Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap marks the end of the Master System trilogy. It’s a direct sequel to the wonderful Wonder Boy in Monster Land with the action starting out in the final lair of the last game. Unlike the original Wonder Boy, though, there are no loincloths in sight. Most Master System fans will consider this game to be the definitive game in the series with good reason: it took all the great platforming action from Monster Land and added Metroid-style exploration and the ability to morph into different animals, allowing access to areas which were previously off-limits of course.
SEGA has been the victim of unfortunate timing on the Virtual Console lately: it was only a few weeks ago that they released the Master System port of R-Type on the Virtual Console which begged the inevitable question – why bother with it when the superior TurboGrafx-16 is already available in the Wii Shop? Unfortunately retro game fans will have the same dilemma with this purchase: as the Virtual Console already has Dragon’s Curse from the TurboGrafx-16 which features better graphics and no sprite flicker, and at a measly 100 Nintendo points more than this outing, why bother with the Master System version?
It would be unfair to brush this version off so easily however; after all, it was one of the better Master System games of its day, really pushing the graphical boundaries of the system and with great gameplay to boot.
As with the previous Wonder Boy game, the game is really an action platformer with a side order of RPG elements. Defeated enemies helpfully leave cash for you to level up your character, and in addition to this you can gain the ability to transform into a lizard, mouse, piranha, lion and finally a hawk. These transformations give the player varied attack and defence points, with the human form being the strongest. You will need to use the animal forms to further explore the game further and progress: Mouse-Man is smaller so can enter places were others cannot fit, even walking upside down when on special blocks, and Hawk-Man is especially useful as he has the ability to fly. Just be sure to keep him away from water!
As you progress through the game you will get the chance to upgrade your sword and armour. From time to time you will also take on fiendish bosses who seek to put a stop to your quest prematurely. To help Wonder Boy out you can take advantage of the game’s password feature which will allow you to resume your game from the beginning of each town.
If you like games such as Metroid and Symphony of the Night where you spend much of your time exploring and backtracking then you will be in your element with this game. The constantly respawning baddies get a little tiresome after a while, but they are good cannon fodder to help you level-up your character so it’s not all bad.
The graphics are particularly good for Master System standards, however as stated previously TG16 Dragon’s Curse is better in this department. The sound is perhaps a little less impressive, as the music tends to get a little repetitive after a while but it’s jolly enough as a backdrop.
Wonder Boy III was one of the ‘must-have’ games for the Master System back in its day, and as such it is worthy of your consideration on the Virtual Console. Unfortunately it is overshadowed by a superior version on the TurboGrafx-16 system which is already available on the Virtual Console. This version would be most recommended to nostalgic Master System fans who want to become reacquainted with the same title they played all those years ago. If that’s you, then this is the one to buy, but everyone else should cough up 100 points extra to enjoy a more refined experience.