Those of you that used to own a Sega Master System may experience an unshakable feeling of deja vu when playing Dragon's Curse (known as Adventure Island in Japan) - because it's pretty much the exact same game as the Master System Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap!
The history of the Wonder Boy franchise is complex and hard to explain, but in simple terms Sega own the copyright to the Wonder Boy character and Westone (the original programmers) hold the rights to the code. Hence the fact that Hudson worked with Westone to produce their own version of the Wonder Boy series in the form of Adventure Island - the main character is different but the game is essentially identical.
On a side note, Wonderboy in Monsterland was also converted to the PC Engine as 'Bikkuriman World'. Anyway, history lesson over, on with the review…
Dragon's Curse plays very much Zelda 2 on the NES - it's a side-scrolling platform affair with slight RPG elements. The 'hook' of the game is the ability to change into several different forms - ranging from a fire-breathing dragon to a tiny mouse (ideal for getting into small openings). The game world is fairly open-ended, and there are no 'levels' as such. Each enemy defeated yields cash, which can be exchanged for various useful items to aid your quest.
That's pretty much it. There's not a great deal to Dragon's Curse but the execution is near-faultless. The level design is genius and makes excellent use of the shape-shifting concept, laying down a template that would later be emulated to a degree by Nintendo's Super Metroid and Konami's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
The graphics are bold and colourful and this version has one massive advantage over the Master System original - there's no sprite flicker! The music is jolly enough and the sound effects are passable, if a little weak. The only other minor problem is annoying re-spawning enemies, but you do so much back-tracking that the game would be pretty empty if the enemies didn't reappear, and they also provide a vital source of funds.
All in all, this is a classic that has dulled ever so slightly over time - the aforementioned Metroid and SotN do this kind of thing on a much grander scale - but it is still most definitely worthy of your attention.