Getting into the wonderful world of Wonder Boy

This is a big week for fans of classic action-RPGs. Wonder Boy is coming back. Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap shows up on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Switch this week. Before you go grabbing this remake, maybe it’s time to learn more about the series as a whole?

Who is Wonder Boy?

The actual identity of the titular Wonder Boy varies. It varies from game to game. In the original entry, it is a young man who goes by either Boy or Tom-Tom. In Wonder Boy in Monster Land and Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, he’s Bock Lee Temjin, but he’s also still Tom-Tom. (I know it doesn’t really make sense; just go with it.) In Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair, it refers to a boy named Leo. Finally, in Wonder Boy in Monster World, it’s an entirely new character named Shion.

Basically, in each Wonder Boy game the title is referring to a young man who is a warrior and going through some rather unusual and heroic circumstances. In some cases, he has special abilities that allow him to change his shape or use unconventional powers. In all of them, he’s a great warrior capable of saving kidnapped women and delivering kingdoms from evil.

How is it connected to Adventure Island?

Hudson Soft ended up acquiring the rights to the arcade version of Wonder Boy, developed by Escape, for a Famicom and MSX home computer game. When it brought the game to these systems in 1986, it changed the Boy into Mr. Higgins, an original character inspired by Hudson Soft’s Takahashi Meijin. The original Adventure Island is otherwise identical to Wonder Boy, right down to both girls being named Tina. All other Adventure Island games are original creations with no connection to Wonder Boy.

And what about Monster World?

Wonder Boy gets complicated sometimes. Wonder Boy: Monster Land, the second game in the series, was called Wonder Boy: Monster World on the Master System and Wonder Boy in Monster Land in the west, making it the first Monster World game. Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap was originally called Monster World II: Dragon’s Trap while in development for the Master System, making it the second in this line. Wonder Boy V: Monster World III, known in the west as Wonder Boy in Monster World, was the last Wonder Boy game and second to last Monster World game, while Monster World IV was the final entry in that series and decidedly not a Wonder Boy title.

Monster World IV is a thoroughly wonderful game with a similar playstyle. If you enjoy the main Wonder Boy games, you will very likely enjoy the adventures of a young woman named Asha as she seeks to aid the Elemental Spirits with the help of her pet Pepelogoo and the Genie of the Lamp. It debuted on the Genesis in 1994, but it is more easily and immediately accessible on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii via online storefronts.

How many Wonder Boy games are there?

There are five Wonder Boy games, though people do tend to include the aforementioned Monster World IV in the collection. Where things get confusing is that the Japanese and English names often differ. Also, there are two entries marked “III.”

Wonder Boy (Arcade, 1986)

Wonder Boy is a traditional action game where players help Boy, also known as Tom-Tom, travel through seven areas in hope hopes of saving his girlfriend Tina, who is sometimes called Tanya. It is a 2D side-scroller. You must always keep moving and make good use of axes and skateboards to attack enemies and avoid obstacles. After its arcade release, it appeared on the Master System, Game Gear, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum.

Wonder Boy in Monster Land (Arcade, 1987)

This one is also known as Wonder Boy: Monster Land, takes place after Tom-Tom saved Tanya and defeated her evil kidnapper. Wonder Land was safe for ten years after, until the Meka dragon took over the kingdom and make it Monster Land. This entry is still a 2D game with twelve defined levels, but inserts some RPG elements by allowing Tom-Tom to earn gold and spend it on equipment and items. After its arcade debut, it appeared on the PC Engine, Master System, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Amiga and Atari ST.

Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair (Arcade, 1988)

Remember how the gameplay completely changed between the first two Wonder Boy games? It happened again here. Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair is a side-scrolling action game and horizontal shoot’em up. Leo is trying to save the kingdom either alone or with the help of Princess Purapril. That’s right, this Wonder Boy offers two-player cooperative gameplay. This marked the end of the Wonder Boy arcade era. It showed up on the TurboGrafx-CD and Genesis.

Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap (Master System, 1989)

Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, which is also Monster World II: Dragon’s Trap, picks up right where Wonder Boy in Monster Land leaves off. Literally. Tom-Tom goes to defeat Meka, but he’s cursed and turned into Lizard-Man. This goes back to Wonder Boy in Monster Land’s roots in terms of gameplay, as its an action-RPG with equipment to collect, different forms for Tom-Tom and multiple dragons for him to find and fight before going to face Meka again. After its Master System debut, it showed up on the TurboGrafx-16 and Game Gear.

Wonder Boy in Monster World (Genesis, 1991)

With Wonder Boy in Monster World, aka Wonder Boy V: Monster World III, we have the ultimate Wonder Boy game. BioMeka has come to Monster World, and it is up to a young man named Shion to travel through different areas of the world. It’s an action-RPG again, complete with all kinds of equipment to collect. There are also magical skills to acquire this time around. In addition to the Genesis release, Sega brought it to the Master System in Europe and Hudson Soft turned it into The Dynastic Hero for the Turbo Duo.

I’ve noted the original release dates for each entry above. Most are available on more modern platforms. Wonder Boy is on the Wii Virtual Console, Wonder Boy in Monster Land is on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii, Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair is on the Wii Virtual Console and PC, and Wonder Boy in Monster World is on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii.

What’s happening with Wonder Boy now?

This is where things get really interesting. There are multiple Wonder Boy games in development or about to be released, all inspired by the original games. Wonder Boy Returns is inspired by the original 1986 release, while Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap and Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom take their inspiration from Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap.

Wonder Boy Returns (Windows, 2016)

Wonder Boy Returns is an HD remake from CFK Co of the original game, though you can opt for a Classic Boy avatar. (Note: don’t go for the Classic Boy avatar. It doesn’t match the revamped art direction.) This is a classic tale of Boy getting caught cheating on his girlfriend, Tina. Tina is then kidnapped by a devil, which means Boy needs to go through multiple levels, constantly traveling by foot or skateboard, to reach poor Tina and save the day. It is possible to play as Tina in this version.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Windows, 2017)

Okay, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is a project that’s a little closer to the original game’s roots. Ryuichi Nishizawa, the original designer, worked with Lizardcube to reverse engineer the game from the actual Master System release for a full remake. It’s nearly identical to the actual Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, though it includes modern and 8-bit visual options, compatibility with the original’s passwords, the ability to play as a male or female character and difficulty options.

Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Windows, TBD)

Rather than a direct reimagining of any Wonder Boy game, this is a successor. Like Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, it is supported by Ryuichi Nishizawa and inspired by Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap. Here, a boy named Jin is trying to save a kingdom from his hostile uncle’s magical influence. He can transform into six different animal forms as he works to complete his quest.

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