With a release almost every year since the Wonder Boy remake in 2016, the classic platformer Wonder Boy series has seen quite the revitalization, putting the bankruptcy of its developer and dry spell of 22 years very much in the rear view mirror. But what is success if the current generation can’t even play the classics on current consoles? Wonder Boy Collection aims to fix that, bringing a compilation of its greatest hits to PlayStation systems and Nintendo Switch.
Due to some confusing licensing rights and the addition of a female protagonist, funnily enough, some may not enough know the series as Wonder Boy as it has also gone by the name of Monster World, Adventure Island and even Monster Boy (and that’s just the start!).
Odd naming system aside, the secret of its power is well-known, and Wonder Boy Collection is taking us back to the golden age of platforming with 4 (Wonder Boy, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, Wonder Boy in Monster World, Monster World IV) of the original 6 game series.
Starting as a platformer released in the arcade in 1986, the linear levels were replaced with adventure areas and hub maps filled with NPCs for a console audience by the time the last entry of the series was released in 1994.
Out of them all, I most enjoy the simplicity of the 1st entry – Wonder Boy.
With a metabolism that would make short work of any international eating competition you must consume items to keep up an ever-decreasing health meter all while avoiding/killing enemies and navigating platforms to the end of the stage. It’s a pretty standard platformer by today’s standards, of course, but the challenge and its speed still hold up, making it the easiest of the 4 to just pick up and play.
Wonder Boy of Monster Land fuses the original’s arcade time limit and difficulty with RPG gameplay but like a game in transition between genres, it never quite feels balanced enough, as you have to speed through it and the frantic enemies without being able to enjoy the RPG elements. There is also a lack of quality with poor hit detection and platform mechanics and it’s not until Wonder of Monster World that the platforming action RPG blueprint feels actuated with all features improving, from the visuals to interesting level implements and story.
This might have a lot to do with the fact the time limit is gone, and interestingly these changes are quite indicative of the huge developments in the game industry at the time with it possible to see the changing trends with each game. The difficulty of the games ease after Wonder Boy in Monster Land, for example, and by Monster World IV you are able to save regularly due to limitations of console cartridges during the Master System generation.
Monster World IV continues with the improvements, making the largest and most detailed home hub area of the titles with many great world-expanding NPCs. Naturally, each entry’s visual quality improves, and with IV the 2D visuals have a quantifiable charm that combines with the best overall platforming gameplay in the series.
Another thing common across all the games is a great and varied soundtrack (albeit with some annoying sound effects – looking at you Monster Land) and although a playable soundtrack isn’t included as a separate feature, the crisp audio is handled as well as every else element in this high-quality emulation.
The collection’s extra features are actually pretty standard as far as retro releases now go – with original screen display modes, a ‘save anytime’ save file system, and a rewind feature – but they are by no means any less appreciated. In particular, the rewinding ability is a godsend – especially for the Wonder Boy and Wonder Boy in Monster Land, which are painfully difficult.
How I wish I had that feature when I was younger. It would have saved so much heartache, and although not for me personally, probably would have saved the destruction of a lot of controllers as well.
What the collection does offer is all gravy, but what it doesn’t is almost as important, and for those set on getting as much bang for your buck as possible, please be aware that a complete collection (including all 6 of the original games and 21 versions in total) comes out later this year in Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection as a limited physical release.
This might explain why Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair and Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap aren’t included in this collection, and it’s quite unfortunate as they do just happen to be two of the more interesting games of the series, with Monster Lair providing another type of genre in a side-scrolling shooting platformer and The Dragon’s Trap, a critically acclaimed action platformer, that allowed different playable characters that can be switched at any time.
While it is no doubt disappointing that this isn’t a full collection, at half the price of a newly-released game, Monster Boy Collection still not only offers value for a discerning fan but is jam-packed full of retro goodness that simply never gets old.