Classic 2D platforming doesn't get much more frantic than the original Wonder Boy. However, is this remake worth a download or are you better off sticking to the original 8-bit cartridge?
You may already know this, but I'm a big fan of all things Wonder Boy and Adventure Island. The simple formula of running through scrolling enemy-filled stages while collecting fruit so you don't starve to death is simply perfect for sitting on the edge of your seat and testing your retro gaming skills. This completely revamped remake thankfully keeps the basic formula intact. However, its campaign is composed of a selection of stages to master as opposed to a linear succession of levels. This is a pretty cool change that allows the adventure to be enjoyed in a more laidback manner as you don't have to play through the entire journey in one sitting like in the original (that I still own on Sega Master System). It's quite long, too, with 10 worlds that contain 4 stages each. Overall, this setup definitely breathes new life into the classic and it should appeal to both fans and casual gamers alike, especially considering there are a few difficulty settings.
The graphics in Wonder Boy Returns are bright and colourful with large character and enemy sprites and a variety of environments. You'll find yourself in places such as tribal camps, ice caverns, stalactite-filled caves, and cloudy oceanic areas. It should all be familiar stuff for anyone who has played Wonder Boy or Adventure Island although it's much more vibrant here. The music may not be as catchy as the retro chiptunes of the original, but the soundtrack is full of delightful ditties that'll make you tap your toe as you run around scavenging for food and throwing your trusty stone hammer. In the end, it's great to see such a cheerful game in this day and age.
As you work your way through, you can collect up to 3 Tina dolls in each level. This will give perfectionists something to strive for and it adds a significant amount of replay value even though most of them are rather easy to collect. Every fourth stage features a boss and they can be some pretty bad dudes. After challenging one a few times while figuring out its pattern then finally beating it, you'll feel a great sense of accomplishment. You can play as three characters as well: New Boy, Classic Boy, and Tina. Although the first two play similarly, Tina has a handy boomerang that can be very capable if you use it correctly. Last but not least, if you'd prefer a more linear and traditional adventure then there is a challenge mode where you can try and beat the whole campaign without continuing.
Unfortunately, Wonder Boy Returns has some frustrating controls. For starters, jumping is much stiffer than the original and I found myself frequently unable to successfully move mid-air to avoid an enemy. Also, my character would face the wrong direction then refuse to turn around after tapping the other direction. It can be a huge nuisance, especially if you're close to a ledge. Another problem is that you can't see far enough ahead. For some reason, the original allowed you to react to oncoming enemies perfectly while this iteration can have enemies seemingly come out of nowhere and end your life. Finally, certain animations here are downright awful. The worst of which are the frogs that seem like they're jumping in a Tiger Electronics LCD game.
Wonder Boy Returns is a noble effort at modernizing a retro 2D action gem. Although it's not quite as immediately gratifying as the original due to its awkward controls, you'll still be in for an enjoyable adventure that may just put a smile on your face.
- + The stage-based campaign is quite long and offers plenty of replay value
- + Colourful visuals and cool music
- + Bosses are rewarding to take down
- - Severe control issues will make fans want to play the original instead
- - You can't see far enough ahead
- - Some animations are very choppy