Gaming's Defining Moments No. 26
With Sega releasing Monster World Collection on Xbox Live Arcade and bringing out Monster World IV to the Western audience for the first time officially, we felt it was time to take a look at the game that is suspiously missing from the XBLA Collection - Wonderboy III: The Dragon's Trap.
Originally released in 1989 on Master System, Wonderboy III: The Dragon's Trap is the direct sequel to Wonderboy in Monsterland and it is referred to as Monster World II in Japan. It was also released as Dragon's Curse on TurboGrafx-16 (Adventure Island in Japan), devoid of any Wonderboy references.
The game employs a system of shape changes and a somewhat non-linear approach that resembles that of Metroid (1986) and later Castlevania titles. The game starts out with our hero in his natural "Hu-Man" shape as he makes his way through a castle to face the "Mecha Dragon". It mirrors the end of Wonderboy in Monsterland, but when defeating the dragon Wonderboy is cursed and transformed into Lizard-Man losing his equipment as a result. As you search for the Salamander Cross - a powerful artefact that can break the curse you find and defeat various other dragons unlocking more shapes such as Mouse-man, capable of running up walls and ceilings made out of chequered blocks, Piranha-Man, who can swim underwater, and more. A special room allows you to switch between the shapes you have unlocked and thus you can go back and find secrets in places you were not able to reach previously.
This was one of the first game I ever got for my Master System and as a 9 year-old it was more than a challenge. The game employed a save system, and in order to play as the later shapes I recall we had to use various codes from magazines. Not only were the enemies rather pesky (the flamethrowing cloud called "Hovering Smog" you face early on as Lizard-Man comes to mind), but it was a challenge just to make out where you were supposed to head next it what seemed like a maze of doors and secret passages. It's still a challenge, even if it's easier to make out the structure now and how you're meant to tackle each challenge now that we've grown a little older. Back in the day it was because of this reason that I liked the predecessor Wonderboy in Monsterland more, as it presented the player with easy to understand linear levels (even if towards the end they got a bit labyrinth-like).
Wonderboy has a complex history, Westone developed the games, Sega owned the license, the games got alternative releases without Wonderboy, and after the fourth Monster World game that was only released for Mega Drive in Japan the franchise was basically abandoned in favour of Sega's brighter stars including Sonic and the likes of Virtua Fighter and so on. It's a shame, because even if Wonderboy never really rivalled his Nintendo equivalent Link in terms of sales or perhaps even quality, there was something unique and very enjoyable about the Monster World games and unlike most games from this era they have aged really well.
And the confusion was, of course not lessened by the fact that the Monster World games had very little to do with the original skateboarding and tomahawk throwing kid from the the platform game and with an additional twist for added confusion an arcade style sidescrolling shooting with platform elements called Wonderboy III: Monster Lair (yes, another Wonderboy III). This game was originally released in arcades back in 1988, but came to Mega Drive in 1991 (two years after The Dragon's Trap).
Why Sega choose not to include this game in the Monster World Collection is an absolute mystery as for once there was a chance to bring the entire series together in one place. But you can still find the game on Virtual Console under its Turbografx-16 name Dragon's Curse.
What makes The Dragon's Trap stand out today is it's non-linear approach, wealth of secrets, and the wonderful design it features. And while the controls are a little "slippery" it's still worth dusting off the old Master System to have a go and try and make it all the way to the Salamander Cross at the end of the game.
"Good night, brave warrior. Good night, Monster-Land."