When you see a venerated video game series get rebooted or remastered, the hope is always that it can somehow manage to capture what made the original source material special – or at the very least pay homage to it well enough that fans will get excited. But Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom from Game Atelier goes one better. It’s not just an encapsulation of the magic behind the complex Wonder Boy series – it takes the formula and massively improves it.
The game begins with hero Jin fishing on a dock when some explosions rock his world. Then Jin’s uncle comes careening through the sky with a mad look about him. After giving chase, you discover that he’s been wreaking havoc with some untapped magic and has turned the denizens of Monster World into a bunch of anthropomorphic animals… before promptly turning you into one as well. What follows is a massive platforming adventure with light role-playing elements, clever stage design and one of the most infectious presentations I’ve seen in a long while.
At first blush you might assume this game falls into the Metroidvania genre, but Monster Boy operates in such a different way that I wouldn’t necessarily categorize it under that heading. Although you discover different items that help you along and a variety of animal transformations that change the gameplay, there’s little in the way of sections that bar your progress until you get a certain ability, and little need for backtracking. Monster World is laid out on a beautiful map, but it isn’t as open as it appears, instead feeling like a massive collections of levels strung together by a town hub. This isn’t a bad thing in the slightest; in fact I’d say it was to this game’s benefit, as it made everything feel snappy and kept the pace going in such a way that you don’t feel hamstrung by backtracking or power-up hunting.
What Monster Boy does so wonderfully is to create a bunch of set pieces that require deft platforming, satisfying combat and a good amount of puzzling to work your way through. You begin the game as a pig with the ability to sniff out clues, but you quickly find yourself with a literal zoo of unique and equally useful transformations. There’s a snake form, which is good for going into small places, a frog with a tongue that’s useful in traversal, a flying dragon body with an obviously useful move set and a sturdy lion with a helpful charge. The game does a great job of acclimating you to these different abilities, then ushering in situations where you’ll have to use multiple transformations to get through. These situations don’t feel organic, which is why I’m reticent to call this a Metroidvania, but they are nonetheless gratifying and smartly designed.
They only true hang up I have with Monster Boy in the Cursed Kingdom is that inventory management can be a bit of a chore, with the need to pause and scroll through radial menus – but it wasn’t anywhere near as meddlesome as, say, changing to the iron boots in Ocarina of Time. I just found myself getting so swept up in the moment that having to pause the action felt like a disappointment. Luckily, you can shut off the radial menus when choosing power-ups/forms in-game, and instead cycle through them with the triggers and shoulder buttons.
I’ve played my fair share of Wonder Boy games, but they often lost me halfway through because of their obtuseness or difficulty spikes. Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, however, with its large world, fun character powers and cute visual style, is not only a grandiose adventure, but also infectious and entertaining from front to back.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is available for PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC. We reviewed the Switch version.
Disclosure statement: Review code for Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom was provided by FDG Entertainment. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.
Follow A Most Agreeable Pastime on Twitter: @MostAgreeable