Few video game characters have a history as confusing and convoluted as Wonder Boy; from games where he’s named in the title, to some in the series where he’s not referred to at all and even more where the entire game aesthetics and characters are changed (hello, Adventure Island series!) but the gameplay remains the same.

Wonder Boy’s creator even returned with a non-official reboot recently, with Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom – which bears all the hallmarks of the 2D, side-scrolling, action RPG-style of games such as Wonder Boy in Monster Land and Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, right down to the sound effects, enemy designs and even music, yet couldn’t use the Wonder Boy name!

Even in this brilliantly comprehensive collection of 21 Wonder Boy titles (actually, just six different games with a wide number of different versions of each), three of them are Monster World games, with Wonder Boy’s name sadly absent altogether from the very title!

Or at least, that’s if you go by the main menu – because Monster World II, the direct sequel to second Wonder Boy game, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, is actually known outside of Japan as Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap. Then there’s Monster World III, which was known outside of Japan as Monster World III and even in Japan, as Wonder Boy V: Monster World III.

Is it any wonder that us poor middle aged gamers are confused by all this?

Still, the important thing is that we have a great collection of classic titles, from a series that – perhaps because of the naming conventions and weird licensing issues – has never really maintained the same level of interest it had in the 80s, but it more than deserves its place in the pantheon of classic games.

Arcade title Wonder Boy is first up – and it feels almost like an endless runner, given that you’re keeping to a strict time limit and even the skateboard power up – don’t ask why a seemingly prehistoric cave child has a skateboard – gives it an auto-scrolling feel. It’s addictive, but basic – though perhaps that’s why it’s so compelling, because it has that mid-80s arcade immediacy – and it has one of the top three arcade earworm soundtracks of all time (yep, right alongside Bubble Bobble and Pac Land for me – indelibly imprinted on my brain).

Wonder Boy itself comes in six flavours: arcade original, SG-1000, Sega Mark III, Master System and two different Game Gear versions (one named Revenge of Drancon, for some reason). Of the console versions, the Master System is the one I’m most familiar with and is my favourite – but it’s very hard to beat the arcade original.

It’s a similar situation with sequel Wonder Boy in Monster Land; two arcade versions (Japan and worldwide), then a Sega Mark III version and Master System. As the game that convinced me I NEEDED a Master System when I played it at the arcade, there’s no surprises for guessing which game on the collection really tickles my nostalgia bones more than any other.

Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap/Monster World II isn’t the next game on the menu, despite being, chronologically in game lore, the next game in the series. It starts, very cleverly, with the final level of Wonder Boy in Monster Land – before taking players on a very different adventure; it’s an early example of what we now call a Metroidvania. It comes in four flavours: Japanese Mark III and Game Gear, then worldwide versions on Master System and Game Gear. All are superb.

Chronologically in real world release order – and on the menu – next up is Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair, which is an action platformer/scrolling shoot ’em up hybrid. This one has an arcade version and its Mega Drive/Genesis version on the collection. It’s not a bad game at all – and it certainly looks the part – but it’s an odd departure from the norm and isn’t entirely my cup of tea.

Wonder Boy in Monster World aka Monster World III has Mega Drive (Japan), Genesis (US) and Master System versions; this one is a great evolution of the Monster Land/Dragon’s Trap style of platform adventuring. It made great use of the 16-bit hardware and is a gorgeous game to this day, thanks to its wonderful pixel art style. It even featured game saves, whereas the series relied on passwords or simply starting from scratch prior to Monster World III!

Lastly, we have Monster World IV – a game which not only dropped Wonder Boy from the title, but also from the game itself – it features a female protagonist named Asha! It’s another classic game with a beautiful art style and a unique (for the series) Arabian aesthetic.

It’s an absolutely unmissable collection for fans of the series. It also features save states, rewinds and remappable controls across all games too; additionally, the brilliant level maps that can be explored from the main menu are one of the most helpful – and even aesthetically pleasing to just explore – features.

An art gallery of various elements – box art, manuals and more up to date art featured in this very collection – is another lovely bonus.

Seeing each reproduced page of the game manuals really drives home just how much we’ve lost in recent years, with the move away from physical literature.

All in all, it’s a great collection that features versions of games which many Wonder Boy fans may well have missed out on in the past; to have them all at our fingertips with added quality of life improvements and even beautiful digital reproductions of game art and documentation means that this is a genuinely essential collection not just for Wonder Boy fans but also retro gamers who have yet to become acquainted with the caveman/swordsman/dragon man in his prime.

Wonder Boy Collection is out now on PS4, PS5 and Switch (version tested). Many thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy for review purposes.

Enjoyed what you’ve read? Want to support my blog? There’s no pressure of course, but every penny helps to keep this site running, as I earn no income from my writing here (though I may earn small fees from affiliate links posted on my pages).

However, I’d be truly grateful for any support that you could offer – and it’s easy to do so at either of these links: Ko-Fi.com/geekmid or PayPal.

Any donations are truly appreciated – and I also appreciate you taking the time to read my articles. Thank you so much!

Help support me here!

All donations are gratefully received and will help me keep the lights on here – as well as help to keep my writing dream alive! Please be aware though: there’s no pressure. I just hope you’ve enjoyed reading my article!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s