Although not everyone is a fan of the Wonder Boy games, they certainly have a devoted following. Last year, fans got a treat with DotEmu’s wonderful remake of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, bringing its beautiful hand-drawn animation, fun gameplay and ability to switch between old and new versions to all game platforms.
FDG Entertainment’s Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom isn’t a remake of a classic release, but rather an all-new game with original Wonder Boy creator Ryuichi Nishizawa on board. That does take away from the “classic” switchover feature from Dragon’s Trap, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a remarkable adventure in its own right. After jumping in, it’ll sneak its way into your heart with its charming aesthetic, gorgeous presentation and hours’ worth of adventurous gameplay. If side-scrollers- or even old-school adventure games- are your thing, consider this a must-own, right alongside Dragon’s Trap.
In the game, you’re Jin, a young hero who finds himself facing off against his power-drunk uncle Nabu, who’s vowed to turn inhabitants in his world into animals. Along the way, he adapts a few of these transformative abilities, ranging from a pig to a dragon to a lion, each with special skills that will help him over the course of his journey. You can also level up their gear accordingly, including more powerful weapons that can do more damage to foes.
Each character has a special purpose in Cursed Kingdom, and there are times you might even juggle between two of them to solve certain puzzles. But the game’s pacing is just about perfect, as there are times you’ll be challenged, but very rarely frustrated. Even if you end up losing a boss fight during your run, you won’t have to backtrack too far to get back into it.
The developers at FDG did an amazing job with Kingdom’s structure, as it feels like an adventure taken straight out of the Wonder Boy lexicon. The levels themselves are wide open to explore (after a somewhat tutorial-like beginning, where you’re introduced to shops and certain characters) and you’ll find a number of secrets where you’ll have to apply your smarts to earn their vast rewards. They’re worth it.
Monster Boy’s gameplay feels vintage as well. The platforming feels like vintage 16-bit style through and through (or even 8-bit, if you want to take that route); the abilities each animal possesses are both divine and practical; and the challenge, again, is perfectly balanced. There’s never a problem that you can’t find a solution to, even if there are a few zingers thrown in to tickle your brain.
Add to that a presentation that not only reflects upon last year’s Dragon’s Trap, but manages to surpasses it with nicely detailed animation; vivid backdrop settings that provide structure to Jin’s kingdom; and anime-style sequences that literally pop to life whenever they play. It’s really a beaut to look at, whether you’re playing on a PlayStation 4 Pro or enjoying on the Nintendo Switch’s portable screen.
Not to mention the soundtrack. Man, I could listen to this pleasant little collection of tunes for days. Monster Boy’s score pays homage to the Wonder Boy greats before it, while creating some fun little ditties that you’ll want to add to your playlist, just to remind you of this fun little game. The sound effects are good as well, though kept on the minimal side. More room for the music to shine, I guess.
Best of all, Monster Boy has adequate replay value. The general playthrough time could be anywhere between eight to ten hours. However, if you really want to dig and see what this Kingdom has to offer, that could easily double up to 20. It’s great to see a game such as this be a far deeper experience than it appears to be.
I do wish the story was better, though. It almost seems like a placeholder, instead of actually telling a compelling tale with a beginning and end. That said, the charm of the characters involved makes up for it in several ways.
It’s so weird that I was in the midst of setting up my list for the best games of 2018, and Monster Boy has become a surprise entrant, arriving so late in the season. Cursed Kingdom is a joy to behold, an adventure filled with platforming, puzzle solving, animal switching and other little elements that make it shine like the retro adventures of old; but also with a modern presentation overflowing with quality, especially the animation and music.
Even if you’ve never gotten into the Wonder Boy games before (and somehow missed out on Dragon’s Trap- fix that!), Monster Boy is a vacation that’s well worth taking. Isn’t it time you treated yourself to some transformation?0comments
WWG’s Score: 4.5 out of 5.
(Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the publisher.)