500 Words About… Wonder Boy in Monster Land

We’re going even further back in time with this post, exploring something that I have a bit more of a personal connection with. Despite being very, VERY into Nintendo stuff, they weren’t actually my first foray into games. In a very European fashion, that came via PCs and Sega. So today we have a quick look at Westone’s slightly oddball yet somehow timeless Wonder Boy in Monster Land.

The first console that was in my family was my brother’s Master System, hooked up to a chunky cube of a Panasonic TV that’s still at my old man’s house. And while it may not have been the first game I played[1], the one I have the strongest memories of is Wonder Boy in Monster Land. I remember my brother trying to get infinite money with the pause trick[2] (complete with a 2nd controller that was missing a button), how the game glitched out one time when he bought a pair of boots and could suddenly climb walls, and that bastarding pyramid level.

wbml_enemy_sphinx

Which ended with this guy: The Sphinx. If you got his riddle right you could skip him, if you didn’t…

Monster Land is a strange game. It’s part Action RPG as you travel though each level, killing baddies and collecting money to spend on new equipment. But it’s also part Arcade game, with its timer ticking away and dealing damage if you let it roll over. Indeed, the game started off in the arcades as a sequel to the original Wonder Boy before crossing over to consoles[3]. However, its initial simple appearance hides a wealth of secrets, encouraging players to investigate and explore odd nooks and ledges for treasure troves or secret doors.

Here’s a little speedrun of the game by one “mpatard” if you’re wanting a really quick look at the game

And its these secrets that add to the adventure. The hidden door may just a hideaway pub, or may house a new piece of (well guarded) equipment. Even story elements require further investigation and exploration, though some clues are given in a very late ’80s dubious translation, with the true ending locked away for those that don’t put the extra effort in. Gathering enough money for equipment will need those detective skills as too as you can’t simply farm enemies for cash. Naturally none of these are telegraphed or obvious, sometimes requiring you to jump in one place repeatedly or wait in on specific point. These are all slightly awkward and belie Monster Land‘s roots and age, but the game’s quick loop and fairly simple mechanics don’t punish the player too much if they miss anything.

wonder-boy-pub

Also booze for children. That’d not go down to well these days either.

Monster Land split the Wonder Boy series into two paths, with the Monster World series receiving three more sequels.[4] The final entry was 1994’s Japan-only Monster World IV[5] until two teams with a love of the games decided to revive their childhood memories. One of these is a remake of the second game in the series, 1989’s arguably more popular Dragon’s Trap, that serves as an early example of Metroidvania gameplay. The devs have even gone as far as dumping and analysing the ROM of the game for accuracy’s sake![6] The other team are working on what they’re calling a spiritual successor in Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom[7], although both are working with team members from original developer Westone.

The Dragon’s Trap also introduced the smoking pig, who’s been a fan favourite ever since and pops up in both new games. Here’s the remake’s trailer.

And in that roundabout way, it’s nice to see others who played the same games as I did when I was young be inspired to get into making games themselves. Let’s hope they make a success of it!


[1] We also had a BBC Micro, though my memories of that are fuzzy beyond helping my nursery teacher use one…

[2] It involves putting a controller into the second port and hitting the pause button many, many times. And that’s only to get one smallish chunk of change. Bear in mind that the Master System’s pause button was on the console itself.

[3] That Sega holdout, Brazil, received a localised version featuring characters from local cartoon series Mônica. This carried through into sequels as well. The PC Engine also got ports featuring different characters, with Monster Land becoming Bikkuriman World. There were also a few PC ports with some varying names. And if you think that’s bad…

[4] The other branch followed the original game’s themes and playstyle, eventuall becoming the Adventure Island series. There are technically TWO Wonder Boy IIIs due to this, one being more arcade-esque and the other being The Dragon’s Trap. They ended up just skipping a Wonder Boy IV in favour of Wonder Boy V: Monster World III. Yeah… They just called it Wonder Boy in Monster World internationally to save some headaches.

[5] Monster World IV received a fan translation and eventual official English release for the Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2012. Like a fair number of late Mega Drive games, it’s vibrant and boasts a pretty nice soundtrack.

[6] You can actually read about their reverse-engineering process on Gamasutra: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/OmarCornut/20160912/281112/Wonder_Boy_The_Dragons_Trap_Reverse_engineering_an_1989_original_the_quest_for_accuracy.php

[7] You can check out Monster Boy‘s dev diaries here: http://www.monsterboy.com/blog/

[8] The original Wonder Boy got a recent remake too, arguably to bounce off of the Monster World fan games. If you’re interested in how the series started check it out here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/523810/?snr=1_7_15__13

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