Friday, 24 June 2016

Wonder Boy Series - Part 1

Wonder Boy (1986)
By: Westone / Sega Genre: Platform / Action Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 83,140
Also Available For: Master System, SG-1000, Game Gear, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
Download For: Wii Virtual Console, Sony PSN

It has now been more than 6 years that I've been bumbling around with this blog, but all that time ago when I first started planning it, for some reason I intended to start by reviewing Wonder Boy. This is a bit odd since it's a game I've never really played properly. It was most likely with the intention of then reviewing the other Wonder Boy games afterwards, most of which I have played, and enjoyed very much, but whatever the reason, it has taken me all this time to get around to it. One thing I already knew about Wonder Boy's debut quest is that it involves the rescue of his precious girlfriend, Tina, who has been abducted by some evil monkey-spank known simply as King. Keen to regain her warm companionship, our impressively-crested hero sets out on a 'long and hazardous journey' in pursuit of the felonious King, and unfortunately the journey is indeed that, spanning some seven side-scrolling areas each split into four danger-filled rounds.

His journey is taken largely on foot and consists of a wide variety of locales including forests, mountain passes, deserts, caverns, and of course icy areas. His 'vitality' is represented by a meter in the top-right of the screen and is dropping continually, basically acting as a time limit for the round - a time limit that, unless replenished, is not sufficient to complete any given round. To increase it you need to collect at least some of the many fruits and foods that appear around the landscape, each of which postpones your death a differing amount depending on the food in question. They disappear as quickly as they appeared though, so you'll need to be quick! Unsurprisingly, grabbing these is made trickier by the many scary beasties that also inhabit the stages, contact with any of whom will cost a life, and also the stages themselves which feature numerous hazards and obstacles. Some, such as rocks, only cause a (potential) delay, but others are more costly.

How, then, do we deal with these problems? Well, aside from common gaming sense, Wonder Boy does have a few helpful things available. He waddles along at a pretty good pace already, but cracking open one of the large eggs that are encountered regularly through the stages is likely to reveal something that will increase his pace further still - that common prehistoric device, the skateboard (complete with helmet and protective pads)! These handy things speed you up a fair bit as you might expect, but they also act as one-hit shields, for running into an enemy merely see you lose your deck rather than a life. Hopefully this won't happen too often though, as also found in the eggs is a nice stone hatchet which apparently bestows upon the bearer the ability to throw an infinite number of duplicates. These, believe it or not, are able to destroy any heinous creatures they might whump into, making them an invaluable companion on your dangerous quest.

Also very helpful is the divine angel who appears from an egg in place of the hatchet if you already have it. This graceful being acts as a temporary invincibility shield, and you might also find bottles of milk which completely refill your vitality, but that's about all the assistance Mr. Boy can expect. Indeed, some of the eggs contains less helpful items that take part or even all of his vitality, but what's likely to cause you the most problems is the fast-paced nature of the game. You can't afford to take your time so the key to success is to keep moving and time your jumps well, and as a result it's rather easy to make mistakes thanks to the traps and hazards mentioned earlier. These include fire, falling spikes, watery areas, rolling boulders, and many gaps in the landscape which can be easy to fall into, not to mention the many enemy creatures which include snails, frogs, wasps, octopuses, bats, and spiders, all of which move and some of which take more than one hit.

Some enemies that definitely take more than one hit are the bosses. I was a little surprised to find bosses here at all actually, but they are indeed present and correct in the form of ghastly animal-headed ogres that guard the exit of each area. Defeating most of them isn't much of a problem either, with their predictable and easily-avoided attacks, and then you're on to the next area where you'll need to do pretty much the same thing again over similar-looking stages. There are some hidden collectables to make your quest more interesting though, and these include letters (that spell out 'Sega') for bonus points, and one doll per round. If you manage to find every single doll from round 1-1 right up to 7-4, you'll unlock a secret eighth area. It will take a lot of dedication (or a walk-through) to manage that though - some of the dolls are clearly visible but others are completely hidden until struck by a hatchet, and even then not necessarily easy to reach.

To be honest though, the question I had prior to playing the game for this review was simply this: is it still enjoyable to play? The answer to that, I'm pleased to say, is yes! It's actually aged really well, I'd say. The appealing graphics are colourful and varied, at least until you finish the first area from where most backgrounds and some sprites are re-used. The audio is also really good, featuring nice effects and suitably catchy, upbeat tunes, and the whole game has a happy, cheerful feel about it, even when you fall off the same platform for the umpteenth time in a row. It's interesting to play the game now, effectively for the first time, after having played the later adventurey games starring the golden haired oaf, but despite being the odd one out in terms of the style of play, it's by no means the black sheep of the family as far as stinkiness is concerned - I've had a lot of fun playing through it and it comes highly recommended for anyone else who has yet to play it.

RKS Score: 8/10

Gameplay Video: here's a video of the whole game being played by one of the talented fellows at World of Longplays (check out their great channel here). Oh, and don't watch if you want to avoid spoilers!



  1. Later versions have clearly been influenced by this, a wonderful series. Your score is generous: it impressed in it's day, but the sequels show it's limitations. Excited about the reboots! :D

  2. Well, I didn't really expect to give it such a high score either, but it's aged well in my opinion and I really enjoyed playing it. The fact that there is more to the later games doesn't diminish the original's charm in my opinion. WBIII is still the king though, obviously!