There was once a time when TomTom from Wonder Boy could have very well been the face of SEGA. As things turned out, it was Alex the Kidd who ended up holding the torch for a while until Sonic the Hedgehog finally secured the position in the early ’90s. In any case, the original developer Eclipse held the rights to Wonder Boy’s game design, while SEGA kept hold of the Wonder Boy license. Eclipse then ended up getting cozy with Japanese publisher Hudson Soft and decided to clone the original game to fit on the NES hardware with a new protagonist, Master Higgins – who happened to be based on the Hudson Soft executive spokesman Takahashi Meijin at that time. This, in turn, led to the parallel presence of both Wonder Boy and Adventure Island, despite the original Wonder Boy being ported to pretty much every other console besides Nintendo.
So, if you are aged over 30 and was exclusively a Nintendo fanboy in your younger days, you may have possibly played Wonder Boy without even realizing it. That is unless you were like me and had a friend with a Master System, or a chippy nearby containing the original arcade cabinet. Wonder Boy is one of the main games that truly brings me back to my childhood. Its looping melody, simple premise, and colorful chunky graphics have stuck with me like a reminiscent song or movie. As a kid, I never knew or understood what the deal was between Wonder Boy and Adventure Island. I just assumed Adventure Island was just a good-looking rip-off of the original game. Which I suppose it was, in a strange soap opera kind of way.
Wonder Boy Returns Remix, if you hadn’t already guessed, has remixed the original remake of SEGA’s 1986 arcade hit. What makes things even more confusing is that the Nintendo Switch version actually cuts most of the additions that were included in Wonder Boy Returns, which was released back in 2016. That had introduced new bosses and modes that aren’t present here, possibly in wanting to keep the experience faithful to its roots. The visuals and animations do seem to have been tidied up slightly, along with a new playable character and an additional charge hammer attack. To give this game its extra ‘Remix’ subtitle is a bit of a stretch though, as it has resulted in a misleading loophole marketing ploy.
Wonder Boy Returns Remix does what it can to try and maintain a similar tempo to the arcade classic. Despite its shiny new chibi-facelift, this rendition seems to control with less traction in movement from what I can remember of the original. To be fair, it’s been quite a while since I last had a blast at the old game out in the wild. So, it’s possible that I’m remembering it quite differently to how it actually was. However, unlike the Lizardcube-developed Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, CFK has made no effort to throw in the original game – whether that be for nostalgic or comparison’s sake. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap also gave the player the freedom to swap to classic visuals on the fly. Considering how much of a nostalgia kick the 1986 game is to many, it seems like a rather disappointing way to celebrate its existence.
The main reason why the absence of the original game is so important to point out is mainly that Wonder Boy is only ever going to really appeal to those that remember it. Even back in the day, it was never quite in the same league as Super Mario Bros. – let alone in a modern world where even a skilled bedroom programmer can knock out a platforming banger. The gameplay is basic, the environments are repetitive, and the boss is pretty much a carbon copy of the way Bowser would be perched at the end of each dungeon back in 1985 – except this boss changes his head with every encounter but barely alters his attack pattern.
With that said, there is something timelessly charming about Wonder Boy’s first adventure. The fact that you play as a young caveman who throws stone hammers while riding a skateboard that you find inside a dinosaur egg still has a strange, yet intriguing appeal to it. The way that you are forced to keep moving and to collect food so your character doesn’t starve to death provides an almost speed-running rush that made Wonder Boy so fun to play in the first place. It’s a type of game that you can have a crack at from the very beginning each time you fire it up just to see how far you can get. Which is why Wonder Boy was such a good arcade game to play back in the day when that little cardboard tub of change was beginning to run dry.
There are three skill levels available, including a new character to journey through the game with. Tanya (or Tina) is TomTom’s girlfriend, who turns from being a damsel in distress into an invincible platforming powerhouse on a moped. Her character is clearly aimed towards the younger audience, although the difficulty of the platforming itself – to which she isn’t immune to – is far more of a threat than the enemies are. The medium difficulty stars TomTom and works as the default way to play with the added ability to save your progress. The more challenging “one coin” mode, on the other hand, is pretty much the same as the standard normal setting except you have 10 lives with no possibility to save or continue.
The good news is that players can now see the game out to its end if they were never skilled enough to do so before. Wonder Boy was never an easy game to begin with, so having such a privilege could be seen by some as wrapping up unfinished business. While the one coin mode feels the closest to recapturing those old Wonder Boy vibes, the generous life lead and lack of leaderboard do tend to murder your motivation. As for the visuals, as cute and cuddly as they are, it’s hard not to look at the colorful imagery without feeling like something is not quite right. I also found that I had to focus more on TomTom than the environments that he runs through, as looking at the backgrounds in motion tends to reveal a stuttery flux that can’t be unseen once noticed.
Those looking to delve back into their childhood memories may be left feeling a little empty with Wonder Boy Returns Remix. The facelift is practical enough to keep within the flavor of the classic Wonder Boy games, but not including the original game as an option makes this new style seem hollow by default. I was never expecting too much in regards to added features or gameplay improvements. Although, I was more hoping to see a package that would celebrate a piece of gaming history. Instead, what I have been left with is a distant memory masked by a cheap and inferior makeover. That’s not to say that the spirit of the gameplay isn’t present, it just fails to capture the fond timeframe that I remember.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by CFK