When I say that I love the Wonder Boy series, it's really an understatement. As an amateur game historian, I've had a long fascination with the Wonder Boy series and everything tangentially associated with it. I love the mainline series that Westone developed for 8 and 16-bit Sega systems. I love the Monster World sub-series. I love the Adventure Island spin-offs that Hudson created. I love the kinda sorta semi-sequel that became Whomp Em. I love the modern HD remakes, and I even love Shantae which is most certainly a spiritual successor to Monster World IV.
I love Wonder Boy so much that the original game was the first video game I ever introduced my daughter to. And it means a lot to me that she even gets what's so cool about this series. The HG101 Patreon postcard for Monster World IV is displayed in her room (her choice, not mine) and she proudly tells people that "Asha is Wonder Boy's friend" when they ask about it.
Of course the Shantae games filled a gap. The last official game in the series was Monster World in 1994. From there, the series went dormant until the remakes began with Wonder Boy Returns in 2016. And then in 2018 we got an honest to goodness new Wonder Boy game with Monster Boy And The Cursed Kingdom. I wasn't just a little bit excited about it.
The development and buzz seemed to take forever. The game originally started as a sequel to a mobile game by a French developer, and had nothing to do with the Wonder Boy series, outside of maybe being an homage. Eventually, the developer Game Atelier connected with Wonder Boy creator Ryuichi Nishizawa and things started to happen. I can't remember the timeline, but I know that I saw screens of "Monster Boy And The Wizard Of Booze" (working title) at least a couple years before the final game was released.
It seems fitting that Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap was remade in 2017, though. Coincidentally, it was another French company, Lizardcube who did that one. They were also known for their excellent Streets Of Rage 4 sequel later. At any rate, of all the Wonder Boy games, The Dragon's Trap is the one that Monster Boy feels closest to. If anything, it feels like a sequel to the Dragon's Trap remake.
Let's take a second to walk through the mainline Wonder Boy games and make sense of some of it. The original Wonder Boy (1986) is an arcade platformer. This one was cut from the same mold as Super Mario Bros, and went on to inform the entirety of the Adventure Island series. Then Wonder Boy In Monster Land (1987) was more of a side scrolling RPG - think Zelda II or Castlevania II. Wonder Boy In Monster World (1991) and Monster World IV (1994) closely follow this trend, and make up the "Monster World" sub-set. Strangely, there were two Wonder Boy III games. The first was Monster Lair (1988) which was actually kind of a shmup thing, and to so kind of the black sheep of the series. Meanwhile, The Dragon's Trap (1989) was a Metroidvania that did harken back to the Monster World games, but also used changing forms into various animals as huge part of the game.
The Dragon's Trap was a brilliant game. Originally released on the Sega Master System, it should have been a huge hit. But so should the Master System have been. In my opinion, that was a brilliant console, and The Dragon's Trap was one of its killer apps. And strangely, the Wonder Boy games that followed on the Genesis abandoned the whole character-swapping mechanic in favor of going back to the Monster Land formula. For many years, the closest analog we had was some of the Shantae games. But the remake of Dragon's Trap really reminded why that original game was so amazing, but now in HD.
Monster Boy In The Cursed Kingdom picks up where The Dragon's Trap remake left us. And it's full of references to the series that came before it. Characters you turn into are the eye-patched pig who used to be a shopkeeper in Wonder Boy games, a snake not unlike the ones you've fought many times in the series, along with a lion and a frog. If you played and loved The Dragon's Trap, you'll be right at home here. Pepelogoo, your flying friend from Monster World IV shows up early in this one and makes some other cameos to help you out. The heroes from the first four Wonder Boy games are also idolized in stained glass on a temple here. Throughout your adventure, there's no shortage of throwbacks.
But nostalgia means nothing if the game isn't good. I've seen countless attempts at reboots that fell flat. Double Dragon IV comes to mind. And luckily I can say that Monster Boy And The Cursed Kingdom succeeds on every level. Look, I don't know who Game Atelier is or where they came from, but this is a team that totally gets Wonder Boy. It's a team that clearly grew up loving these games and understands why they're so beloved by a small but passionate fanbase.
I don't care which Wonder Boy game is your favorite, there's something here for you if you love this series. The platforming is tight, the swapping between characters is interesting, the puzzles are challenging but fair, the RPG elements work, the Metroidvania map design is great.
This is a game that took a long time to simmer and perfect. But in fairness, resurrecting a decades old property that has been both adored and misunderstood is a lofty proposition. Monster Boy And The Cursed Kingdom is a fitting new entry in this series. It is worthy of its inclusion in the pantheon that is Wonder Boy. It's also stunningly gorgeous and a good starting point for anyone that missed out on these games and wants to dive in in the modern era. Most importantly, it's a game that gives me hope as a fan that even though Wonder Boy went quiet for so many years, maybe, just maybe this could be the start of a whole new series of games. One can only dream.