I’m a sucker for a really good retro game compilation. At this point, they’re so prolific that it’s no long about nostalgia, but instead about the sheer appreciation that someone out there is willing to collect, catalog and re-release gaming’s history. That being said, because there are so many of them, the novelty has faded, and now there are expectations about not just the games included in a collection, but also the presentation and ease of use. At this point I’ve seen it all, from sterling examples with more bells, whistles and production artwork than you have time to parse, to lazy ports that barely function, let alone have any quality of life features.
Where does the Wonder Boy Collection belong on the scale? Let’s talk about the games included, then their presentation, and we’ll see where they rank, shall we?
Wonder Boy (1986)
First up is the eponymous Wonder Boy, a subtle variation on the then-burgeoning platforming genre that begat so many offshoots and sequels it’s truly hard to fully grasp its multi-branched history. No, seriously, it’ll hurt your brain!
The original Wonder Boy has you racing through levels while avoiding and/or destroying foes and collecting fruit. Because this is an arcade title, rather than giving you a traditional timer, instead your life bar will continuously tick away unless you keep moving AND nosh on some flora. In many ways this feels like a precursor to endless runners, not so much in overall design, but in the fact that you must keep going no matter what. Don’t want to waste your coin, now do you?
Wonder Boy in Monster Land (1987)
Wonder Boy in Monster Land is the black sheep of the family. Much like Zelda II, it very much feels like a stopgap between the simplistic design of the original game and the exploratory (fine, Metroidvania!) stylings of later games.
It’s still linear by design, meaning that you go from level to level, but you do curious things like level up, buy gear and visit shops or bars. It’s weird not because it tries to do something different, but in that it wants you to explore and fight enemies to earn gold for power-ups… but on a timer. If that all sounds antithetical… well, it is.
It’s a neat experiment that’s easier to grok thanks to save states, but it’s best appreciated for its link in an evolutionary chain than perhaps as an actual game.
Wonder Boy in Monster World (1991)
Beyond Adventure Island (don’t ask!), my first true dalliance with this series was with the Genesis/Mega Drive game Wonder Boy in Monster World. This game takes the route that the series would become known for by getting you acclimated with your warrior and leading you to a town/hub, then branching out into other stages.
It feels a little regressive compared with the previous game because you don’t get to swap between animal forms, and it has some extremely obtuse and poorly explained moments, but it’s still very playable. More importantly, it’s filled with a lot of the charm that pulled me into the clutches of original developer Westone’s fandom.
Monster World IV (1994)
Monster World IV is perhaps the pinnacle of the series. Everything about it seems to gel: the look, the progression and the learning curve. Rather than mince a lot of words I’ll point you in the direction of our review of the remake, which is the same game in fancy sheep’s clothing. Here’s a quick summary, though – it’s good.
For as fun as all these games are in their own right, they also highlight that this is by no means a comprehensive package. It’s a nice package for those looking to dabble in the series a bit, but it’s missing quite a few gems that could have given players more bang for their buck. I was also a little disappointed by how utilitarian the overall UI is, almost bordering on feeling like you’re using a sketchy ROM emulator. It works for what it is, but it lacks the kind of pizazz that’ll get you in the mood to play through these games.
Even though the wrapping is a little lackluster, Wonder Boy Collection is a solid entry-point to this quirky, meandering and endlessly charming series.
Wonder Boy Collection is published by ININ Games and Bliss Brain, and it’s available on PS4 and Switch. We played the Switch version.
Disclosure statement: review code for Wonder Boy Collection was provided by PR Hound. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.