PSX 2016 – Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap Preview – Labor of Love (PS4)

Originally released in 1989 for the Master System and PC Engine, Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap was a highly ambitious title. Featuring several different playable forms, a focus on exploration and puzzle-solving, it has a lot in common with what’s regarded today as a Metroidvania title. While it never became a huge hit, and the series’ backstory is really weird due to it also spawning the Adventure Island franchise, the game gained a cult following over time.

Fast forward almost 30 years later and Wonder Boy’s third adventure is being remade for PlayStation 4 by French studio Lizardcube. It’s a really weird and interesting choice for a remake, which is why I asked the developer about why they would choose to remake a game without a sizable following. Lizardcube said that The Dragon’s Trap was one of the team’s most beloved titles from when they were kids, and that it was a dream come true to get to work on it. This really is a labor of love, and it was thanks to the publisher DotEmu that they were able to secure the rights to the license from Sega.

Gorgeous Style

Before getting into Wonder Boy‘s gameplay, I have to talk about what stood out the most about the remake. It wasn’t the surprisingly advanced gameplay, but the game’s tremendous art style that had my jaw dropped. The Dragon’s Trap features completely hand-drawn animation, and it’s one of the best looking games I’ve seen on PlayStation 4. Take a look at the screenshots in the gallery embedded below, and check it out for yourself.

Every second of the game is oozing with charisma. The character designs are absolutely adorable, and I love that the mouse (which is the form I ended up playing as) carries the tiniest sword and shield with him. The backgrounds are just as detailed as all of the enemies and items, and it’s just a visual treat to behold. Everything has a cool manga-like sketch outline attached to them as well, and I could gush about the aesthetics for hours. To keep things moving along, I’ll just say it’s gorgeous and will leave it at that for now.

Classic Feel

The Dragon’s Trap may not look like a retro game, but it definitely feels like one when played. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I found the controls to feel slightly off during my time with the demo. Granted, it was a short session, and it seems like something I’d get used to over time, but jumps felt a bit too stiff & combat felt slightly awkward.

One of the game’s core features is that Wonder Boy (who isn’t Stephen Thompson) gets turned into various monsters. I got to play as his cute mouse form, which gave me the ability to defy physics and run up walls. This was definitely a bit awkward at times, as I found it more difficult to switch from one wall to another than it should be, but it’s definitely a cool mechanic. There are six forms in all in the game (the player starts as a human and then later can become a hawk, lion, lizard, mouse and piranha), each with their own abilities.

The section that I played wasn’t particularly interesting besides the gorgeous visuals, as I mostly ran on walls and battled enemies in tight areas. At one point I stumbled upon a store, but didn’t have enough coins to really purchase anything. I probably should’ve picked a different character’s demo, but I went with the cutest character (as you always do when in doubt) and have absolutely no regrets. I’m not exactly sold on the gameplay of Wonder Boy yet, but I’m definitely left intrigued after checking it out.

Developer Lizardcube has put in a ton of work into making Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap look like a modern game. That might not vibe with the choice to keep the gameplay feeling authentic to the original (which has the habit of feeling slightly clunky), but I can’t fault the team for going that direction. It’s really great to see such a passion project being made, and that a whole new generation of gamers will get to experience the ambitious game by Westone.