All the way back in 1989, the Sega Master System got arguably one of its finest games ever, that being Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap. Fast forward 28 years and French studio Lizardcube have given Switch owners one of the best remakes I can recall over the past few years. The core gameplay is still the same, because after all, if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it. However, it is the rest of the game that has been significantly upgraded to bring it in line with modern games.
The game starts off with you being cursed by the Meka-Dragon and it turns you into a half-human, half-lizard being and as you can probably guess yourself, the main aim here is to search for a cure. The only way you can do this is to find the Salamander Cross which has the power to eliminate the curse and turn you back into a human.
You must then track down each of the remaining dragons and upon defeating these, you are transformed into more weird and wonderful animals and creatures. There are plenty of different transformations to play as, including Piranha-Man and Mouse-Man, some are certainly better than others. Each one has a unique ability that will aid you on your adventure, such as Mouse-Man’s ability to climb along any surface that is chequered (very specific, I know).
When you first start playing the game, you may immediately feel that this is your run of the mill platform game. But you will begin to understand that The Dragon’s Trap is a bit different to what you may have been expecting. Attacking and subsequently defeating most enemies in the game will grant you coins, hearts, potions or sub-weapons. It is always wise to defeat any enemy you come across, even if jumping over them and completely dismissing them seems tempting to you. The reason for this is because everything that an enemy could drop is actually very useful, which for a lot of games, isn’t always the case.
Coins, as you would imagine are used to purchase weapons and armour. Which again, as you would expect, boosts your attack power and defence respectively. I felt that it was really useful to buy new weapons and armour fairly regularly, because enemies do get tougher and tougher as you progress through the different areas so being able to withstand their attacks is crucial to surviving. Hearts regain health, I don’t really need to explain that one any more than I need to.
Potions are particularly useful and work in the same way that fairies do in Zelda, if you die, you’re brought back to life. You will probably consume more of these than you care to wish for. You will also come across treasure chests and sometimes these will contain extra heart containers to increase the amount of hearts you can have at one time. Sub-weapons can be useful against particularly tricky enemies such as those that hover above or stay below your usual hit zones. So for example rather than just being able to attack straight in front of you, certain sub-weapons will allow you to attack upwards.
As I touched on before, each transformation has a special ability which allows you to reach certain places that were otherwise unreachable beforehand. The kind of places that when you first come across them, you try your damnedest to reach them even though deep down you know that place isn’t meant for you just yet. Of course, nowadays it isn’t necessarily that big of a thing but back when The Dragon’s Trap first came out originally, this was quite a unique gameplay aspect and only a couple of other games would have had a similar system, such as Metroid. There is an air of non-linearity that a lot of games even now should take note of.
Once you are a particular form, you are unable to switch until you get to certain locations. This means that there may be quite a bit of back-tracking for some players who may pick not instantly pick up on the form that they require straight away. But it certainly adds a little bit of a puzzle aspect to the game because you then have to think about which form you need and the best way to get back to the point where you can transform.
Of course, with this game being a remake of a game that at this point is getting towards 30 years old, it is dated in some ways. But the developers Lizardcube have gone above and beyond in enhancing the game in ways that doesn’t mess with the core gameplay elements and what made The Dragon’s Trap such a great game in the first place. The first thing that will be obvious to anybody playing is the graphical style. The hand drawn visuals are simply amazing. Everything from the smooth animations, the impressively detailed backgrounds and wide-ranging pallet, it is all utterly enchanting.
Likewise, every single piece of music and every sound effect has been completely recreated from scratch. The soundtrack has certainly shot up to being one of my favourites of this year for sure. You can certainly see that such care has been taken to not stray too far from its original self and I think the developers deserve a lot of praise for that.
If you are somebody that prefers the 8-bit experience then you will absolutely love this next feature. At any time during the game, if you press ZR then you transform the game back to what it originally used to look like. Well almost, because back then it wouldn’t have run in widescreen and it wouldn’t run anywhere near as smoothly as it does here, but let’s be honest, we’re not gonna complain about that. You can also switch the original sound on and apply CRT scanlines if you would like too. Most of this is separate too, meaning if you want to play with up to date graphics but want all those nostalgic 8-bit tunes, then you can do that. I often found myself pressing ZR just to see what the game used to look like in certain places and to see just how much detail the developers added to their version.
The Dragon’s Trap, unfortunately, does not take a great deal of time to finish and there isn’t really any reason to come back once you have completed the game. There are secrets to be found but none are essential in that you feel like you simply have to find everything. The difficulty slightly makes up for the length of the game, because it certainly packs a mean challenge and there are 3 different levels of difficulty to choose from too. The game now also features an auto-save feature to bring it up to modern day standards but it does also still feature its original retro password system which is a really nice touch, even if I never used it.
I simply have to commend Lizardcube for the effort they have put into Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, even if it is a remake. A lot of other companies that remake older games can learn a thing or two from this developer. It looks great, sounds great and still plays wonderfully too. It was a great game in 1989 and whilst maybe some of that greatness has now gone, because games have simply moved on since then, it is still certainly a really fun game and one that I did not want to put down from start to finish. I highly recommend playing through it and maybe this can be the catalyst for Wonder Boy to make a full comeback.