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Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (Switch) artwork

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (Switch) review

"The Dragon's Trap offers an adventure worth having, whether you're a returning fan or a total newcomer."

When I play Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap, I can tell it must have been fantastic back in 1989, when it was released on the SEGA Master System as Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap. I didn't play that original game, though, so I can't wax nostalgic for lazy afternoons I never spent losing myself to its charms. What I can do is tell you that even today, the game is one of the better platformers you'll find on the relevant hardware.

Originally developed by West One, The Dragon's Trap tells the tale of a lad named Wonder Boy who appears at the gates of a castle to vanquish a great evil. He wanders the corridors and eventually finds his target, a fearsome dragon. A scuffle ensues, and Wonder Boy emerges the victor. The good vibes don't last long, though, because suddenly a malicious spirit appears and transforms him into a miniature dragon (it looks more like a lizard, really). Oh noes!

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (Switch) image

The game that follows introduces several more forms: a mouse, a fish man, a lion, and an eagle warrior. As you play through the game, each new form allows you to explore a bit more of the map, until finally you can acquire the legendary armor, shield and sword. Then it's time to face off against the source of all your trouble. The game relies on a classic sort of formula, and it works beautifully because the world is so interesting. There's a lot to explore, with numerous secrets to find (including the out-of-the-way shops that sell gear you need in order to survive). By 1989 standards, The Dragon's Trap was remarkably ambitious. You can clear it in a few hours, but it was created in a time when a lot of games--even some of the really good ones--didn't last more than an hour or so.

On current console hardware, The Dragon's Trap is a delight. Even without having previously formed a connection with the title, I was able to jump right in and start having fun, without feeling like I was suffering through an awkward relic from yesteryear. That's because the team at Lizardcube really poured some love into the remake. The visuals are beautiful, easily surpassing some current 2D platformers. I don't know what all artists contributed to the effort, but I hope they find a lot of work in the future. They deserve it. Each environment feels distinct and perfectly complements the action.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (Switch) image

Playing through the adventure, it's hard to imagine that it once looked very different, but I don't have to imagine because pressing the shoulder button immediately switches to a retro look. There's no delay at all. You just press the button and suddenly all of the gorgeous artwork disappears and you're left looking at the original visuals (which, I should add, wouldn't have been bad at all in 1989). I had a lot of fun with that feature, but my wife was watching me play and she complained every time I played in the retro mode.

Visuals aren't all you can change on the fly, either. By pressing in the right analog stick, you can also switch between the original chiptunes and the reworked compositions. The updated music sounds terrific, with a nice variety of instruments that really bring out the flair of the original soundtrack. The classic editions now sounds muffled and bland in comparison.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (Switch) image

As you work through the campaign, enjoying the sights and sounds, the game automatically saves your progress. It does so often enough that you don't have to give the matter a second thought, but that sometimes works against you. In one case, I managed to access the final fortress. I flew up to it in bird form, ventured most of the way through it, and then died when some enemies got the best of me because I hadn't brought along any potions. I appeared back in the village, in cat form, which meant that to make another run at the fortress, I had to wander the world to find a pedestal that would allow me to change form so I could try again.

That felt like a frustrating waste of time, but the game offers a reasonably convenient way around it: passwords. If you played The Dragon's Trap back in the day and you hung onto your old passwords, you can enter them now and resume your adventure, more than 25 years later. And you can generate new passwords now, if you wish. Entering them requires you to begin a new game and select an option on one of the starting menus that is easy to miss, but that's a small matter. The process works, and that's very cool indeed.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (Switch) image

My chief issues with The Dragon's Trap today are the same ones I suspect I would have had back in 1989. Although the world is fun to explore, some of its secrets are hidden quite deviously. That meant I had to run through the areas a few times to find everything, which sometimes became tedious. In any direction I went, it seems like I missed something the first time or two. The adventure also forces you to pass through a few areas repeatedly, once you have new abilities or if you need to change form or find certain shops. Things get just dangerous enough that it's a good idea to bring along a potion or two when you venture into any new dungeon area, but enemies rarely drop them and that means constantly heading back to a remote shop to buy more. And if you want all of the gear for each of the heroes, you're going to have to save up a lot of money and battle a lot of the same enemies. The shopkeepers like to gouge you.

Apparently, the original game had some elements that have been improved here. There was apparently an old charisma mechanic that prevented you from purchasing items from certain shopkeepers. That's mostly a non-issue here, but the game does introduce some dangerous dungeons that serve as a stand-in. I stumbled across one of them on my journey, hidden in the middle of nowhere. When I started battling through it, the enemies quickly brutalized me. Then, once I had secured better equipment, I couldn't remember where I had found it. In any case, it proved to be an optional destination.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is what I would call a perfect remake of an imperfect game. If you loved the original version and you want to run through it again, I highly recommend doing so. And if you never played the original but you're in the mood for another classic platformer, like I was, it's time to reach for your wallet. Lizardcube has done a commendable job here, and I really hope we hear a lot more from the studio in the coming years.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 24, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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pickhut posted April 24, 2017:

Very interesting reading about the game from the perspective of someone playing it for the first time in the now.

I do think it's really stupid how the transformation rooms are something you have to go out of your way to search for. Worse, based on what you said after dying in bird form, it's just goofy that the original devs intentionally hid a transform room within the village itself; it's accessible inside the well house, and I was only aware of this because the original game ran a demo/attract-mode thing where the player went straight to it. I was surprised it didn't do that for the remake.

The thing about potions is a hassle, too. But it actually becomes annoying in hard mode, because that fortress you talked about, along with the final area, are genuinely hard without having a few, so you have to grind away. Though, if you're playing that difficulty setting purely for a trophy/achievement, you can just look up a password for the last area; that's something that didn't cross my mind until I completed hard mode...

But yeah, good review, and some very interesting observations. I hope Lizardcube gets more work in the future.

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