Wonderboy in Monsterland
Wonderboy in Monsterland falls into the niche category of ‘retro games that feature people in underwear.’ I am thinking of making a list. Ghouls and Ghosts, Altered Beast, Athena and well, Wonderboy.
Wonderboy in Monsterland was developed by Westone Bit Entertainment for Sega. Sega would release the game in arcades in 1987, following it up with a Master System release the following year. It’s success would mean a port to multiple platforms soon after, including the NES and C64 amongst others.
The game follows Tom Tom, a young man who’s Mrs has been kidnapped by the ‘Evil King’. Tom Tom must set out to Monster Land to save her and due to his daring exploits, he garners the name of ‘Wonder Boy’ on the way. OK, it is not a Final Fantasy VII level of plot but it works for this outing.
On release the game had strong reviews, mainly down to it’s inclusion of light RPG elements within the platform game genre. It is in fact this that makes it really enjoyable. Coins can be collected as you see off enemies and these can be traded in small shops for power up style items. You can increase your weaponry, buy shields, make your sword bigger, visit a hospital. You can even buy a drink in a bar, though I could not make out what the positive effects were of this to my character.
So firstly, the version I used for this review is on an arcade machine and not the Master System version. Please feel free to post any differences or similarities in the comments below.
Monster World itself is exactly as you imagine it to be. Big snakes, spiders, trolls firing arrows at you all on forests and mountain tops. They are pure platform game fodder, but in a really good way. Monster World oozes retro gaming pixelated charm. It is cute without being too sickly sweet. All this is wrapped up in a catchy pulsing synth soundtrack that will be humming in your head for days after.
What is really distinctive is the screen layout, which puts your view within a template. The outer screen contains your health, a grid of items, weaponry and other assorted information. All this again contributes to that RPG feel that the game has.
It also provides you with a steep learning curve and increasing difficulty level. As an example, I found the first two bosses disappointingly easy, yet the third was an absolute killer. The further into the game you get, the more difficult the terrain becomes. You will quickly find yourself cursing at many misjudged platform jumps.
The game was a recommendation from someone on the Facebook page and I admit that I have never been that familiar with Wonderboy. I always thought he was a knock off Alex Kidd but they were actually developed pretty much at the same time. There are a lot of similarities between them, especially the role playing aspect of shopping. However, whereas Alex Kidd barges in and demands a game of paper/scissors/stone, Wonderboy politely knocks then enters.
You can see a lot of other later Sega games in Wonderboy in Monsterland. Many of the stages remind me of levels from Sonic, such as Marble Garden and Labyrinth Zone.
All in all, a really enjoyable platform game that pushes the boundaries with a good dose of RPG. It is easy to see why people have so many fond memories of it and why it is considered one of the stand out titles on the Master System.
For anyone looking for an update, the outstanding Lizard Cube games recently did an updated Wonderboy available on PS store and X-Box.