We live in a world where we have versions of the things we love. It’s been that way for many, many years, and is a trend that’s not something that’s been limited to the past decade or even century. Many of our stories are retellings of ones that came before, films we consider classics now are themselves versions or retellings of far older things, and even now, game upon game could be deconstructed into basic design patterns.
Sometimes it’s in sequels or remakes, and other time it’s through an homage or attempt to recapture the tone of what came before that we find something new. It can often seem as though we’re experiencing the same game or story over and over, with little to distinguish it from what we already knew, while other times it’s a remaster.
One of the more recent trends that go beyond a spit and polish in the graphical or interface sense, is a target that aims for the feel or spirit. It’s easy to make light of the recurrence of franchises, particularly in the case of those by Nintendo, while only the figurehead of the competitor of the day carries the idea of being stomped into the ground.
What was once a source of amazement or excitement on the long-defunct SEGA consoles became a source of derision as shoddy gimmicks were stamped with spiky blue.
The repeated return to a quick critter named Sonic, usually fixed to all manner of questionable content in the hopes it’d repeat the Mario story and push a few more copies out the door didn’t work. For that reason, nostalgia might be seen as a less reliable draw for the franchises that were part of the SEGA catalogue. A new Alex Kidd game somehow carries a Nintendo connotation, or is at least tarred by the hamburger-eating boy’s appearance in Sonic racing games.
While there were other games that made their presence an important contribution, none reached the esteem shared by one game in particular – Wonderboy 3: The Dragon’s Trap. A direct chronological sequel to Wonderboy in Monsterland, The Dragon’s Trap was comprised of cool characters, varied gameplay, and a clever hook that tied it to its predecessor. In this game, we were no longer saving the world – that had been done. Instead we were saving ourselves. Cursed by the dying MEKA dragon, we journeyed through the wet and dry, the hot and humid, the low and high, hoping that we’d one day restore our humanity.
Of particular note with Wonderboy 3 was the manual (kids, ask your parents what a game manual is) it came with. The illustrations within those pages gave character and detail in places where the limitations of the system reduced the fidelity that the sprites could possess. Much as our imaginations fill in the gaps, these pictures became our memory’s placeholder for the 8-bit sprites. It’s for exactly this reason that a return to the franchise, whether in name or in essence, can use the same visual cues to retain the tone of the original game.
A countdown on the intriguing domain of thedragonstrap.com ended with a reveal trailer for Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap.
What this trailer does well is touch on the same gameplay and style, yet brings additional personality to every frame. Sure, the purist in me can’t hold my tongue when I see the Lizardman wielding a sword, but in so many ways, the images hit that same feel. There’s definitely a more animated feel to it, a little more on cartoonish side to what you might remember from those manuals. This style is most evident in the way things move, with walk cycles bouncing and exaggerated limbs flying all over.
The visual cues present in all of the art are evolutions of what came before, from the reaction of skeletons hit in combat, the layout of the central town being familiar yet with a brand new look, but it’s in the anthropomorphic incarnations of the titular character that it shows most of all. The music is there too, bits and pieces making up a soundtrack that seems to ring all the right notes.
What I love about this most is that it shows signs of having a tremendous amount of passion behind it, and will no doubt appeal to those with wonderful memories of that past Wonderboy adventure.
Aside from the original, there will be comparisons drawn between Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap and Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, which shares the same spirit and influences as this one. Both do evoke memories of the Master System classic, yet have styles distinct enough that they’ll both be welcome additions to any SEGA kid’s library.