the classic Wonder Boy series returns
Game Atelier has come a long way since its 2010 game Flying Hamster, a frenzied horizontal shooter for mobile which saw players take control of, you guessed it, a flying hamster! Since then the studio has developed numerous titles embracing a love of creative cartoon-ish art centred around joyous gameplay.
Take a cursory glance at Monster Boy And The Cursed Kingdom and you’d be forgiven for assuming it’s just another cutesy game ported over from mobile, but at its core this is an action platformer that celebrates a beloved heritage while maintaining a contemporary presentation. Starting off with an arcade release in 1986, it didn’t take long before a slew of home console variants saw a mass platform release, so it’s fitting that the current team worked in cooperation with original creator Ryuichi Nishizawa.
Monster Boy is still a traditional side-scrolling platformer with a heavy focus on exploration, but it adds a traditional RPG-style inventory. The colourful but dated pixel art has been replaced by a rich cartoon presentation and, in a nice touch, animations skip frames in an intentional and authentic Japanese style. While the presentation won’t reach the heights of Rayman Legends’ stunning art style, the visuals on show do hold their own charm as befits the series’ Eastern origins.
Players control hero Jin, assisted at times by his brother Zeke, in a quest to collect the legendary five orbs to defeat their manic Uncle Nabu who has cursed the kingdom. The journey the duo must face is littered with as many puzzles as there are environments to traverse. Some puzzles require a fair bit of trial and error but the game does a suitable job of tutoring players along the way. It’s a clever mix that rewards the inquisitive as gameplay is fun and fluid. Jumps never require serious precision, but reaching secret areas will require thinking outside the box.
Jin’s progress relies on acquiring sacred orbs that grant the ability to change form. You can change into Pig-man, Frog-man, Snake-man, Lionman and the all-powerful Dragon-man. Each possesses unique abilities that bolster Jin’s standard walk, crouch and jump repertoire.
On top of the form abilities, spells can be found along the way and are usually paramount to unlocking areas as well as defeating specific enemy types. Elixirs and potions are available for purchase in exchange for collected coins, as well as recovery hearts and spell refills. Shops appear frequently throughout, meaning players will never be short on supplies. Added to this, blacksmith upgrades can be sought and offer the ability to strengthen an armour set, but gold parts require gathering in order to forge key pieces.
Backtracking is a big part of this interconnected world and it’s easy to feel stuck, but pay careful attention to the surroundings and remember this is more Metroid than Mario, as the developers have designed a game that demands a type of ‘smart play’. Music is as fun and energetic as the graphics, and composer Takeshi Yanagawa provides a soundtrack that perfectly complements the playful nature of the visuals.
It all adds up to a beautiful mix of cute characters and charming encounters which will sing to the soul.
Monster Boy is a game that exudes fun through exploration and will appeal to the boy/girl/child in all of us.
“A mix of cute characters and charming encounters”
left Reaching item chests can require players to return to a location via a less than obvious path.