Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection
Last year, we took a look at the Wonder Boy Collection, which included the first four main titles in the Wonder Boy series. Some titles, like Monster World 4 made their Western debut in this collection after its remake, Wonder Boy Asha In Monster World, released in 2021. In the original review, I mentioned that while the core games in the Wonder Boy series were included, there were several games missing largely due to naming conventions and release order. The release of the Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection seeks to remedy this in many ways. The first is by including almost every single port from every Wonder Boy title, including the SG-1000, Game Gear, Master System, and Mega Drive. The second is by including two missing games from the previous collection.
The Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection includes Wonder Boy 3: Monster's Lair and Wonder Boy The Dragon's Trap also known as Monster World 2 in Japan. Wonder Boy 3: Monster's Lair and Wonder Boy The Dragon's Trap are the two new non-port titles included in the Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection, which were largely omitted in the previous collection. I've mentioned the confusion in naming conventions before but in short, Monster's Lair and The Dragon's Trap were the third and fourth games in the series respectively. Here is the total game list, as featured in the Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection main menu in release order. Whatever is in bold is exclusive to the Anniversary Collection.
- Wonder Boy
- Wonder Boy in Monster Land
- Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair
- Monster World II (Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap)
- Monster World III (Wonder Boy in Monster World)
- Monster World IV
One thing I realized is that despite each game being a part of the Wonder Boy franchise, the series is split into two sub-series, Wonder Boy and Monster World. Monster Land is considered to be the "first" in the Monster World series, followed by Monster World 2 on the Sega Master System, Monster World 3, and Monster World 4, both on the Sega Mega Drive.
The original Wonder Boy and Wonder Boy 3: Monster Lair are the only two games from the main Wonder Boy series to feature the original side-scrolling gameplay. Later games bearing "Monster World" in the title are considered some of the original "Action RPG" titles, at least done in a way far better than Castlevania 2 ever did.
Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair
Released in 1988, two years after the original Wonder Boy, Wonder Boy 3 retains the same gameplay of the original with polished quality of life changes. As with the original, there's a health bar that doubles as a timer that decreases over time. Getting hit by the enemy will also cause the bar to decrease, losing a player's life if it goes down to zero. Eating food hidden throughout the levels will restore the player's health and power-ups will increase the player's attack power. While there aren't any skateboards to increase the player's movement speed, each level is split into two halves.
The first half is on foot, with the player able to move forward and backward, jump, and avoid deadly traps. The second half always consists of a horizontal shoot-em-up, in which a boss awaits the player at the end. I prefer this method of fighting bosses than the original as it gives the player freedom of movement. In the late 1980s, the shoot-em-up genre was booming and this was Sega's way of stealthily getting a piece of the pie while keeping the Wonder Boy formula. The game received a Mega Drive version that retains most of the arcade gameplay but in a 16-bit package, complete with the iconic Genesis/Mega Drive soundboard. While the arcade version is superior, the console version is a charming port of the arcade gameplay.
Monster World II
Imagine a random introduction to a video game. Now, picture starting a game in a dungeon, with very little explanation of your purpose, as you fight headless skeletons, ogres, and snakes. As you venture, you discover the scenery changes into something that looks like Metroid, and suddenly! Your first-ever boss fight is against something that looks like a Dragonzord from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Upon defeating the dragon, you turn into a dragon yourself! But now you have to escape the crumbling tower as you make your way into a village and shortly after you're traveling along a beach. Still as a dragon, mind.
This is how Monster World 2 begins and honestly, for a Master System title, I was impressed. I didn't know how I turned into a dragon, I wasn't sure how to turn back to a human, and even after I lost a life I was still a dragon. This game borrows elements from the rest of the "Monster World" sub-series including the ability to transform into the monsters themselves. Later games would polish this mechanic with others, like Monster World 4, omitting this altogether in lieu of a monster companion. There is a Game Gear version which almost feels like a completely different game. This was commonplace for Game Gear handheld ports, but the introduction to Monster World 2 remained the most humorous.
Everything Else Is A Novelty
As charming as it is to play the console version of the original Wonder Boy, the two additions above makes the Anniversary Collection the definitive collection. This leads to a peculiar dilemma for owners of the Wonder Boy Collection as there's not much in the way of new content in comparison. If this is your first purchase, I absolutely recommend picking up the Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection as there's almost no reason to purchase the previous version. Players who buy both will essentially purchase four of the same games twice and it's up to the player if it's worth it.
Wonder Boy fans will get mileage out of owning the Anniversary collection, especially the physical editions via Strictly Limited Games. If you're not a physical collector or a Wonder Boy enthusiast, I'd consider picking this one up on sale if you already own the previous collection. Everyone else who is curious about the Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection should absolutely pick this one up.
Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection is now available on the Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation 4, and Sony PlayStation 5. This review was made possible courtesy of ININ Games and Bliss Brain.