QCF: Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap

ew games get the chance to leave behind the legacy they truly deserve to. In a lot of cases, we see games that’re just regulated as a notable footnote for its time, or a diamond in the rough, or even getting the status of being a cult-favorite among a loyal niche of fans who do what they can to share their reverence of the software—it’s the duality of this in game culture that makes it so exciting, and disheartening all at the same time.

Thankfully, we live in an age where old media is getting hip again, and the trend has not only resurfaced some hits from way back, it’s also opened up the door to some of the more obscure choices of the past to get their own second chance in a modern reimagining.

However, none of these choices could be stranger than Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap developed by Westone for the Sega Master System, a platform that struggled to be anything more than 8-bit nuance to the NES, and leaving little to no chance that the gem was played because of its exclusivity to the Master System. Surprisingly enough however, a new studio by the name of LizardCube has teamed up with Dot Emu to deliver a remastering of The Dragon’s Trap, and do so with a degree that could humble Capcom’s efforts with DuckTales into being a simple throwback by comparison.

Let me be frank in saying that it’s not often that these ventures are able to recapture the same sort of magic that these classics were able to create in their prime, leaving a lot of its appeal up the throws of nostalgia. The remake of this Wonder Boy hit is a shining exception to that sentiment—this is the definitive way to experience this masterpiece, and I can’t imagine how LizardCube could have pulled it off any better because they somehow managed to make a near-perfect game even better.

One of the best qualities that Dragon’s Trap is that it possesses an ambitious design that’s fundamentally sound in every way.

Dropping you into the shoes of a young boy (or a girl) the third entry into the Wonder Boy series leads the intrepid warrior into the heart of an old castle that’s teeming with monsters that they’ll need to best if they have any hope of confronting the dragon that’s in charge of the joint. The victory of conquering the dragon is short lived however, as it would seem that the mythical beast was armed with a devastating curse that ends up significantly diminishing your vitality and strength as you take on the form of a humanoid lizard, ending up as a mere shadow of the valiant hero that you once were. This dragon is just one of many however, each equipped with their own bestial curse, and it’ll be up to you to make the best of every new bad situation that you’ll be plunged into.

The formula allows for levels that’re deceptively challenging, yet refreshingly intuitive in their composition, resonating with the unique abilities that players will have at their disposal with the various playable characters, making for an engaging dynamic that’s arguably timeless with how well the execution still holds up to by today’s standards.

The remastering is largely done with the presentation of Dragon’s Trap, as it replaces all of the pixelated visuals with a handdrawn design that’s heavily influenced by a European style that’s influenced by the work of artists like Albert Uderzo and André Franquin. The new graphic design breathes a new sense of life into the game that not works to flesh out the charm of adventure’s fairy tale setting but it also works onto improving some of the odd, and admittedly archaic quirks of the game’s original level design.

There are many instances within the original iteration of the game’s stages and overworld where there was a hidden door, or item that was overtly cryptic in its secrecy, and could go completely undiscovered by those who weren’t already aware of them. Lizardcube’s work in overhauling the visuals of the game not only adds a lot of imagistic depth to the background and foreground that wasn’t there before, but they’ve also gone on to add some new illustrations to the that function to faintly telegraph the whereabouts of these secrets with clever clue-like tells within the aesthetics of the level.

The music also gets a similar revamp as it the original score is completely recomposed with an orchestral sound that compliments the vibrant art style, implementing a surprisingly large number of instruments in its composition. Seriously, what once sounded jovial and whimsical is now just epic, and impactful, without compromising any of the catchy effervescence that made the melodies of Dragon’s Trap so memorable.

 If there was one feature that needed to be applauded above all else though, it would definitely be the ability to switch between the updated presentation, and the 8-bit Sega Master System looks and sounds on the fly at any time, hell you can even mix and match between old graphics and new sound or vice versa. This nifty bit of fan service is not only a wonderful offering to the purists who still held the retro open world game in fond regards, but it’s a feature that doubles as subtle chronicle of the game’s history that both veterans and new comers alike can sink their teeth into.

The archival efforts don’t stop there, the extra gallery options will showcase a plethora of content that showcases the outlines, storyboards, and composition art from both eras of the game. These bits of media are unlocked as you gradually progress through the story and collect the numerous items and pieces of equipment found in Dragon’s Trap and add an organic incentive to gather everything in a game that’s loaded with collectibles.

I don’t want to spare any words here, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is one of the best remakes you’ll ever play, and it stands as a shining example of how to properly reboot a prized relic from the past—you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to download this gem of a title.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap retails at $19.99 and it’s worth every penny; you won’t be disappointed.

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