Sega vs. Nintendo. Sonic vs. Mario. There’s a lot of epic company and mascot competitions that go on in gaming all the time, but one competition that sort of joined forces and parted ways at the same time was Sega and Hudson Soft. Sound confusing? Let me explain how this all started.
On April 21, 1986 a company by the name of Escape (which later became Westone Bit Entertainment), developed an arcade game simply titled Wonder Boy and published by Sega. This was a platforming game where you played as a boy with blonde hair who ran across different areas to save his girlfriend Tina from a dark King. The game had a timer which would run down as you played and the only way to gain more time was collecting fruit that would appear all throughout each area. You could also collect weapons such as a stone hatchet and ride a skateboard to progress through each area faster than running on foot. Does the gameplay sound familiar at all? Here’s where it gets interesting. The game was ported over to a variety of home consoles such as the Sega Master System, Game Gear (under the title Revenge of Drancon), ZX Spectrum, the C64, and Amstrad CPC. Sega held the “Wonder Boy” trademark, and Escape wanted the game to be ported over to the NES as well. They teamed up with Hudson Soft to convert the game over to the NES. They made a few tweaks to the game and while Hudson Soft could have kept the blonde haired main character, they decided to change to a caricature of Takahashi Meijin (former executive of Hudson Soft), and change the games title to Adventure Island.
This was the start of two series of games that started as one game. The saga of Wonder Boy suddenly split and became the saga of Wonder Boy and Adventure Island. Both series’ are celebrating 35 years of entertainment, but for this particular post we’ll be focusing on the Wonder Boy story as that was the game that was released on this day and started this whole fiasco. I guess you could say this is Part 1 of a 2 Part retrospective adventure into Westone’s world. Part 2 will be taking a look at the Adventure island side of the story, so do keep your eyes out for that! Until then, let’s continue on and take a look at how Wonder Boy grew to be a sleeper hit series.
In July of 1987 Sega released Wonder Boy in Monster Land. It was an arcade adventure game that was very different from the first game as it played much more like the standard platformer. Instead of running through a jungle collecting fruits and riding a skateboard and killing enemies with a hatchet, you were walking around Wonder Land with a sword and shield killing enemies for coins to buy yourself new equipment and items. This would be the standard gameplay for the Wonder Boy series in future games to come. The game takes place 11 years after the first Wonder Boy game and now a fire breathing dragon terrorizes the land and invades it with his minions. Wonder Land was now known as Monster Land. The game was ported over to the Master System, Amiga, Atari ST, C64, Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum machines. Meanwhile, before the game’s release on the Master System, Hudson Soft obtained the rights of the game from Escape and published the game on its PC-Engine console under the name ビックリマンワールド(Bikkuriman World). Hudson changed all the characters to resemble those from the Bikkuriman brand, which was a Japanese chocolate confectionery of Lotte. So while Hudson was having their way with Adventure Island, they were not far behind from making their own versions of Wonder Boy games as well and releasing them to their PC Engine console. I guess you could say this was their way of milking the money out of consumers in any way they could.
Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair is the last arcade game to be released in November 1988. The game was an auto-scrolling shooter as you traveled through 14 rounds of shooting monsters with your trusty sword. Some levels had you walking through areas while others had you flying on a pink animal friend. A wide array of weapon upgrades can be collected but only last for a short while before returning to your default weapon. The game brings back the randomly spawned fruit from the first Wonder Boy game in order to restore your depleting health bar. The game was ported over to the Master System (called Super Wonder Boy: Monster World in Japan) as well as the Mega Drive in Japan with only 9 rounds due to the space limitations of the Mega Drive carts. The game was also ported over by our good friends Hudson Soft for the TurboGrafx-CD in 1989 under the name Monster Lair removing Wonder Boy from the title. While the game was actually left unchanged for the most part, it did become the first CD-based game for a console in America when it was released one year later in 1990. It had much improved music over other ports of the game.
In a weird turn of events a second Wonder Boy III was released in 1989 called Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap. It was the first console released Wonder Boy on the Sega Master System and ported over to the Game Gear as Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap (Monster World II: Dragon no Wana in Japan). Hudson Soft ported the game over to the PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 under the name Dragon’s Curse. The game takes place immediately after the events of Wonder Boy in Monster Land where Wonder Boy travels to the Mecha Dragon’s lair to face off and defeat him. However, after defeating the mecha dragon he is inflicted with a curse that transforms him into a lizard man. Wonder Boy must find the Salamander Cross which is the only way to lift the curse and return back to normal. This game plays much like a combined platformer and action RPG with a password system for saving your game. Dragon’s Curse was the better looking game of the three ports simply because it was the only port on a 16-bit console, compared to the original Wonder Boy games on the Master System and Game Gear, which were only 8-bit. Because of this, Dragon’s Curse had altered and improved graphics to make it slightly stand out from Wonder Boy as well as have improved sound and music. In April 2017 indie developer Lizardcube and publisher DotEmu collaborated with series creator Ryuichi Nishizawa to release a remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap for the PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and on PC a few months later. The game stays loyal to the original gameplay, story and level design but with a much more modern 2D visual style.
October 25, 1991 saw the release of Wonder Boy V: Monster World III (Wonder Boy in Monster World) for the Sega Mega Drive. The game continues the platforming action RPG style of gameplay as The Dragon’s Trap as you control a boy named Shion who must save Monster World from BioMeka who has disrupted the peace and riddled it with monsters to cause havok amongst the townspeople. The Mega Drive version is the first game to include battery saving. The game did get ported over to the Master System which continued using the password saving system from the previous game The Dragon’s Trap. The Master System version was a down-grade from the Mega Drive version. The graphics were re-drawn to match the 8-bit pallet and all of the areas in the game were much shorter because of the reduced data capacity of the Master System cartridges. On the Hudson Soft side of the spectrum the game was ported over to the Turbo Duo in 1993 and retitled as The Dynastic Hero. Many of the game’s NPC’s and bosses were changed as well as an entirely different high quality soundtrack was used. The game also featured a cinematic intro sequence, 4 save slots to save your games as well as a different ending from the original Mega Drive version.
The last of the Wonder Boy series of games by team Westone and Sega was released on April 1st, 1994 for the Mega Drive called Monster World IV, removing the Wonder Boy moniker altogether. This was the only game that was a Japanese exclusive and was never ported over to any other console (not even our good friends at Hudson touched this game, sadly). The game follows the story of a young girl named Asha who hears a cry for help in a small town through a spirit in the wind. Along the way she finds a lamp with a magical genie inside and an egg which hatches a small blue creature called a Pepelogoo. She meets a queen inside a huge mansion who sends Asha out on tasks to defeat various boss monsters and free a group of spirits that are trapped in different areas of the world. The game plays very similar to Wonder Boy in Monster World with overall improvements in control, graphics, level design, sound, and music. The game would not get an official English release until May 10, 2012 when it was released on the Wii Vitrual Console, and a few weeks later on the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network services. A remake of the game will be released on PS4 and Switch tomorrow for Japanese audiences titled Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World. The game will release in the US next month on May 28th.
22 years later on October 12, 2016, Wonder Boy makes his somewhat triumphant return with the release of Wonder Boy Returns, exclusively on the Nintendo Switch. The game was developed and published by CFK. It is a remastered version of the original arcade release of Wonder Boy with new levels, new enemies and bosses, and a Challenge Mode where you have to beat the game with only 2 lives in one playthrough. On May 23, 2019 an “updated” version of the game titled Wonder Boy Returns Remix was released for the Nintendo Switch and on Steam. This version was a lot more loyal to the original game, removing all the extra levels, and new enemies and bosses that the original Returns game provided. Challenge Mode was also removed and replaced with a “One Coin Mode”, which is a little similar to Challenge Mode except instead of 2 lives to complete the game you had 10. You could also charge your weapon before throwing for more attack power to destroy rocks, boulders, and multiple enemies with one throw.
It would be nearly 24 years later until a brand new Wonder Boy game was released by the developers of Game Atelier and Published by FDG Entertainment called Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom. The game released in the US first on December 4, 2018, and nearly 2 years after on August 6, 2020, Japan would see its release. The game follows a boy named Jin whose Uncle Nabu used magic to turn everyone, including himself, into animals. In order to return everyone back to normal Jin must recover 5 animal orbs from across the land. Each orb can transform him into a different animal with unique abilities, and you’ll have to switch between animals frequently in order to progress further into the games story. The game was originally a Kickstarter project that was called Flying Hamster II: Knight of the Golden Seed, which was a sequel to the company’s 2010 game Flying Hamster. The Kickstarter was suddenly canceled and Game Atelier announced a partnership with FDG Entertainment. One year later it was revealed that they had also partnered with LAT Corp to incorporate the title into the Wonder Boy series. Because the trademark of Wonder Boy was held separately from the rest of the IP, a new title had to be made and “Monster Boy” was decided by combining “Monster World” and “Wonder Boy” together. The original title for the game was Monster Boy and the Wizard of Booze, but because of criticism with the reference to alcohol in the title it was changed to what is now known as Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom. During the first week of the game’s console release in the US, the game only sold 50,000 copies, however in January 2019 the Switch version was found to have sold 8 times more copies than the PS4 and Xbox One versions combined.
So there you have it, 25 years worth of Wonder Boy madness from the Wonder Boy side of the story. Now while Sega was releasing the Wonder Boy games on its consoles and arcade units, Hudson Soft, not only redistributing it on its TurboGrafx systems, was also producing its own series of Adventure Island games that were more loyal to the gameplay of the original Wonder Boy. How those games turned out over the years we’ll see in a future post. But for now, let's look forward to the release of Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World!