As you may have noticed since my 150th game review special, I ended up awarding passing grades far less often than middling or failing ones. It was to the point where I had gone at least two different months of this year without awarding a single one, causing me to promise to review at least one good game the following month. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why things turned out that way, though reviewing long-running series that took a few installments to finally get good probably had something to do with it (the Bubsy series was responsible for three failing grades by itself). Either way, we’ve finally reached the games I can straight-up recommend, so if you haven’t played them, seek them out.
Following the release of Monster Lair, Westone had a trilogy of successful arcade games bearing the Wonder Boy name. What is especially impressive about these games would be the sheer amount of stylistic ground series creator Ryuichi Nishizawa and his team covered in the span of two years. The original Wonder Boy was one of the many platforming games inspired by the success and enormous influence of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. For Wonder Boy in Monster Land, Mr. Nishizawa drew inspiration from the budding role-playing scene and created an actionized hybrid that stood out among contemporary arcade titles. Although Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair could be viewed as a return to form, it too was a subject of much experimentation, playing like a cross between a platformer and a shoot ‘em up.
Although Westone experienced much success in arcades, for the continuation of their flagship Wonder Boy franchise, they sought to create yet another new experience on a new platform. The first two games in the series, Wonder Boy and Wonder Boy in Monster Land were highly successful when ported to the Sega Master System, and Westone gained a loyal fan following. As their publisher, Sega, needed all the help they could get to compete with Nintendo’s nigh-unstoppable Famicom console, it was only natural that Westone set their sights to the Master System itself.
The fruit of their labor was released in both North American and Europe in 1989 under the name Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap. This led to a bit of confusion to the few international fans familiar with Monster Lair, for there were now two games called Wonder Boy III. Muddying matters is that The Dragon’s Trap was not released domestically in its original Master System form. The Japanese Sega Master System models featured an FM synth card not found in Western ones. On top of that, Sega ended up discontinuing the Master System in its native country shortly after its successor, the Mega Drive, was released. It wouldn’t be until 1991 that The Dragon’s Trap saw a domestic release on the PC Engine entitled Adventure Island – unrelated to the Famicom reskin of the original Wonder Boy. This version was renamed Dragon’s Curse in North America a year prior. The game wouldn’t see the light of day on a Sega platform in Japan until 1992 when it debuted on the Game Gear – the company’s first handheld system. This version was named Monster World II: The Dragon’s Trap, enforcing its status as an alternate sequel to the second game in the series – known in Japan as Wonder Boy: Monster World.
Irrespective of what one may have called it at the time, Westone’s effort received largely positive reviews. Electronic Gaming Monthly deemed it the Master System’s greatest game of 1989, and other publications noted how addictive it managed to be. Like Wonder Boy in Monster Land before it, The Dragon’s Trap is thought of as one of the hallmarks of the Master System. Was it truly able to deliver an experience worthy of the increasingly venerable Wonder Boy brand?