As a huge fan of Wonder Boy, I'm delighted to share my review of the series' spiritual successor: Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom.
I've been excited to play this game since back when it was called "Monster Boy and the Wizard of Booze" and last year's fantastic remake Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap made me look forward to it even more. Now that I've finally played through it, I can thankfully say that the wait was worth it as this is one of the best video games that I've ever experienced. You play as a young blue-haired boy named Jin who's on a mission to stop his nutty Uncle Nabu from continuing his magic-fueled rampage of converting the kingdom's citizens to different species as well as other shenanigans. From the awesome opening music video to the story's introduction, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom sets a perfect tone for the rest of the fun-filled adventure. This is truly the Wonder Boy game that fans deserve.
Speaking of setting a tone, the music in Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is incredible. Fans will recognize many of the melodies but even if you don't, the lighthearted tunes are sure to make every second of gameplay delightful. On top of this, the visuals are top-notch complete with gorgeous character sprites as well as detailed and intricate environments. It's such a great looking and sounding game and its awesome sense of humour makes the adventure much more enjoyable. Watching Jin's Pig form fart and blush whenever he eats a truffle is absolutely hilarious and the dialogue is equally as entertaining. You can tell a lot of love went into creating this lively world.
I sure wrote a lot so far without even mentioning anything about Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom's gameplay so let's get to it! The journey takes place within a massive 2D Metroidvania world and the main gameplay gimmick is that you can transform into various animals. You'll eventually unlock the ability to become a Pig, Frog, Lion, Snake, and Dragon and each form plays very differently to the others. For example, the Pig can use magic spells, the Frog can dive and swing, the Snake can enter small openings and spit acid, the Dragon can fly, and the Lion can smash through barricades and such. Gradually unlocking these forms as well as a huge arsenal of equipment, active and passive abilities, spells, power-ups, items, and collectibles is super-satisfying stuff that'll keep you hooked.
Aside from the core gameplay where you run and jump around while attacking enemies, you'll come across many puzzles and challenging scenarios that'll thoroughly test your gaming skills. Although I found a great deal of these puzzles and platforming challenges to be tricky, I rarely became frustrated with them so I'd say that they offer the perfect level of difficulty. There are even some gameplay segments later in the campaign that provide welcome variety such as a shoot 'em up section and a prison area where you have to be stealthy. Using your arsenal of forms and abilities to overcome these stretches and advance in your journey is very rewarding.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom's campaign is enormous and will take you much longer than you'd expect to beat. You'll find yourself within exciting locations such as a volcano, lost temples, underwater caves, a haunted manor, the sewers, and even hopping between clouds high above the rest of the game world. Each area contains tons of secrets so backtracking after you complete the game can result in an extra handful of hours of you trying to uncover everything. Luckily, there are Rainbow Drops that you can trade with a merchant in order to point out where items that you may have missed are. After all, finding maximum health extenders, equipment upgrade gems, Ollie's music sheets, and more weapons, shields, armour, bracelets, and boots will be well worth the effort. I should also mention that there's an entire optional and hidden area known as the Cyber Dungeon. Do you have what it takes to master it?
I don't have much negative to say about Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom but there is one glaring issue that I frequently found to be rather frustrating to deal with. Basically, most checkpoints don't heal your health. Also, some checkpoints force you to move forward (at least, before you get the Teleport Rod). When you consider both of these points, you may be faced with an exceptionally challenging segment with no ability to have more than 3 hearts which later in the campaign, regularly equates to a one-hit death. The question is: why can't all checkpoints heal you completely? It would still be challenging but this irritating aspect will be out of the equation.
Finally, I came across a couple of small glitches throughout my time with Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom including one crash and another time, I fell through the floor and couldn't progress. These are rare occurrences so they're far from game-ending.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a phenomenal game and one of the best Metroidvanias ever made. The amount of challenging fun packed into its massive and enjoyable world makes every moment of gameplay an absolute joy.
- + Awesome 2D gameplay featuring loads of variety, puzzles, and challenges
- + Delightful world that's full of humour
- + Tons of abilities and rewarding collectibles
- - Checkpoint / health recovery system can be absolutely brutal to deal with
- - Currently has some minor glitches