It’s been a month for remakes and reimaginings.
With Playtonic and Team 17 giving us Yooka Laylee – with it, trying to rejuvenate the 3D platformer – and Double Fine reintroducing the world to Lucasarts’ thriller – Full Throttle – it’s Dot Emu and Lizardcube who have raised the bar.
Wonderboy The Dragon’s Trap was considered a Master System Classic. Its non-linearity was quite unique for the time, and the change of character into various different forms meant the action stayed fresh. Some even go as far as to say it’s one of the best 8-Bit titles of all time.
Years later, the game has had a completely new lick of paint with the gameplay reverse engineered. The graphics are now hand-drawn and beautifully animated, and the soundtrack has been remastered and completely rearranged.
Having played The Dragon’s Trap through, it’s immediately clear that the original gameplay has aged better than anyone could have anticipated. The level layout and world building is essentially untouched – and this does lead to some flaws and frustrations – but its charm and variety is rarely found in anything but modern Nintendo classics.
Like the Double Fine Adventure Remakes, you can switch between the classic 8-Bit Wonderboy adventure, or revert to the modern day, Picasso-like assets at the touch of a button. While some remakes you can only notice differences through pixelation and sharpening, here you can see the limited canvas Lizardcube had to work with and the amazing results they’ve conjured up. Seemingly out of thin air.
In the original, there’s barely any scenery – save for some trees or cavern walls. But the remake shows far off mountains, sand dunes, murky swamps, cockles and shells under the water, and washed up debris. The Wonderboy-verse has been utterly refreshed, making for some of the most beautiful hand-drawn assets we’ve ever seen in a game.
Set immediately after Wonderboy in Monster Land, the character is affected by a curse which turns them into a Lizard. Over the course of the game, Wonderboy will face menacing bosses and foes, jumping between platforms and ducking underneath fireballs. Eventually, the player will also get to change form. In one form, he will be able to climb walls and ceiling. Others let him swim underwater and even fly through the air.
This version plays almost identically to the original, though there are some tweaks. You can now toggle weapons, as well as remove the charm stones that were previously attached to the character. Wonderboy can purchase new swords, shields, and armour, and also use special attacks like whirlwinds and arrows in order to dish out some ranged attacks.
The only other major change is that you can now play as WonderGirl, which not only changes the look of the main character but also tweaks the title screen. A fab touch.
You can even use your old save file from Wonderboy with the password entry system. You know, just in case you didn’t want to dust off your Master System from the attic and had an itch to continue your 28-year-old save game.
Despite being a mostly retro experience, this still feels incredibly refreshing to play. In theory, you could complete The Dragon’s Trap in one sitting, but modern games have trained us in such a way that you’ll probably be seeing game over more often than not. It’s deceptively difficult.
This is partly because – as mentioned before – some of the design flaws of old creep in. For instance, your character can get caught up in an almost infinite loop of pain, unable to break the animation cycle and escape. This means you can be at the mercy of an enemies’ strikes for up to 20 seconds at a time. Some enemies also react crazily when near, jumping over you continuously and at an accelerated pace, stopping you from moving anywhere without taking damage.
Then there’s the lack of a checkpoint system. If you die, you’re going to be forced to go back to the beginning of a section or hub. So try and avoid doing that.
Also, several bosses can be defeated in similar ways and have a set, repetitive rhythm that never disrupts or changes, making them easy prey.
On the whole, The Dragon’s Trap is very manageable and never overly frustrating. Even if the game does cause you to grit your teeth, the aesthetic and regular environment changes – as well as the soothing soundtrack – will soon relax you. Put it this way, it’s never bad enough that you’ll want to put your controller through the TV screen.
Wonderboy The Dragon’s Trap is the perfect example of a remake done right. Lizardcube have adopted poetic license to such excellent effect that they’ve modernised the world and organically crafted a natural evolution for the franchise. Without question, this has been one of my favourite experiences on Nintendo Switch to date.
+ Gorgeous artwork
+ Beautiful Symphonies
+ Classic old-school platforming
– Some AI design flaws
– Can be finished quickly
– Some enemies have repetitive attack rhythms
Wonderboy The Dragon’s Trap
8 out of 10
Tested on Nintendo Switch