Lizardcube’s Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap isn’t the first remake of the 1989 side-scroller Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap (see Dragon’s Curse), but it’s certainly the most striking, as players can switch between original and brand-new audiovisuals at any point during the game. The developer goes beyond mere attention to the historical change from pixels to high-definition animation: With separate buttons for transforming graphics and sound, comparing the past to the present by way of, say, combining old visuals with modern audio becomes something close to an avant-garde experience.
The Dragon’s Trap’s plot and action haven’t changed in this remake. Players start as a human swordsman in Monster Land, where you fight a mechanical dragon inside a castle, and after defeating this monster, a curse transforms you into a regular dragon that breathes fire. With your humanity a distant memory, you travel to various locations, from a desert to a Japanese temple, to discover secrets and new foes. But there’s a catch. Every time a major guardian is killed, the player is cursed to assume the shape and abilities of another animal: a mouse that can climb certain walls and pass through tight areas; a fish that can swim to previously inaccessible areas; a lion with an attack that strikes both up and down; and a hawk that, of course, can fly.
When it comes to gameplay, these curses are actually a blessing in that they add variety to the adventure. You can only change animal forms in special rooms, so you often must grapple with fresh challenges after a new curse, such as adjusting your distance from enemies so that you can land hits with the shorter reach of the mouse’s knife. The different creatures, though, always give you a different sense of freedom, as when you soar over old foes as the hawk. This dynamic was already present in the Sega Master System original, but the redone visuals offer a type of eye candy that an 8-bit console cannot produce. Previously stiff-looking visuals like the lion’s vertical slash or the opening of a chest become joyous by way of Lizardcube’s animated overhauls.
The developer’s effective renovation of the game’s audio also cannot be overstated. While the original Dragon’s Trap frequently applied the same sound effects, or no sonic distinction at all, to the actions and reactions of multiple sprites, your animal forms and various opponents now have their own audio stamps that increase the intrigue of the action, as when you run down a hall only to stop to listen to the sticky footsteps of walking jack-o’-lanterns. Choosing to play the game with the updated graphics but with the old sound design—when every common enemy, from a frog to a snake, dies to the same repetitive ding—reduces the proceedings to an amusing mismatch of aesthetics, where nostalgia clashes with contemporary sophistication.
At times, swapping out the old and the new can be more fun than conquering any obstacles, which flips the traditional appeal of The Dragon’s Trap on its head. The unusual desire to delay serious advancement of the quest is most tempting when Lizardcube burns down a generic concept and rebuilds it into deconstructive or bizarre comedy. In a reimagined gear store, which was nothing more than a static portrait of the item seller in the 1989 original, the player can spot a radio almost jumping on a shelf in the background, an anachronism that nonetheless explains why the music shifts to a sort of frantic fit after you enter a simple weapons shop. That excited tune also shows up when you visit a nurse for health restoration in the old game, but composer Michael Geyre, playing off the stereotypical depiction of the woman healer, inserts a slower, sultrier rendition of the song.
That musical makeover also complements the newly sexed-up hospital room, complete with a full-body portrayal of the nurse, who crosses her legs and holds in one of her hands what one might consider a relatively large needle if not for the comically huge one that sits nearby in the middle of the room, which is presumably there for some giant who might walk through the door in need of an injection. You can also switch back to the old soundtrack, with the furious riff seemingly accounting for the shaky outlines of your protagonist and female savior. For allowing the player to lap up humorous juxtapositions of classic and modern game elements, Lizardcube has both made The Dragon’s Trap more vibrant and set a fascinating standard for game remakes.