E3 Hands-on – Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom
Some of you might remember my review of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap for the Switch, a great remake of the original Sega Master System game. The game was gorgeous and had a great soundtrack, but it was for the most part, just a visual revamp of the original game which, granted, was relatively ahead of its time. The Dragon’s Trap didn’t bring anything new to the table: it was a great way to bring the dormant franchise back to relevance, but that was it.
Enter Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, developed by Game Atelier and published by FDG Entertainment. Designed as a spiritual successor to the previous Wonder Boy games, I would actually remove the “spiritual” from it. From what I could play from it at the Sega booth at E3 2018 (Sega is actually distributing the physical versions of the game), it felt like a brand new sequel to the dormant franchise, complete with great visuals, soundtrack and revamped gameplay, all while being true to its predecessors.
Much like other Wonder Boy games, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a 2D platformer with heavy metroidvania elements and a huge focus on character transformations. Instead of just being a visual revamp, the game brings the franchise to the 21st century with small but noticeable improvements to its gameplay, all while retaining the core visual, sound, and gameplay elements of the series. You can now change your forms anywhere you want to, drastically reducing the amount of backtracking present in previous games. Some of the new forms include a frog whose tongue acts like a grappling hook and a pig with heightened smelling abilities. The game is also full of hidden items and easter eggs, just like a retro platformer should. I found little to no issues with the gameplay: surely, the hit detection can be a bit faulty at times, but the simple combat was effective, the jumping was responsive, and the level design was on point. The one boss battle I had the opportunity of trying out against a huge squid, was also very entertaining.
The best aspects of the demo were the visuals and soundtrack. I felt like I was playing an actual anime thanks to the game’s absolutely gorgeous visuals. The Dragon’s Trap felt like a drawing, Monster Boy feels like a cartoon. A lot of praise needs to be given to the soundtrack as well, a fantastic mix between older songs from the Wonder Boy games and new, equally catchy tunes. The soundtrack is being composed by a team of big names of the industry including, but not limited to, Yuzo Koshiro (Streets of Rage), Michiru Yamane (Suikoden, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) and Haruka Shimotsuki (Etrian Odyssey IV).
I loved my time with Monster Boy. While the remake of The Dragon’s Trap did a good job of bringing the franchise back to prominence, the very little I could experience of The Cursed Kingdom showed Game Atelier and FDG Entertainment are keen on moving forward, with subtle but effective additions to the gameplay and an excellent blend of classical and modern gameplay. Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom was one of the best hidden gems I had the opportunity of testing at E3 2018.