Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair might seem incredibly familiar to Virtual Console addicts because the game has technically already been released on Nintendo’s download service – in the guise of Monster Lair on the TG-16!
The complexities of the deal regarding codehouse Westone and Sega have never really been fully explained – even after all these years – but the general gist is that Sega own the Wonder Boy name and Westone did pretty much all of the programming, which allowed the company to take the games elsewhere. ‘Elsewhere’ was usually the NEC PC Engine (or TG-16 in the US), and as a result we’ve seen games like Dragon's Curse (which is Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap) and Dynastic Hero (which is Wonder Boy in Monster World). Keeping track of the variations within this convoluted series is a job in itself.
Anyway, history lesson aside, what we have here is Sega’s own version of the original Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair coin-op. As we stated in the review of the TG-16 version, this isn’t your traditional Wonder Boy action-RPG style adventure; it has more in common with the side-scrolling action of the very first game. This isn’t a bad thing in itself, but ultimately this game has even less variety than the original (no skateboarding here!).
It’s part platformer, part horizontal shooter, but neither portion really gets it right. The platforming elements are almost devoid of challenge; you basically move from left to right taking out enemies and collecting fruit to accrue points. The shooter sections are similarly lightweight, with only the odd boss battle making things remotely interesting. Unsurprisingly, the whole thing becomes incredibly boring, despite the ‘crossover’ appeal of the two genres. There’s a co-op option but this only succeeds in boring two people rather than one.
The Mega Drive/Genesis version does have some notable differences when compared to its TG-16 counterpart. The most obvious is the music – on the TG-16 version you have excellent CD-quality tunes which are genuinely likeable, but here the soundtrack is chip-based and a lot less enjoyable.
The visuals are also slightly different, with the sprites looking a little goofy (Wonder Boy sports a shocked expression on his face that makes it look like he’s messed his underpants) but generally there’s not much to pick between the two. This is a jolly looking game with colourful visuals and nice large boss characters, with the traditional bout of unwelcome sprite flicker when the going gets tough.
Elsewhere, the Mega Drive version offers more customization (you can select your difficulty level and the number of lives and continues you have) but it also has less levels – 9 to the TG-16’s 14 – although given the mind-numbingly dull nature of the gameplay, you might see this as a blessing!
Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair is easily the weakest entry in the Wonder Boy canon and isn’t worth bothering with, even if you’re a fan of shooters and platformers. This unsuccessful fusion of the two disciplines singularly fails to impress and should be avoided in favour of other, more worthy, retro experiences. If you're still interested then we'd recommend you pick the TG-16 version over this, as it's slightly better and retails for the same 800 Wii price point.