Our next game is another arcade port, a Super Mario-style platformer that actually has an interesting story behind it. Wonderboy was originally developed by Escape and published by Sega, who then brought it home on the Master System. However Hudson Soft also wanted to bring a version to the Famicom/NES but Sega somehow owned the rights to the character. So Hudson kept the gameplay intact but reworked some of the sprites and characters (especially the protagonist) and brought the NES version out as Adventure Island. I’m going to say right out that Adventure Island and Wonderboy are pretty much the exact same game other than the graphic edits, but of course it’s the Sega cart we’ll focus on here.
As I mentioned this is you basic 1980’s platormer as you take control a blonde-haired islander named Tom-Tom who’s out to rescue his lady Tanya from an evil witch doctor. Each of the eight rounds is divided into four stages, including forests, caves, ice caverns and others, all of which is crawling with creepies and obstacles standing in your way. The enemies can kill you with one touch (except for small rocks which just trip you up, often into a hazard) and you have no natural defenses. Fortunately you can crack open eggs littered along your path to find your only weapon, a hatchet which you toss at your foes to knock them out. You can also obtain a skateboard which can speed you through the level and also absorbs one hit from your foes, as well as an an angel who will grant you temporary invincibility, letting you tear through anything in your path (even fires). However during the action you have to keep an eye on your stamina bar which acts as the timer; it slowly ticks off as you dash through the levels and you need to reach the end before it runs out. Luckily fruit appears in the air and you can snag them to replenish your vitality bar, apparently keeping you from starving to death or something. Just don’t crack open a spotted egg, or you’ll release a ghost that depletes your bar rapidly. At the end of each round a boss is waiting to throw fireballs at you and you have to throw hatchets back at its head. Score enough hits to knock the head off and boss flies away to meet you in the next level, even sporting a new head for the next encounter.
If you’ve seen the arcade original, you’ll be impressed how close this port is. The graphics are a slight downgrade but the stages are still vibrant and colorful and the sprites have some nice details, though there is quite a bit of flicker and breakup at certain points. They’re definitely better than Adventure Island’s somewhat flat visuals. The background music is somewhat pleasant to listen to and pretty catchy, though most of the stages use the same tune and only the boss stages have different music.
While Wonderboy is a solid enough title, the game doesn’t feature much outside the standard platformer formula and it isn’t even long before some repetitiveness sets in. You see the same few types of environments over and over and each time you encounter it there’s very little variation in the enemies and obstacles, or even the layout. Even the boss fights are just about the same except for the different heads. The controls work fine and even uses a NES-style layout so those familiar with Nintendo platforms will be able to dive right in. Unfortunately your character can’t jump very high or very far unless you hold the run button down at the same time, which can get a little clunky at times. Tom-Tom also tends to slip at times, causing you to slide into enemies or off ledges into pits. Still the gameplay is enjoyable and never really gets frustrating even with the one-hit deaths. Each level has a number of checkpoints to respawn from and you get unlimited continues (though you start at the beginning of the level) without having to find a hidden item and use a special code like the NES game.
So the bottom line is Wonderbody isn’t the best platformer on the Master System, due to its slight repetiveness and control issues, not to mention the game has since been surpassed by later arcade-like releases. Even the Wonderboy sequels add their own special features to the platformer formula, though it almost makes them an enitrely different game but we’ll touch on them eventually. Still Wonderboy does provide some nice classic arcade action, and it’ll entertain those willing to give it a shot. Wonderboy isn’t a wunderkid but it’s still worth a playthrough or two.