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RELEASE DATE (NA): 1987 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

It's the Boy Wonder, now without Batman!

Hello, boys and ghouls! I think it's time for a history lesson! Once again, let's get in my teal time machine and head all the way back to 1986, the year of the Statue of Liberty makeover, bus deregulation in much of the United Kingdom, and the commencement of the United States National Park Passport Stamps Program. Let's go!



We are indeed here. I love this time machine; it really helps when I have to talk about video game history. Now then, let's talk about Wonder Boy. It was originally an arcade game developed by Escape, later renamed Westone to sound a bit less as though their work ethic was dreadful. The game follows a young caveman named Tom-Tom, a feisty little cherub in a loincloth; his girlfriend, Tanya, has been kidnapped by a vile creature called Drancon, and it's your duty to hunt down this beast and slay him! Only then can you return to the utopia that was your life together.

The game took place on an island where apparently, every type of terrain exists within a minute area of land. Tom-Tom must traverse forests, valleys, creepy caves, oceanic regions, erupting volcanoes, and even citadels of ice to finally reach his beloved Tanya. In the arcade version, there were seven different "worlds", divided into four separate levels; each of THOSE levels was divided into four smaller sections, marked by signage, to serve as checkpoints. (In the Master System version which I am actually reviewing, they upped it to ten by designing a few extra worlds.)

Wonder Boy is very fast-paced; you don't have much time to dawdle. Tom-Tom must keep on going to the right, dodging both enemies and other obstacles (falling boulders, fire, tripping stones -- you know, typical things you see trundling around on the ground). By cracking open eggs you find laying about, you can gain an axe weapon to toss at oncoming foes. Eggs may also reveal a skateboard to increase your speed and give you an additional hit point (you can even skateboard up a hill without any speed loss -- a feat yet to be matched by the Tony Hawks of modern day sport), a fairy that makes you temporarily invincible, or a nasty wizard that drains your health (indicated by spotted eggs). Of course, your health is always slowly decreasing, so it's important to munch on any fruit or vegetables you may find in your travels (and it appears frequently out of nowhere, so you needn't worry much). Tom-Tom can also pick up wooden dolls that are either readily apparent or can only appear in hidden spots for extra points after each level. If you collect every single one, you'll be able to access the hidden tenth world; otherwise, your journey stops at the ninth (though the ending is more or less the same, causing this to be a futile effort, save for score fiends).

Looking at the Master System port, I will say that the game is a solid challenge. The first world shouldn't cause much of a sweat to break out, but subsequent stages will give you a run for your money if you can't handle the game's momentum. I am sad to report that some layouts are reused at least once, so if a certain section was quite difficult to conquer the first time, expect to repeat it again later. Tom-Tom does not control as well as, say, Mario; his slipperiness will likely cause more than a few deaths. My advice is to go at a reasonable pace and not rush through each stage; some item and enemy placements are meant to prohibit this. The stages tend to get repetitive over time, however, so expect more of the same with every passing level.

Wonder Boy brings back the loincloth as a legitimate fashion statement.

Every world ends with a boss battle, but they hardly qualify as challenging; each one simply requires you to throw axes at Drancon's head until it falls off while he advances and retreats or half-heartedly tosses a fireball or lightning bolt in your direction. The fireballs usually go over my head if I'm in front of him, so really, the fight is merely a matter of routine. Once defeats, a new head is revealed and Drancon flies away. It's not exactly innovative.

The graphics are lush and colourful, though nothing made me run into the streets and praise on my knees. The conversion from the arcade cabinet to the home console is respectable with increased colours. Wonder Boy and pals are pretty cute, and even the bosses have their charm, even if only there's only a cranial alteration. Music is very limited, so expect to hear the same few tunes repeatedly over the course of thirty-six to forty levels.

Wait... does this sound at all familiar? It certainly should to Nintendo fanatics. And that's why we travelled to 1986. After all, I did mention a history lesson, and gosh darnit, I'm going to give it! Here's the scoop: when it comes to the Wonder Boy franchise, Sega owns the characters, the name, and the bosses (not that anyone would want to steal those blokes). Westone, however, owns the rights to the game itself. Through a nifty licensing deal, Westone was able to give the beloved Hudson Soft the right to the game itself for a conversion to the NES and the Japanese MSX computer, just without the Wonder Boy character. With a creative sleight of hand, Hudson Soft replaced Tom-Tom with Takahashi Meijin, the company's popular spokesperson, in a grass skirt, modified some graphics and audio, and the first Adventure Island game was born. (He was renamed Master Higgins when the game was brought to North America.) Subsequent Wonder Boy games would relinquish the style of gameplay of this game, but Adventure Island would guard that gameplay with its life for a long while. (You can actually learn more about the history of the Adventure Island series with our awesome Retrospective feature!)

In any case, this title started a series of successful Wonder Boy games that soon stepped in a more RPG direction, as well as a completely different and unintended series whose popularity slightly eclipsed its source material. But the original Wonder Boy game, though novel, is very basic and often a bit too challenging for casual players. It does show its age through its use of repetition as a game mechanic; it is indeed unfortunate that its gameplay gets dry after a while. Still, there is fun to be found here for fans of pure action titles from way-back-when.

I guess it's time to return to the present. Hop back into my stylish time machine, and we can go back to whatever year we came from! Hey, get out of that gift shop! We have to leave!



It's good to be home. Uh-oh! I left my Wonder Boy cartridge in 1986! Ah well, guess I'll just have to play Adventure Island and be content with that.

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