Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom brings Wonder Boy into 2018 in a way that The Dragon’s Trap couldn’t, and its deeper RPG elements make it feel more like the future of Wonder Boy.
All in all, Wonder Boy fans have had a pretty exciting 12 months.
Last year’s Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap was a beautifully handled remake of the classic SEGA platformer. As great as it was, with the original 8-bit code running behind the scenes, there was little room for maneuver in terms of pushing the series forward.
Despite what you may have read to the contrary, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is actually an official entry of the Wonder Boy series. Starting life as oddball Kickstarter project, Flying Hamster II: Knight of the Golden Seed, Monster Boy has been developed in Germany and France by FDG Entertainment and Game Atelier, respectively, albeit under the auspices of original Wonder Boy creator, Ryuichi Nishizawa. SEGA themselves have even assisted with distribution of the game’s Switch exclusive physical edition.
Perplexed fans need not worry: in truth, Monster Boy’s music and gameplay are so on point that worrying about such things seems somewhat academic. The game liberally borrows classic Wonder Boy melodies, enemies, locations and many of the core gameplay conceits, including the obligatory transformations into various anthropomorphic animals with helpful abilities. Make no mistake, this really is Wonder Boy in all but name.
You’ll spend your time crisscrossing the game’s wonderfully detailed 2D world acquiring items and transformations to access previously off-limits areas, while battling cutesy enemies of all shapes and sizes. Combat’s pretty shallow, but at least it rarely gets in the way, and exploration is actively encouraged. Puzzles are straightforward and typically involve utilizing one or more of your animal transformations’ skills. Bosses’ weak points are more than adequately signposted, and you’ll even get the benefit of a few extra heart power-ups if you begin to struggle with any of them.
It’s a Wonderful Life
There are actually far more RPG-style trappings on offer here than you might expect: a generous glut of gear to acquire which include set bonuses, various magic spells for use both in combat and traversing the game world, plus the game’s protagonist, Jin, can be afflicted by a number of negative status effects such as slowness and confusion.
All in all, there’s a lot more going on here than simple platforming, which is itself satisfyingly breezy. One point of contention, however, is that hitting spiked surfaces kills Jin instantly rather than just damaging him, oftentimes forcing you to repeat the same tricky, obstacle-laden sections over and over.
There’s something akin to a plot here, but it’s not much of a page turner. Your Uncle is turning innocent people into animals, and you’re tasked with retrieving some orbs which may or may not undo his wicked designs. Proceedings are awkwardly shuffled along through speech bubbles that you’ll tire of pretty quickly, but alas, must be skipped through one by one.
Monster Boy’s art style is undeniably anime-inspired, with all the usual exaggerated emotes and angular haircuts that entails. It’s all exquisitely detailed, with some nice 3D perspective effects thrown it. The game runs at a constant, unbroken 60fps on Switch, in 1080p when docked and 720p in handheld mode. The opening video sequence is nicely animated, but its J-pop-inspired musical accompaniment will not be to everyone’s taste.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom brings Wonder Boy into 2018 in a way that The Dragon’s Trap couldn’t, wedded as it was to the original game’s engine, and its deeper RPG elements make it feel more like the future of Wonder Boy. In terms of aesthetics, Dragon’s Trap features a more westernised, sketchbook-style look, whereas, again, Monster Boy draws inspiration from classic anime. For our money, Monster Boy looks better, owing largely to more dynamic, detailed lighting and shading effects.
Speaking of money, we do actually have one other minor qualm with Monster Boy, and that’s its steep asking price. At around £35/$/€ digitally, Monster Boy is well out of that all important impulse purchase bracket, and within spitting distance of the triple-A big boys. As much as we like the game, it feels a tad overpriced.
Ultimately, Monster Boy offers a different, more progressive take on Wonder Boy that allows it to peacefully coexist with The Dragon’s Trap. It is an excellent continuation of a beloved SEGA series that we’d recommend to veterans and newcomers alike.
+ Classic Wonder Boy gameplay
+ Superb anime-style graphic
+ Modern RPG elements
– Occasionally frustrating platforming
– Uninspired story
– A touch overpriced
[Editor’s note: the publisher provided Mega Visions with a promotional code for the purposes of this review]