethrone the Black Knight.” An interesting quote but not a lot to go on. Keep in mind in the UK the back of the box often had a very short description of the game in multiple European languages. The instruction manual also included translation for 6 European languages. Flipping the back of the box over I guess it was the screen shots that appealed. Pictures of a eyeball creatures with hands, zombies looking monsters. Back then the game cost me £12.99 (the price sticker is still on my copy to this day), some may consider that a horror to itself.

So what is this game about? Dark Castle is a 2D adventure platformer. The game is presented as single screen levels most of which you just need to reach the end to survive. Some will require you to solve some head scratching puzzles. As young Duncan your objective is pretty simple: defeat the Dark Knight. However, to do this you need to complete three quests as outlined in the instruction manual titled “Trouble,” “Fireball,” and “Shield.” Completing the latter two will give you a item that will help you in your quest, more on these later. When you begin the game you are literally presented with four doors. Two doors have a “?” the other two “BK” with a shield. BK of course stands for Black Knight. If you are brave enough you could just attempt to take on the Black Knight and finish the game super fast, this goes against what the instructions advises but it can be done. Not so easy if you choose the Hard difficulty setting though. If you go in blind in the game you just have a choose a door and hope for the best.

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Written by jamalais

October 29, 2018 at 11:00 am

Come Out To Play-yay: How Fighting Actually Ushered In Arcade Camaraderie

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Final Fight by Capcom

The arcade was a diverse place chock full of different experiences.  Looking back at the early 80s it was comprised of single screen experiences, some scrolling and some not, mostly geared around challenging a player’s skill in hopes of consuming quarters in mass quantity.  Conceptually most games were simple but addictive, which is why you see many of the programmers from the classic arcade days transitioning into free-to-play mobile games with ease.  While there were games that involved a second player or massive cabinets, they were few and far between, just another part of the arcade’s myriad of experiences.  Then one day that all changed.  The arcade was about to become a place where large groups formed around a single cabinet and no game was complete without a second player.  Instead of ridiculous challenges leveled against a lone player, it was a machine against whatever talent was walking in the crowd.  It was a taste of things to come and it all started with the basic concept of beating someone up.

Stylized Male Violence

Roger Ebert used the above phrase to describe Paramount Picture’s 1979 thriller The Warriors, itself based upon the 1965 book of the same name by writer Sol Yurick.  In the film, the gangs of New York City assemble to discuss a truce between them so that they can gang up and outnumber the police.  During this meeting, Riffs leader and meeting coordinator Cyrus is shot dead and the Warriors are framed for the murder.  The meeting and murder take place in Van Cortlandt Park, which is located in the Bronx, and the Warriors turf is in Coney Island.  Those not familiar with the five boroughs of New York should note that Coney Island is about 30 miles directly south of the Bronx and therefore the Warriors find themselves a long way from home with every gang in the city eager to kill them.  You follow the Warriors throughout the film as they battle these gangs in an attempt to make it home safe and then clear their name.  The film relies heavily on street gang culture from the 60s and 70s that predominantly involved fists and melee as opposed to guns and knives, although the latter are definitely present in some altercations.  The Warriors has an unquestionable cult status among American moviegoers and expands to a larger worldwide audience.  Of those, a young Japanese game designer by the name of Yoshihisa Kishimoto loosely gets the idea for his 1986 arcade game Nikketsu Koha Kunio-Kun (Hot-Blooded Tough Guy Kunio), which would be renamed in the West as simply Renegade.

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Written by Fred Rojas

June 30, 2017 at 11:00 am

Posted in Arcade, Features

Learning from the Past: The Arcades

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We live in a great time to be a gamer. The quality and quantity of games available is at an all-time high. We can even hop on our systems and play against people in our living rooms or halfway around the world.

This holds even more true for retro gamers. It is getting easier to gain access to older games, whether through the internet, local stores that focus on retro gaming or services like Nintendo’s Virtual Console. Older PC games are making a comeback as well, with Blizzard releasing StarCraft Broodwar for free and services like Good Old Games ( optimizing the settings for programs like DOSbox so gamers don’t have to fight with it.

There is one experience, however, that will probably never be the same as it was back in the hey days of the 80s and early 90s: the local arcade.

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Written by azrockslide

June 26, 2017 at 11:00 am

Horror Obscura 2016: Tomb Raider Series

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Tomb Raider is a very well known series in fact just recently the series hit its landmark 20th anniversary so it felt fitting to enter the series into the Horror Obscura this year.  Many of course will argue that the Tomb Raider series is an action series but lingering in those tombs in practically every entry of the series there are horror themes to be found. So to celebrate the 20th anniversary and talk about some horror it’s time to discuss some of Tomb Raider‘s most memorable scares.

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Horror Obscura 2016: Avenging Spirit

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When it come to the obscure and horror games I really like to search out the titles you may have never heard of and today’s game is no different.

Avenging Spirit – I have seen this title floating around on the 3DS virtual console for quite some time and decided to recently pull the trigger on it. This is a Game Boy game released in 1991. You play a nameless character who has been gunned down by the mob and who’s girlfriend has been kidnapped. You wake to find this whole mess was your girlfriends fathers fault as the mob wanted to obtain his research on ghost energy. The father now has the balls to ask you to rescue your girlfriend before you fade away into the afterlife. Oh did I mention you’re now an adorable cuddly looking ghost? Yeah the story of Avenging Spirit sounds a lot darker than its appearance would lead you to believe.

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Written by jamalais

November 3, 2016 at 11:00 am

The Horror Obscura 2016: Part 2

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Rise Of Nightmares

The Xbox Kinect 1.0. Yes I’m talking about Microsoft’s first attempt at motion controls on the fantastic Xbox 360 console. The device actually sold pretty well to begin with people seemed to buy into Microsoft’s marketing for the device for about 5 minutes and then people left it on the side lines only to pull it out from the dusty corner of the living room when a new entry in the Dance Central series released. Then Kinect 2.0 happened and no one cared, so the real horror here is Kinect’s failure to capture an audience. Of course you’d have seen the title and you know that’s not what we’re here to talk about. No horror fans, today we are going to talk about the reason I kinda wanted to buy a Kinect for the Xbox 360 in the first place a little Sega title called Rise of Nightmares.

Rise of Nightmares to me is House of the Dead for the Kinect. Now I know that’s an incredibly bold statement to make since the House of the Dead series is just light gun zombie shooting bliss and Rise of Nightmares, well its a Kinect game and that just makes people just groan generally. We’re gamers right? we don’t like standing up and flailing our arms around we like to sit on sofa and be lazy. Unless of course your like Fred and you stand up to play games anyway in which case buy this game and enjoy.

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Written by jamalais

October 24, 2016 at 11:00 am