Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair


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.


“March this!”


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.



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17 thoughts on “Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair

  1. Dat cover art.

    I only ever played the Turbo CD version of this, and never knew it was even on the Mega Drive.

    I remember thinking it was ok, but not nearly as good as Dragon’s Trap.

    1. Why “only”? Just be glad to have played the way superior and much more true to the Arcade original version. 🙂

  2. Yep. I paid $60 for this as an early teen, beat it on day 1 and was bored a long time before that. My best friend didn’t hate it, so at least we squeezed another couple of co-op sessions out of it.

    I’d seen but not played the arcade version. It’s probably a faithful port, but I was expecting it to play more like Blue’s Journey, which has a comparable aesthetic but is a lot more interesting.

    Fortunately the next couple of Monster World games are MUCH better than this crud.

  3. I’ve never really played any Wonder Boy games and can not understand the series history at all. I’m surprised at the review though because I thought all the Wonder Boy games were meant to be great.

    So, I need to avoid this one and play the rest?

  4. I believe I rented this, was so confused that it wasn’t anything like Wonderboy, and totally did not play the next game on the Genesis because I thought it was more of the same. Like this one game turned me off of the series due partly to confusion and partly to it being so not a Wonderboy game that I had known. Visually it was so different, and gameplay wise, it was just so bland. At the time you could be forgiven for thinking that Sega somehow slapped the Wonderboy name on a wholly different game or series. That’s kind of what I thought at the time. Except it wasn’t like Super Mario Bros 2, it was the total opposite effect. I had actually played the arcade game of this once or twice. Maybe a little prettier but still nothing special.

  5. So, there are two part 3’s, but no part 4 in the Wonder Boy series (the next game is Wonder Boy V). This game has the word “Monster” in the title, but it is not a Monster World game (the Monster World games all have mild RPG elements). The Dragon’s Trap does not have the word “Monster” in the title, but it is a Monster World game. The last game in the series, Monster World IV, is not a Wonder Boy game. I think I got it. My head hurts.

    On a separate note, has anyone tried that Dragon’s Trap remake?

    1. Westone really just gave up on Wonder Boy titles after Monster Lair and Dragon’s Trap.

      I personally haven’t tried the Dragon’s Trap remake. Not a fan of the new art style, but I do appreciate that you can switch between the old and new styles.

    2. The Dragons Trap remake is amazing. 100 percent recommend. One of the best retro remakes I ever played. Like 98 percent faithful to the original game, with the only small changes improvements, like how they handled the charm stones, two playable characters, etc. it’s a masterpiece, and you can play it with original graphics and sounds(including FM) on the fly.

  6. Such a letdown. Usually two-player simultaneous games still have some fun in them but this was just a dissapointment, even if it didn’t have to follow the great Wonderboy games that preceeded it.

    Sega could have at least dropped the ‘III’ from the title and just had it be Wonder Boy: Monster Lair. That would have lessened the confusion slightly. Or better yet just slap a ‘IV’ on there, like Konami did when they ported their second TMNT arcade game to the SNES.

    1. “Sega could have at least dropped the ‘III’ from the title and just had it be Wonder Boy: Monster Lair. That would have lessened the confusion slightly. Or better yet just slap a ‘IV’ on there, like Konami did when they ported their second TMNT arcade game to the SNES.”

      Agreed. Not sure what their thinking was for this game.

      1. It might have something to do with the “real” Wonderboy 3 was never released in Japan and only on the SMS. So maybe on the Japanese side it made sense, but not here.

  7. I didn’t even know this received a Genesis port. I remember seeing lots of info on the TurboCD version, and it looked really nice. I’d say it looks better than this version, if the screenshots are any indication. Regardless, it’s disappointing to hear that it’s a pretty mediocre game.

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