The least cynical game I have ever played.
Wonder boy feels like a game that was made to be delightful from start to finish. The animations, characters and environments are exploding with colour and charm. Everything is adorable or funny. It’s such a stark contract to what has been the popular norm.
Lately I’ve been exhausted with how cynical and pointlessly negative 99 percent of the social media and ‘woke’ content actually is. Think of any artist/content maker that jumped to being a political comedian, throwing low effort, witless sarcasm around. Where challenge to their tone will elicit an insistence that these topics are important and what’s going on in the world. A kind of self fulfilling prophecy happens here – where everything is terrible, because that’s what everyone says.
Same with edginess or grit. How many platformers have we about depression or sadness or death? (Gris, Limo, Blasphemous, Hollow Knight to name a few). How many FPS’s are Call of Duty violence advertisments, whose implicit attitude is that if a solution to any problem isn’t related to out right violence, then you are clearly a fucking idiot that doesn’t live in the ‘real’ world.
Or the cute, pixelated games/shows that have charming animated characters, that of course are foul mouthed, violent or are overtly sexual. ‘Isn’t it funny! Cartoons aren’t meant to have adult content!’ A spin that has been old since the eighties.
Wonderboy has none of this.
Wonder boy has beautiful colour, animations and what I think is one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a long time. Just like the look of the game, the music is whimsical and fun, even when it gets serious it is still catchy and appropriate. For the want of a better description it sounds very ‘French’ (which would make sense as the developers ‘Lizardcube’ are based in France)
The setup is that you are the titular Wonder boy (or girl), who begins the game fighting a mecha dragon. When defeated, mecha dragon curses Wonder boy/girl by turning him/her into a Lizard. The rest of the game sees you adventuring through various different themed stages, trying to find a way to undo the curse.
You fight another dragon at the end of each 2 or 3 stages – at which point the curse changes. For example, the aquatic form allows you traverse water easier and reach previously inaccessible areas (similar to Metroid). The bird form allows access to higher areas, a mouse for small spaces and so on.
Wonderboy is a platformer, and in this regard I would say it is ‘fine’. I would love if the platforming itself was as fun as every other aspect, but the platforming is pretty standard – though still enjoyable.
There are the occasional frustrations though, such as punishing checkpoints that set you back up to 2 stages or so when you die. This becomes most frustrating with bosses, as hitting them is far from consistent. You will likely die on the first attempt if you do not have full health to survive and learn the pattern.
You mainly attack with swords, and block projectiles with your shield. You can purchase armor and weapon upgrades, while special variants are found in the world. Some of these are ridiculously hidden (which I only found out online). Some can be expensive to the point that grinding gold is required. Such expensive armor will be needed, as there are some stages where enemies hit so hard that it’s incredibly difficult to reach the boss with enough health.
But in the end it was worth it for me. Wonder boy felt good enough to play that I could see it through completey. The music, visuals, animations, and straight up spirit had me smiling until the end.
It’s a short game too. Even with the punishing check points the game took about 5 and half hours. As soon as you have explored each form you are onto the final battle. Nothing is stretched.
There is little in terms of story. Uncurse yourself by fighting dragons. It’s as simple a concept as you can get. The only dialogue comes from 2 merchants you encounter, a nurse and a cigarette smoking pig.
Innocence is the term that comes to mind when I remember my playthrough. Wonder boy is with pure innocent fun rarely felt in the adult world of pointless cynicism.