Wonder Boy III : The Dragon’s Trap is the third Wonder Boy game on the Sega Master System, following on from Wonder Boy in Monster Land. The game was created by West One studios, published by Sega in 1989 and was later ported to the Game Gear. Despite being created by a Japanese company, Wonder Boy III was first released in English on the Sega Master System in North America and Europe, before being ported to the PC Engine in Japan a few years later as an Adventure Island title. In fact, Wonder Boy III, in it’s original form, didn’t see a Japanese release until 2007 when it was bundled with the Sega Ages : Monster World Complete Collection for the Playstation 2.
Once again, Hudson soft got their hands on the game engine, hacked it and released it as an entry in the Adventure Island series. Wonder Boy III was given critical acclaim upon release thanks to it’s non-linear progression, colourful graphics and catchy music. The game also had a password save system, which was quite reliable even if the passwords tended to be a bit on the long side. The game is massive so without a password system it would have been damn near impossible.
You start the game as Wonder Boy raiding a castle. Eventually you fight the Mecha Dragon and once defeated, turns you into a small dragon, hence the name “The Dragon’s Trap”. The first level of the game is essentially a re-hash of the last level in Monster Land and the game proper begins after you have morphed into the dragon. The dragon is actually only the first of a series of animal forms that Wonder Boy takes on during the course of the game. There is mouse-man who can climb up walls, piranha-man who can swim freely through underwater sections of the game (other characters sink), lion-man has a broad attack which can bust blocks directly above and below him while bird-man, the final form, can fly freely though the air. Each of the characters special abilities gives you access to different parts of the game, as well as opening up secret areas in in sections of the game you have already completed.
The graphics are out-fucking-standing for an 8bit title. It really is something to behold. It looks better than some early Genesis titles. There is one problem with the graphics however – sprite flickering. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when the screen starts filling up with enemies it becomes all to apparent. This is pretty much the only problem the game has at all. Some claim that the controls are a little loose, or “slippery”, but I have never thought this to be the case. Perhaps their controllers were busted. The music is also pretty good. It changes predictably depending on the level but isn’t too repetitive. It’s pretty catchy too; don’t be surprised if you can’t get those melodies out of your head for a few days after hearing them.
With the exception of the first dragon-like form, all of Wonder Boy’s animal forms also have swords and armor. There are shops at various points throughout the game and the gold pieces you collect can be used to buy better equipment. However, in order to unlock new swords and armor, you need to have a certain number of stones. You primarily find stones in treasure chests, but enemies do sometimes drop them as well. It’s an odd game mechanic that I guess is put in place so you don’t have access to game-breakingly powerful weapons right at the start of the game. The only complaint is that while you can see how many stones you have in the status screen (accessed by pressing the pause button), there is no way of telling how many stones are needed to unlock items. The best plan of action is to simply try and get your hands on as many as possible.
The game is quite non-linear in the sense that you have access to a lot of different areas straight off the bat. However most of the boss fights are only accessible by using the special power of that bosses corresponding animal form. For example, the underwater sunken ship and the pirate-dragon boss can only be accessed by the piranha-man due to the fact that you need to be able to swim upwards in order to get there in the first place. So I guess it’s linear in the sense that the boss fights must be done in a specific order, but there are a lot of non-boss related areas, as well as secret areas which can be accessed freely. You can also go back to any previously explored area at any time you like. There are a lot of instances where the special ability of your current animal form can be used to unlock a specific area or treasure chest hidden in a spot you have played through in a different form. Also, at some point in the game (I forget when exactly), you get the gain entrance to a room which let’s you change into any of your previous forms.
The enemies are also done well. Some recognizable enemies from previous Wonder Boy titles make an appearance as do a whole host of new baddies to slay. There are a lot of different kinds of monsters to defeat and the color of those monsters indicates how strong and tough they are. There are you run-of-the-mill snakes, frogs and crabs as well as stationary projectile firing and indestructible turret-like enemies too. There is also a cloud that drops little fire balls on you (some of which follow you after hitting the ground) which can only be killed with the arrow item. They are not overly difficult to avoid if you happen to run out of arrows, but they are pretty annoying all the same. There are a number of offensive items that can be used, including fireballs, mini-tornados and lightning strikes. My favourite was the boomerang. While not overly powerful, the boomerang comes back towards you when you throw it and if it hits you again you get it back, so it works like an actual boomerang. This means that if you are careful with how you use the boomerang, it can potentially be a limitless projectile attack. You can also throw two at once.
When it’s all said and done, Wonder Boy III comes out kicking ass and taking names. It really is a masterpiece of 8bit entertainment and should be played by every person on the planet before they die. There is a whole lot of game in Wonder Boy III and it will take you a while to see everything it has to offer. It is a grand adventure through and through, making for a fantastic gaming experience. Highly recommended to anyone, anywhere, anytime.