Wonder Boy III: Let’s Get Silly
16-Bits of Disappointment
PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous
GENRE: Arcade platformer
RELEASE DATE: 12/22/90 – (JP), 04/91 – (EU)
Those of you keeping score at home may recall that I’ve already played Wonder Boy III. Except Wonder Boy III for Master System wasn’t the first Wonder Boy III. After Wonder Boy in Monster Land (a.k.a. Wonder Boy II) was released for the Master System in early 1988, Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair made its debut in the arcades in late 1988. Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap sauntered onto the Master System in 1989, and unlike the previous Wonder Boy games, it was a console exclusive.
“These licorice rolls will show the snails who’s King of the Puffy Clouds!”
Since both were developed by Westone, that means there are two official sequels to Wonder Boy in Monster Land. I presume that Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair is the official sequel to the arcade version of Wonder Boy in Monster Land, while Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap is the official sequel to the Master System version of Wonder Boy in Monster Land. Since Monster Lair was never ported to the Master System and The Dragon’s Trap was never brought to the arcade, we have to make due with these awkward titles. And from what I understand, it only gets worse from here.
If you don’t see them, maybe they’ll cease to exist.
This pedantic examination of Wonder Boy titles is about as interesting as Monster Lair itself. The game is a considerable step backwards from Monster Land‘s action-RPG gameplay to the original Wonder Boy‘s run-and-jump aesthetic with some shoot-em-up sections thrown in for good measure. The latter sounds like a winning combination, but unfortunately, neither the platforming nor the shoot-em-up portions are fleshed out enough to feel like a fully realized game.
“Carrots in Holland,” a Samuel Goldwyn production.
The first-player controls Leo, a green-haired warrior who may or may not be related to Tom-Tom/Wonder Boy from previous games. He’s decked out in fancy knight armor and his sword shoots projectiles. A second player controls Princess Purapril, a pink-haired enchantress with a scepter. This is the first Wonder Boy game to feature two-player simultaneous gameplay, a neat, but inconsequential feature.
In the original Wonder Boy, the levels are strategically designed to keep you moving forward without slowing down. You have to run, jump, and keep an eye out for enemies at all times. In Monster Lair, the screen scrolls automatically, so you often have to wait before you can move forward. The levels are barren, save for enemies and the occasional platform. Did Westone not put more thought and care into the level design because of the automatic scrolling? Even if this was the case, there are moments where literally nothing happens in the level. No enemies attack, no power-ups appear. Like the game’s having a moment of silence for the developers who failed to give a damn.
Those cacti look cute and friendly, but woe to the warrior who lands on their heads.
Also like the original Wonder Boy, your heroes’ stamina bars are constantly depleting and must be refilled by eating fruit and other edible goodies. The fruit doesn’t appear as often as it does in the original Wonder Boy, so it’s imperative that you get it when it manifests. Weapon upgrades like missiles, lasers, and fireballs come in little capsule containers. Once you get them, though, they only last for about 10 seconds before your sword reverts to beady projectiles again. A true waste.
And yet, I feel so empty inside.
In the shoot-em-up section, you ride an animal friend and take on clusters of enemies before fighting the boss. These are much shorter than the platforming sections and seemingly exist to pad out the game’s length before the boss fight.
Compared to the other Wonder Boy games, Monster Lair is a real disappointment. The graphics aren’t as sharp or colorful as the Master System entries, the soundtrack is forgettable, and the platforming and shoot-em-up sections feel hastily assembled. For a game that feels like it was created quickly, at fourteen stages, it’s overly long. I made it through six stages before I called it quits. Not because it was too tough (though it was certainly getting tougher), but because I was bored. I said it before with Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle and I’ll say it with Monster Lair: stick with the Master System games. Some series are best left untouched.