There are a lot of very good reasons why the Sega Master System isn’t as well known as the NES — its comparatively small library of games, its atrocious standards for cover-art, the belief that basically every game was as ugly as a fermenting banana and controlled like trash, the fact that its controllers were maddeningly uncomfortable and the pause button was on the console itself which meant constantly having to peel off the couch just to access the inventory — but it did have its redeeming factors. For starters, it had the Wonder Boy series. I couldn’t care less for the first game, which was ported to the NES as Adventure Island, but the second and third games were pretty capable little titles. So well respected, in fact, that we’ve now got a full HD remake of Wonderboy III: The Dragon’s Trap by Lizardcube.
IN MEDIA RES
The Dragon’s Trap actually takes place directly before the end of Wonder Boy In Monster Land. You start off in the final assault on Meka Dragon’s castle, but as the finishing blow is delivered, you’re stricken with a curse that turns you into a monster. The task is then to undo the curse by finding the Salamander Cross.
It was a pretty novel opening back in the day that reminds somewhat of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest in the sense that it involves an established hero dealing with the unforeseen repercussions of their most recent adventure. The interesting twist to The Dragon’s Trap, however, is that upon finishing off a boss, you’re cursed again and take a different form each time. All these forms come with their own abilities that allow you to traverse a new part of a semi-open world. Later on, you’re able to switch between forms, but it typically remains a one form, one area affair.
The game’s main appeal comes from its exploration heavy nature. There’s plenty of hidden doors to be found and secret treasures to be discovered. You gain gold from defeated enemies that can be spent on weapons, armor, and shields that provide stat boosts and special abilities to your character. The structure is somewhat non-linear, restricting your travels using only what forms you’re able to take on, but the areas that branch from the hub town are all generally direct paths with little deviation. It’s somewhat similar to a Metroid game, but far, far more restrictive.
For those whose parents mistook the Master System as an NES-equivalent, The Dragon’s Trap is known as something of a classic. For my tastes, it generally resides more in the realm of above-average as far as side-scrollers go. Certainly fun, definitely memorable, but I wouldn’t expect it to set any newcomer’s thighs a-grindin’.
THE 8-BIT CONNECTION
Despite having some extra dressings, such as the ability to play as a Wonder Girl rather than a Wonder Boy for the two minutes you remain in human form, The Dragon’s Trap is a pretty strict remake. The graphics and sound have all been upgraded to a modern standard, but beneath that all is effectively the same game that hit the Master System back in ‘89. I’m being literal here; with the touch of a button, you can revert back to the 8-bit sights and sounds of the original, in all their blocky, chirpy glory.
It’s pretty rad to see how the new art style and music stacks up, but this comes with the unfortunate side effect that everything beneath it has most of same deficiencies that the original release came with. Don’t get me wrong; The Dragon’s Trap was, and in many ways, still is, an enjoyable game, but certain issues with sometimes unintuitive level design, clunky movement physics, shaky collision detection, and unpolished enemy mechanics still exists, and it tends to clash with its shiny exterior. Bosses still hop around in predictable patterns, the movement is still restrictive and sluggish, and it’s a bit too tempting to grind for loot.
To its credit, a lot has been done to make things feel new. The UI has been redone and is a lot slicker, some smaller gameplay issues have been gently ironed, the new artstyle rids the game of a lot of the visual monotony that plagued the Master System original, and a great deal of personality has been jammed in where there was none before. Anyone with an aversion to retro proclivities may still be put off with its old-school sensibilities, but those with an affection for the d-pad dandies of yesteryear will probably appreciate the option to play a classic with a new coat of paint.
This review was conducted using a downloadable copy for the Nintendo Switch. It was paid for by the reviewer.