200 Best Video Games of All Time
- Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap
Wonder Boy III begins as you play out the ending of its predecessor, Wonder Boy in Monster Land. Things go a little awry when, upon navigating the castle and defeating the evil Meka Dragon, the hero is cursed with an inhuman dragon form. Throughout the journey to change back into a human, the hero gains the ability to turn into other animals – beyond Lizard Man, the fire breathing form you start out as, you can become Mouse Man (to fit into small spaces and climb on certain surfaces), Piranha Man (to swim), Lion Man (to break certain bricks), and Hawk Man (to fly).
The previous game, which began as an arcade title, was sort of a weird mish-mash between an action game and an RPG
. The path through the game was linear, but you obtained gold to buy new equipment and increase your strength. When moved to a console platform, The Dragon's Trap expands its world to something akin to a Metroidvania. Other similar games of the era – Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, The Goonies II, and Metroid, of course – all reveled in obtuseness, with gigantic, maze-like worlds that were hard to navigate. Wonder Boy III is far more user-friendly, offering a simple town hub that spreads out in a few directions, and a world with distinct themes – jungle, beach, mountain, desert, and so forth. Outside of a few hidden doors, it’s hard to get stuck or lost, and most areas are linear, challenging your ability to fight enemies rather than overwhelming you with confusion.
That approachability never detracts from the game world, however, because it's so cleverly constructed. In most games of the time
, falling in water meant your death – here, it leads to underwater realms, offering additional areas to explore. Each new game begins in the central town, next to a seemingly impassable wall, but once you obtain the Hawk Man form, you can fly over it and access a whole new part of the map. None of this is telegraphed, it's simply something that the game expects you to be curious about. You can even visit the crumbling castle from the prologue, now derelict except for assorted enemies.
The aesthetics play a huge part, too. Wonder Boy III has colorful and vibrant visuals – some of the best on an 8-bit platform. Each of the animal forms is distinctly adorable, despite never uttering a word. The enemies also have the same amount of personality, wincing comically at every strike of damage taken. The music is catchy, and even the sound effects, from the trampoline *bounce* jumping noise to the *plunk* of falling coins, ooze character. It all comes together to create a world that's a delight to explore. -Kurt Kalata
The next game in the series, Wonder Boy in Monster World, is similar to The Dragon's Trap, but removes the fun animal forms, and in general feels clunkier. The final game in the series, Monster World IV, scales back the exploratory elements, instead concentrating on action-platforming, and stars a female character in an Arabian setting. Wayforward's Shantae series is also clearly inspired by the Monster World games
. Starring a charming, purple haired genie, it presents a similarly comical world along with exploratory elements. The first two games, initially released on the Game Boy Color and DSi, are compromised in various ways, but the third, Shantae and the Pirate's Curse, is a solid game with fantastic pixel artwork and an incredibly catchy soundtrack. -KK