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Wonder Boy (Sega Master System) artwork

Wonder Boy (Sega Master System) review

"Ask any owner of the console if there were any franchises synonymous with the Master System, and you'll likely get Alex Kidd or Wonder Boy as your top answer."

Ask any owner of the console if there were any franchises synonymous with the Master System, and you'll likely get Alex Kidd or Wonder Boy as your top answer. Alex Kidd being the more recognizable of the two, its series is infamous for having one good game, while the rest ranged from a mix of decent attempts to very questionable releases that left a bad taste in gamers' mouths, tarnishing the brand name. The Wonder Boy series on the other hand, while unfortunately not as well-known, was cherished by those who came into contact with it thanks to solid action-RPG elements, not to mention better quality control in comparison to the former franchise. So it may come as a shock, for those trying to dive into the latter series, that the first game differs greatly from its offspring, providing a straight, side-scrolling platformer experience that looks and plays suspiciously like the Adventure Island titles.

Taking control of a Tarzan-like character, Tom Tom, with clothing minimized to leaves around his crotch area, you must travel through a total of 36 rounds to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend. Now when things get going, you'll have this unusual feeling the level design and enemy encounters are too much on the basic side: simply hopping over rocks in a forest, from cloud to cloud over tropical islands, and across small pits, as well as easily defeating enemies like cobras and flaming skulls with an obtainable hammer, don't garner a flattering first impression. I say this, too, after the fact that your avatar is prone to one-hit kills and also has to contend with a diminishing timer bar, the added bonus of shrinking faster when touching rocks, that can only be replenished with food that appears out of thin air.

But this is a ruse, an intentional false sense of security.

This is not to be confused with the typical style of mounting difficulty of most games, where you use the foundations learned early on to help fight through the toughness in later stages. Wonder Boy likes to play mind games with every new round. Let's say you're midway through the game, and you're feeling a little more comfortable with the growing difficulty. You then come across a series of rocks and jump over them with ease, even killing cobras placed right behind certain rocks and dodging boulders that pop up before making a jump. No problem. You then encounter a similar set later, probably the next round. Assuming everything goes according to plan, you repeat the exercise here. You're now dead. What happened? After jumping over a rock, a boulder suddenly comes rolling your way, prompting a millisecond reaction on your part. Changing circumstances, this can also occur while bouncing on clouds, triggering a sudden drop on the one you fell on, or how you're running towards a checkpoint post where a lightning bolt comes crashing down in front of it, killing both you and your hopes of finishing the stage.

Due to this set up, Wonder Boy incorporates an approach to playing where, in most instances, you lose a bunch of lives to better understand a stage's layout. Especially frustrating is when you lose your valuable hammer after dying, making platforming a tad harsher, since you have to dodge everything until the next one. Adding pressure is how keeping the time bar filled will be harder because of food being more spread apart, giving you no choice but to treat certain rounds with a speed run mentality. With a bit more tinkering, this structure might have worked in a game with more variety... which Wonder Boy is sadly lacking in. For 36 rounds, you'll mainly see three environments, a forest, tropical islands, and a cave, with other places like a desert and mountain settings making super rare appearances. Worse, the latter half of Wonder Boy literally repeats most of the early stages, only adding or switching enemy placements to make situations tougher. It's like you're forced to play normal and hard difficulty settings back to back.

Needless to say, Wonder Boy is more work than fun, in a repetitive world, no less. By the time you reach the last normal stage (there's four extra stages if you collect 36 dolls) and save the day, you'll feel numb, negating the need to celebrate beating an action game that took nearly two repetitive and irritable hours away from your life. Graciously, due to specific rights held by the developers, Escape/Westone, at the time, they passed this style of play to Hudson Soft, porting the game to the NES and calling it Adventure Island. Westone then decided to take the Wonder Boy series in a completely different direction, and thus, the action-RPG Monster World sequels were created. In the end, we're all better off for this change of pace, since the Master System was blessed with two of the finest titles to grace that console's library, Wonder Boy in Monster Land and Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap.

It's okay to skip Wonder Boy... the game's not required to play the more engrossing and enjoyable sequels.

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (October 06, 2012)

Didn't originally plan on submitting AA: Pac-Man on Thanksgiving, but I couldn't pass up on the food theme.


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Masters posted October 06, 2012:

Nice job, pick. It's true this game was always work; it's the first game I actually ever purchased though (and third I ever owned after Hang-On and My Hero), so it's got some nostalgic value for me. Thanks for the link to WBII, as well. That review is so ancient. I should really make some tweaks. Were I not so lazy...
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pickhut posted October 06, 2012:

Heh, no problem with the link. I don't think I'm going to review Monster Land in the near future, so I figured I'll link yours instead. And yeah, I grew up with the game as well, but I could never play it for very long. Just quickly lost interest. Thanks for liking the review, too! I suddenly had an itching to review it after watching some Adventure Island videos. xD.

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