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Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap (Sega Master System) artwork

Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap (Sega Master System) review

"There’s no justice in the world. Wonderboy III the Dragons Trap is hands-down one of the best ever platform games on ANY system. Yet unlike the overrated Mario games, it only has a small band of cult followers. An elite few who believe that Wonderboy III is a delicious mixture of puzzling, fighting and exploring that combines superb graphics with great music and highly original game play aspects. In short Wonderboy III is brilliant. Only the fact it wasn’t made by Nintendo has seen it ignored in..."

There’s no justice in the world. Wonderboy III the Dragons Trap is hands-down one of the best ever platform games on ANY system. Yet unlike the overrated Mario games, it only has a small band of cult followers. An elite few who believe that Wonderboy III is a delicious mixture of puzzling, fighting and exploring that combines superb graphics with great music and highly original game play aspects. In short Wonderboy III is brilliant. Only the fact it wasn’t made by Nintendo has seen it ignored in all those greatest games of all-time lists. But why is it so great I hear you all cry? Well let me present my case.

The games begins in a very exciting manner, Wonderboy is racing through a deep castle trying to find the evil Dragon that lurks in the depths. On the way he fights off a few perfunctory enemies with his sword and collect treasure. Soon you reach the Dragon and are thrown straight into a boss fight. The huge almost robotic dragon rushes at you and fires flames at you, but it doesn’t take lone to figure out his attack pattern and defeat him. But the dragon has one last trick up it’s sleeve. It curse Wonderboy turning him from a young knight into a little green dragon. Bereft of sword and shield, Wonderdragon must race back through the collapsing castle and make it to the surface. It is now his adventure begins. He must explore the surrounding lands and figure out how to break the curse and become Wonderboy again.

Apart from being a cute green dragon, Wonderboy has lost the eight energy hearts he had and is reduced to one. As the game progresses you can acquire more hearts to make wonderboy strong again. Wonderdragon is now in a quiet town with a place to shop for armour and weapons, a place to heal up and a place to acquire level passwords. This forms a kind of hub level and Wonderboy in all forms will return here a lot. In all forms? Yes, not only is he a dragon, but also during the game Wonderboy finds a transmogrifying device tat allows him to change into animal/human hybrids all with their own special powers. Wonderdragon on his own is quite weak and cannot carry a shield or sword though he can breathe underwater and has fire breath. Mouseman is a teeny weeny little chap who can scale walls by sticking to them and explore the maze part of one level. Lionman is very strong and can bust down blocks to reach new areas. Piranha-man can swim easily up and down through the water parts of the level and Hawk-man can fly up high to a whole new area.

Rather splendidly each area can be partially explored by each form Wonderboy takes on, but each specific area can only be completed by the correct form and in the correct order. So as Wonderdragon you must begin your quest by exploring the surrounding islands and villages, soon you find keys to unlock new areas and as you work your way through the game the climax of each area sees you turned into the beast that you need to be to complete the next one. As you move though the levels it is wise to take note of unusual block like the one mouseman can stick to or ones Lion Man can destroy. There is probably a goody there if you return in the correct form.

There is a huge amount to explore and collect. Each enemy will turn into a gold piece on death or a treasure bag. These can then be spent on armour, weapons and projectiles like fire and lightening balls. Pressing pause on the Master System control deck brings up an inventory screen where you can keep track of the keys and items you have collected. The more enemies you kill the more experience type points you get. Better armour etc becomes available as you progress, culminating in a nifty piece called the Heavenly shield/Hades Armour combo which when equip will regenerate you when damaged. Even the items you get from enemies can change depending on what you have equipped. It’s a brilliantly flexible game!

The main gameplay quest plays out as a series of forays into various danger filled areas at the end of which a Boss Dragon must be slain. These include the Mummy Dragon, the Zombie Dragon and the Vampire Dragon. When all the dragons have been destroyed Wonderboy gets the Salamander Cross and can return back to his human form. Combat is fairly straightforward, just a couple of swipes or fireblast take out most creatures, be they giant worms, pumpkins, crabs or skeletons. Each animal form has different levels of strength and defence. Mouseman though small, is still tougher than Wonderdragon. Lion Man is slow but rock hard and tough. Hawk-Man and Piranha Man are both very agile as they have mostly free range either in water or air.

All this wouldn’t mean a whole lot if the look and control of the game sucked. Luckily Wonderboy 3 is probably the most sumptuous Master System game I have ever played. Each area is rich in well-designed enemies and superb details. The levels have a perfect design so you never feel lost, or subject to a cheap death. It rewards exploration with secret doorways and never dumps you to far back if you fall to far into another area. All the areas contrast very nicely. The central area is a pastoral green and beach like place. Underwater a light blue sheen covers the screen and fronds of seaweed sway around, as psychotic squid fire energy balls at you. Up in the air there is an alien planet like level of rich oranges and turquoise. Mousemans maze area is a cramped and tightly packed collection of brickwork.

The character designs them selves are a triumph of animation. Wonderdragon is unbelievably cute! The way he crouches and hide behind his tail always makes me smile. Mouseman is a hilarious teeny man with big Mickey Mouse ears. Lion man is a huge noble looking warrior with a big mane, Hawk-man has a beak and wings and Piranha-man has fins and is also a rather fetching shade of green. The controls are superb. One-button to jump, another to fire or swipe the sword. Watching Mouseman goes crazy with his little toothpick-sized sword is hilarious when compared to the massive swipes of Lion-Mans broadsword. Basically the main character in all forms exudes a sweet charm and personality.

Combining as it does some modicum of character building, Wonderboy is maybe not a run-of-the-mill platform game. It feels more Zelda than Mario. In fact the whole transmogrification into animals is reminiscent of the mask based transforming in Zelda: Majora’s Mask, well no good idea should go unplagerized I guess. It still bewilders me today that a game of such great depth, charm and downright fun is not more highly regarded. I tried to find something to be critical about and the only I could think of was that at times your quest goals can be hazy and you can end up exploring the wrong areas in the wrong form for a long time. But considering you can still use that time to collect gold and find secrets even that is no real problem.

Truly this is one of the best games to ever appear on the Master System. I rate this game even more than the mighty Sonic the Hedgehog as it provides a more engrossing and rewarding gaming experience. With the current vogue for the GBA hosting classics from the 8 and 16 bit era, maybe once again a whole new generation can discover this “lost classic”. I for one will keep spreading the word, Wonderboy 3, better than Zelda and Mario, and that’s a fact!

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Community review by falsehead (March 08, 2004)

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