Wonderboy was first released as an arcade game in 1986 and was later ported to the Sega Master System and Sega Game Gear. It featured a young man in a grass skirt taking down defenceless animals with a tomahawk and jumping skateboards over ice caverns. Needless to say this game blew me away as a small child. Wonderboy eventually found it’s way from the arcade to the living room via the Sega Master System and is considered to be a classic by most Master System fans.
Any NES fans who play Wonderboy for the first time are bound to get a strange feeling of deja-vu. Wonderboy is actually the same game as Adventure Island for the NES. Way back in the olden days, circa 1986, Westone Studios made the first Wonderboy game and struck a licensing deal with Sega, however Sega only stipulated ownership of the characters and not the game itself. So to make a quick buck on the side, Westone Studios sold the game code to Hudson, who then changed the game sprites so as not to get sued by Sega and released on the NES as Adventure Island. Brilliant. This would not be the last time the crafty bastards at Westone Studios would pull something like this either.
Anyway, back to the game. Wonderboy is a side scrolling action platformer with an emphasis on survival. No, really. The stock standard life bar is replaced by a ‘vitality bar’ which depletes gradually over time and the only way to replenish it is to collect pieces of fruit (and milk, for some reason) that appear all throughout the levels. This means that you can’t hesitate for very long and it really gives the player a sense of urgency. I haven’t played many other games where the player is constantly at risk of starving to death.
The game starts out with your girlfriend being snatched away by a monster and Wonderboy, or Tom-Tom as he is called in the game, setting out to rescue her. You get a few glimpses of her during bonus sections which are scattered about the game, but other than that you are on your own. Power-ups come in the form of eggs, there is a tomahawk which is absolutely essential to have any chance at beating the game, a skateboard which winds up killing you more often than not and a fairy which gives you a short burst of invincibility. There are also spotty, rotten eggs in the game that when broken release a little demon that slowly sucks away your vitality until you find yourself knocking on heavens door.
The controls are a little odd. Button one is used to throw Wonderboys’ tomahawk, and run, while button two is used to perform the smallest, most pathetic jump you have ever seen. The single button jump is almost completely useless, however a bigger jump can be executed by pushing both buttons at the same time. Because you need to do the bigger jump roughly 100% of the time, the player ends up holding the control pad in an odd way so as to be able to pull of the long jump in a split second.
While there are enemies and obstacles all throughout the game, the most difficult sections are centered around platforming and fancy foot work. You have the usual selection of moving platforms and perfectly timed jumps, but there are also some jumps you have to make blind, as in you have to just make an educated guess where the next platform will be just off screen. The ice levels will have you hurling your control pad at the TV in frustration as all the surfaces are as slippery as hell and one poorly timed tap of the direction pad will see you plummet to your doom.
Fair warning; this game is really long. It is split into 9 different areas, each area split into four levels and each level split into four sections. At the end of each area there is a boss fight, however the bosses are essentially the same every time, just stronger, faster and with a different head. Lastly, there are small dolls hidden throughout the game (one in each level to be exact) and if you manage to collect them all, you unlock the secret 10th area. I have never actually managed to pull this off, but I have heard that the 10th area is essentially more of the same.
While the levels themselves are bright and colorful, the fact that there are so many of them means that a lot of in-game recycling goes on. Although every now and then you are treated to something completely different that takes you by surprise. The most difficult levels are probably the “falling rock” levels of which there are two types; a volcano based level where rocks come falling out of the sky and the swing bridge levels where they come falling from a cliff face. Be prepared to die a lot.
Although the game does start you off with a few lives, with the ability to gain more lives through beating high scores or collecting hidden letters throughout the levels which spell “SEGA”, these are not essential as the game has unlimited continues. So the only real reason for not beating this game is the payer giving up or a power outage.
Any fans of the NES classic Adventure Island should give Wonderboy a spin, if for nothing else to see where the game originated from. I would tell all the Master System fans out there to give it a go as well, but I imagine they have all already played it.