Genre: Platform Developer: SEGA Ent. Publisher: SEGA Ent. Players: 1 Released: 1987
Wonder Boy is a game series with a rather interesting history that spans across both Arcade and console releases of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, it has a story that could take an entire book to do justice so I won’t even attempt to do so here. This history saw very different paths being taken across the Sega Master System and the NES with only the first installment on each console bearing similarities to one another, the SMS releases went a more RPG centric route while the NES games stayed with the theme of the original.
Wonder Boy for the SMS and Adventure Island on the NES are both action platformers that center on the “save the girlfriend” trope that was so common during the time. The game emphasizes precision jumping; however, a constantly ticking timer pressures the player to continuously move forward. The timer can be replenished grabbing fruit that spawns throughout the stages A higher energy level at the end of a stage yields more points, which earn extra lives.
For people new to the series, describing Wonder Boy as hectic would be an understatement. It will take some time to get used to the game’s momentum-based movement, as well as the speed at which you will need to advance in the later stages to avoid running out of time. You will need to time your jumps to grab the all-important food items and clear obstacles. On top of this, you will need to dodge enemies or kill them with your weapon, a stone ax whose arc is arc is affected by your current momentum, rather than a set trajectory. Along the way you will get various items besides food, including a skateboard found inside an egg that allows you to move faster and an Angel that gives you invincibility from enemies for a short period of time. Additionally, you will need to keep an eye on the speckled eggs that when opened will release the god of death which drains vitality at a much quicker rate. There are also hidden dolls in each stage, which are required in order to access the tenth and final level. Missing even one means that the game ends on the fourth round of the ninth stage.
The game’s 36 stages are just the right length, and while the difficulty is high it is not frustrating. How, though, does it stack up to Adventure Island since both games are so similar? Adventure Island is incredibly difficult since, unlike Wonder Boy, you do not have unlimited continues and are instead limited to three lives to complete the game. While there is less slow down on the NES and the original soundtrack does not repeat, the game’s controls feel more loose and the way that the levels scroll does not look as smooth. Graphically, I also find that Wonder Boy is more colorful and the backgrounds contain a greater level of detail not found in its NES brother, making the SMS version the better-looking game overall.
Wonder Boy is truly an arcade classic and one of my favorite games on the Sega Master System. Anyone interested in the system should have this title in their collection.