"Follow me through Monster Land. Undertake a battle of wits (or memory) with the Sphinx. Vanquish the Grim Reaper with your shortest sword, his damage meter worn plainly and usefully (however silly it may look to super-realism spoiled gamers) on his chest. All the end-of-level foes wear this medallion of sorts, and it says a lot about the way the game strikes me as a whole. Colourful, unpretentious, unequivocal. "
Videogamers in magic land
Imagine sun-filled days spent outdoors. On occasion, I would stay indoors with this game, and it would still seem as though I were outdoors, in the sun. There are not many games that can give you this feeling of warmth, and sense of adventure. Super Mario Brothers 3 is a famous and ideal example--WBIML is not famous, but almost as ideal.
If you've played only the original Wonder Boy, you will have memories of an average, colourful Adventure Island-like game. Rest assured that this sequel is almost nothing like it. The name, the colour, and the blonde haired protagonist are the only real similarities. Perhaps you've also learned of Wonderboy III-The Dragon's Trap, the much heralded action epic that Sega Master System boosters used as ammunition against the likes of their friend's Castlevania IIIs and Ninja Gaiden 2s. This third game in the series made Sega fans proud, and gave them a reason to talk unashamedly about their system to unbelieving NES owners. But the truth is, they had a reason years earlier.
The title screen speaks of simplicity and fun. Feelings of joy rush back to me, thrilling the soul--if only fleetingly--reminding me of a time filled with 8-bit wonders, facile looking games that provided more enjoyable hours of play than can be logically accounted for.
It's not all about nostalgia--not in this case. A single play at WBIML even now, will convince you of that. Take your small, cutesy character on a side-scrolling quest to slay monsters with swords and sorcery. Talk to storekeepers--gold coins in hand--to purchase new weapons, magic items, boots, armour and shields. Most of these goodies can be earned randomly through defeating enemies as well. Chat with bartenders at local taverns to become privy to hints and rumours abound in the Monster Land. These tidbits will seem like useless prattle, but will manifest themselves later as vital clues.
This is a storybook journey to right what is wrong in Monster Land; it does not take itself seriously like today's games, but in that unassuming quality, the game achieves something serious indeed: your attention.
Follow me through Monster Land. Undertake a battle of wits (or memory) with the Sphinx. Vanquish the Grim Reaper with your shortest sword, his damage meter worn plainly and usefully (however silly it may look to super-realism spoiled gamers) on his chest. All the end-of-level foes wear this medallion of sorts, and it says a lot about the way the game strikes me as a whole. Colourful, unpretentious, unequivocal.
This is not to say the game is easy, because it is far from it. Things get more challenging at an ideal rate. WBIML is a tough journey that involves frantic hacking and slashing, good platform jumping skills, some problem solving skills, mapping (in the last level) and a bit of luck. Items appear randomly, through slaying certain enemies, so sometimes you may find yourself the fortunate recipient of 'lots of good stuff', and sometimes not. When old school fun meets old school randomness, we usually arrive at a game that begs to be replayed. I have been known to play it back to back to back, sometimes clearing it on one of those attempts, and other times simply coming close.
Charming is the way to describe the music. I can hum the main tune and it evokes positive emotion in me; that is the ultimate compliment to pay a video game score, regardless of complexity. And if you've played any Alex Kidd game, or any other Wonderboy game, you know what to expect from the graphics. They are magically hued, surely born of childlike inspiration.
But these are just symptoms of the greater condition. This game is fun to look at and to listen to, mainly due to how fun the game is overall. Think of Lupin in the Castle of Cagliostro. Think of the magic in the straightforwardness of a simple, charming adventure of a hero on a quest; the colour, the emotion. When it's done just right, as Sega has done it here, it's like a sunny day.
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 12, 2004)
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