Where to begin with this game? This is perhaps as far back as it goes for me in my video game history. Growing up we never had any cool systems until I begged and pleaded for a playstation which I finally got for Christmas in fourth grade. So for the first 10 years of my life I was stuck with the Sega Master System. It was no slouch, but it was outdated by the mid 90s. My dad who was a baseball nut got hooked on a hand held baseball game from the mid 80s, I’ve seen the game. It was nothing but lights and beeps, but my mom got the idea to buy my dad the Sega Master System because of a few baseball games for the system. Going through the game library we had for it, it makes me chuckle, I can’t image my dad going to a store and buying video games. If you know my dad, you would understand. Either way, by the time I could play video games, I was playing the Sega Master System, and the game I played the most was Wonder Boy III.
While it wasn’t as snazzy or fancy as the Playstation or N-64, the Sega Master System had some gems. Wonder Boy III was one of them, but what makes it special? Well for starters, it had beautiful and colorful graphics. Each environment you enter, you can really feel the mood chance. If you enter a jungle, expect dark green environment, with the colors making you feel hot and sweaty, just like a real rain forest would. Tread into the desert, and expect sandy colors to cover the screen, each environment was its own, and that’s what made this game special, the attention to detail was second to none in that era. That includes any Mario game. Back in 1989, any side scrolling adventure had a lot to live up to with Mario paving the way, but Wonder Boy III, went above and beyond. Even the sprites of the enemies and the characters were carefully constructed. One of my favorite things to do was look at the game manual. In the back it had a hand drawn section on all the enemies in the game, I used to love to look at each enemy and picture fighting them.
Now, usually I’m all for the story, and if a game doesn’t have a good one it’s hard to keep my attention, but Wonder Boy III is so fun, the story doesn’t matter. Most games back then don’t have enriching stories. For 1989, this was pretty much as good as it got, except for a RPG.
From what I remember, the story goes that after slaying the first boss who is known as the Meca Dragon, Wonder Boy is cursed and transformed into a Lizard. You must travel across different lands and fight different dragon bosses in order to restore your form to human, each boss you defeat transforms you into a new animal which gives you different access to levels. For instance, the Bird Man can fly so you can go to the sky castle, Piranha Man can swim, giving you access to the water castle, Lion Man can break boulders, and Mouse Man can stick to walls. It really is genius to have so much features in a game from the 80s.
As for the enemies, each type is different, and each type has different colors. Different colors mean the difference in how many hits it takes to kill them. Some enemies are a one swing of the sword and they are vanquished, others can take four or five hits. Which brings me to my next praise of the game, there are weapons and armor to collect. There are treasure chests in each level and they have items inside. Upgrade your sword and armor to improve your chances of surviving. It really was fun seeing what combo went with what world. You also had a few power ups that helped you on your journey. You could use a lightning bolt to kill all enemies on the screen, and you had a boomerang that came back on jumping enemies and believe me, there were a lot of bastards that didn’t stay still.
Each boss dragon was a ton of fun to fight. Each one was detailed with different powers and different routines. The detail in the sprites was amazing for 1989. Growing up, I could imagine their voices and character even though there was no sound or dialog from them, that’s how good their design was.
Saving this game was not easy, it was a password based game, so throughout levels, there was a little hotel with a pig in it that gave you a different password. I remember we had a tiny piece of paper that had a bunch of passwords on it and each one said what character it was for. There was also a hospital where you could refill your health bar for a cost. The more and more that I look back on this game the more fond of it I grow, it had everything in one game. Including difficulty. This game kicked my ass a few times. I remember replaying it a few years ago to try and finally beat it. I was stuck on the Asian themed level. These bouncing samurais kept killing me, and I thought to myself, how did I ever get this far when I was six? I finally buckled down and defeated them, and man, it felt good. Close to 20 years in the making, I finally beat the game. It was special for me, because this was probably the first game I ever played. I told my dad I beat it, and he chuckled, because he had never been able to beat it. The ending is nothing special, no cool cut scenes, but you get the gratification of being transformed back into a man under a starry night.
For a game that came out in the heyday of Mario, and other wannabe side scrolling games, this game showed that other games could compete and be successful. Don’t ask me what happened in the first two games or in the games that followed, because they were completely different and sucked. I think different developers probably had to do with it because the first two Wonder Boy games are nothing like the third, and the next two are awful and take away everything good about the third.
If an indie game were to come out today as a retro side scroller, all would aspire to be Wonder Boy III, this game is that good. It would be winning awards today if put into Indie competitions, but because it was released on the Sega Master System, no one knows about it. That’s a real shame because this game is a gem. It doesn’t get much better, 9.8/10.