Wonder Boy in Monster Land

WonderBoyMonsterLandJP

That’s Super Wonder Boy to you!

 

WonderBoyMonsterLandUS

Why is Wonder Boy a California psychopath on this cover?

 

PLAYERS: 1

PUBLISHER: Sega

DEVELOPER: Westone

GENRE: Action/RPG

RELEASE DATE: 01/31/88 – (JP)

                                            1988 – (US, EU)

 

Wonder Boy in Monster Land is the closest thing the Master System has to a Zelda II. There’s no overworld map to explore, but there is tricky platforming, close sword-based combat, and cheap deaths aplenty, by gar. The game is built Tonka tough, just like Nintendo’s controversial NES sequel. And as Zelda II toyed with the supposed conventions set by the first Legend of Zelda, so too does Wonder Boy in Monster Land stray from its predecessor’s arcade antics. The game upgrades the Wonder Boy protagonist from Tarzan-esque jungle man to valiant sir knight, and by doing so, gives him a proper gentlemanly adventure as opposed to a 5K marathon through the jungle.

 

Wonder Boy in Monster Land (UE) (V4

“Prithee get out of my way, sir crab.”

 

In the first level, Wonder Boy is given a sword and a refill potion, but otherwise, remains relatively naked (for a knight, anyway). As you progress through the levels killing enemies, you’ll amass sums of gold that you use to purchase armor. The stronger the shield, the greater chance of a projectile bouncing off of it. The tougher the armor, the less damage you’ll take from an enemy. The bouncier the shoes, the higher you’ll be able to jump from platform to platform. And, of course, the sharper the sword, the less hits enemies will take before they’re Wonder Toast (patent pending). Unfortunately, the amount of gold you collect from enemies is random each time you play, while the cost of the items always remains the same. Enemies only drop gold once upon their death; when they regenerate and you kill them again, they drop points-based items. This is frustrating, particularly in the beginning of the game, when you need precise sums of money to buy entry-level equipment. Some gamers might see this as extra challenge, but for me, Monster Land was challenging enough without having to worry about how much gold enemies would drop. To wit: I restarted the game four times before I was able to purchase both the Leather Boots and the Light Shield in the second level.

 

Wonder Boy in Monster Land (UE) (V3

“Well, I was looking for the emblem, but I suddenly feel unclean…”

 

Pray that you collect the proper amount of gold in order to buy the basic tools, and that you collect as quickly and precisely as possible. Like Alex Kidd before him, Wonder Boy is a slippery rascal and his control takes some getting used to. The quicker you adjust to the banana peels on his feet, the less platforming-related deaths you’ll suffer later. The game also has a time limit represented by an hourglass filled with sand. Once the sand has trickled completely downward, you’ll lose a heart and the hourglass will refill anew. Quite the rigid system, particularly as it doesn’t take long for the sands of time to shift down. There are ways to refill the hourglass without losing a heart, however, and they include: getting to the next screen, completing the level, buying an item. In the early stages of the game, you probably won’t realize that the hourglass is there, but as the sections of each level get longer and the enemies trickier, time grows shorter and shorter.

 

Wonder Boy in Monster Land (UE) (V2

Such a kind, joyful boss.

 

Money and time (or lack thereof) are continuous struggles for people, regardless of their Wonder status. Where Monster Land stands apart is its combat. Your willingness to learn, and even perhaps, appreciate the close quarters swordplay will determine whether you enjoy the game. If you’ve played Zelda II, hearken back to that game’s combat in your mind: Wonder Boy‘s is exactly the same. If you haven’t played Zelda II, imagine a game where you’re asked to get right up in enemies faces before you kill them, due to the super short reach of your sword. That’s Wonder Boy in Monster Land. Now, the shortness of your sword doesn’t make the game unbearable. With the exception of the Rat and some of the bosses, Sega and Westone generously give the majority of the enemies a slow-paced gait. After playing through the majority of the game, I couldn’t imagine the combat being any different, but until you learn at what quarter of an inch you need to strike to register a hit, the combat could be an overwhelming source of frustration for some.

 

Wonder Boy in Monster Land (UE) (V5

Forget the booger pillars. Those bats are the worst.

 

There’s a lot of charm to be found in Monster Land itself. There are caves, ice caverns with lava, deserts, castles, towns, all rendered with a soft colorful palette that’s reminiscent of Alex Kidd’s stint in Miracle World (if I didn’t know better, I’d say the game began as a sequel to Miracle World). Monster Land feels both quaint and vast. Even after playing through the game, I’m still unsure as to how Sega and Westone successfully pulled off such a paradox, but kudos to them: Monster Land is a singular creation. Every level has tons of doors to enter, some of them shops, some of them houses where pig people drop the latest gossip, some of them gateways to bosses. You’ll want to enter every one, because the secrets here are well worth seeking out. Some of the later stages even have bosses that can only be defeated by finding hidden doorways with no discernible clues whatsoever. How would you know where to look? I used an FAQ ’cause I wanted to see as much of the game as possible. For a young tyke in 1988, I presume a lot of wasted hours.

 

Wonder Boy in Monster Land (UE) (V1

The Legend of Wonder Boy: The Recorder of Time

 

Wonder Boy in Monster Land looks like it could be some cheap dollar-store coloring book for kids, but that’s just a facade. Even seasoned gamers will have difficulty with this title. If you want to beat the game, you’ll have to defeat all twelve stages at once. There’s no save option, and Wonder Boy has one life and no continues (with the exception of the refill potion which fills up all your hearts once when you die – another not-so-subtle Zelda reference). That means you’ll chip away at these stages slowly, painfully; I can’t imagine getting to stage ten or eleven before dying and having to do it all over again unless you’re this man. But, as with the best retro games, the challenge encourages you to press on and get better. Luck has little to do with it: your skill will win the day here. Wonder Boy in Monster Land could use a touch more personality (Monster Land’s excellent design notwithstanding), but as a pure classical gaming experience, it doesn’t get much better.

 

B+

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13 thoughts on “Wonder Boy in Monster Land

  1. I have same great memory’s with this game.

    I really loved the first Wonder Boy and had completed it more times then I could count. The moment to seen that a new one was coming I was so excited. I remember bugging my mother every day to get it for me but with no luck. After saving for a few months I had about half of the money for the game and she finally caved in and payed for the rest.

    First time playing it I was kind of surprised how different it was from the first game. But in the end it was something fresh and new and felt like a huge step up from the basic game the first game was.

    I played the game everyday finding new doors and getting a bit further each day. When I finally finished the game I felt like I had really accomplished something big. This was one of the games that my NES owning friends finally wished they had a Master System. They always wanted to come over and play.

    Great review!
    BTW if you liked this game just wait until you get to Wonder Boy III the Dragons Trap!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Jonnie, thanks for sharing your Master System memories. As someone who owned an NES but not a Master System as a kid, I would have been intrigued by this game as well. Growing up, Sega games felt so surreal to me compared to Nintendo titles.

      Like

  2. This was one of the few games my childhood buddy had when we swapped systems for a summer. I liked it then and I like it now, despite still having the same poor skillset at action RPGs. I hope to someday finish any one of the WBiMLs, but for now I’ll just settle on playing the first few levels over and over.

    P.S. Re: “That’s Super Wonder Boy to you!” Hey now, is Mr. Dylan learning some katakana in his spare time?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought I would mention this actually was an arcade game first. I’ve seen a few times in the arcades but it is somewhat uncommon. Also this game has been ported to a lot of consoles. There was a Jaleco port on on the Famicom with changed sprites called Saiyuki world. And a PC-Engine port rebranded to the Bikkuriman franchise. Also the Brazilian Master Sytem version was rebranded with the Monica characters. Monica de Castillo or something.

    I really loved this game. It was really one of the first action adeventure games I ever played. An action game with light RPG elements. On the money thing, there are hidden money bags throughout the game. For example on the first screen where you go up the ledge and there is the log house, if you go back and jump off the house a money bag will appear. There are many hidden moneybags and coins hidden throughout the game when you jump certain places. As you discover them you will have more and more money on subsequent playthroughs to afford more equipment. It’s almost essential to know where a lot of money staches are. Also to get the best equipment, it’s is nessesary to skip some upgrades and upgrade to the next better one. It’s also a botch to figure out boss patterns. This game is sort of made to replay over and over till you figure it out. Even the last level, it is the dragons castle and is a maze similar to SMB last Bowser level. If you choose the wrong path you start at the beggining. Prior to starting the last shop allows you to choose a bell or a ruby. The bell will chime indicating the correct path. But if you choose it the dragon is a pain to beat and you’ll Probrably die. But if you make it back again, and you memorized or mapped the correct path, you choose the ruby which will weaken the Meka dragon making him easier to defeat. To beat this game you have to kind of develop a mastery. Know all the boss patterns, how to collect every coin, the optimal upgrade path, the secret bosses for more coins, when to use magic, the fastest wa through the levels and how to fight the enemies and when to run, and memorize the final level. Once you do beat it it is an extremely satisfying experience.

    Also this game is available on the Wii VC and PSN for PS3 and on the Xbox 360. I’d highly reccomend it, also if you can beat it it it is a real treat when you play wonder boy 3, as the first level is basically the last castle and you beating the Meka Dragon and being cursed. It’s a great callback,but only if you beat this game and played the final level.

    Liked by 1 person

    • WAAA? Didn’t realize this game was on PSN. I’ll have to check it out.

      Wonder Boy in Monster Land is a lot more in-depth than I originally thought going into the game. There’s layers that only reveal themselves with multiple playthroughs, which is pretty brilliant on Sega’s part.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I first played this game on an Atari ST and really liked it, this was still a time when nearly all successful Sega games were multi-plats.
    The Master System version looks just as good, if not better. Personally I would have scored it an A-.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The arcade and Master system run on similar hardware so it’s probrably the best port. The PC-Engine one probrably looks the best but it is skinned as another game, but basically plays the same.

      Like

  5. Pingback: Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap | Sega Does

  6. I didn’t know about the bell and ruby, which might explain why I never finished this game.

    I don’t know if you reached it, but there’s a jumping section in the last castle that’s pure evil. Sort of like a wall jumping sequence but using SMB3-musical-note-style rebounding platforms that disappear with each jump. If you fail a jump and fall, it constitutes a “wrong path” and you get knocked back to a distant checkpoint (or the start of the castle?). They reprised this sequence in WBiMW on Mega Drive, but made it a LOT more forgiving.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair | Sega Does

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