Review – Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom

I had the chance to test Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom back at E3 2018, and was really impressed by what little I could play. It looked and sounded great, but I really wanted to know if the entire game would wow me as that brief E3 demo. What I can finally say after playing Monster Boy as a whole is that, while I was expecting it to be a very good game, I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it turned out to be. This is a gem.

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This is the cutest fake Lion-O I’ve ever seen.

Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is, for all intents and purposes, a sequel to the 1989 Sega Master System classic hit Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, despite the different name and the fact it started off as a Kickstarter sequel to a game called Flying Hamster. It looks like Wonder Boy, it plays like Wonder Boy, and most importantly, it sounds like Wonder Boy, thanks in large part to a soundtrack comprised of both new and classic tunes from the franchise. People like Motoi Sakuraba, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night‘s Michiru Yamane, and the video game soundtrack god himself, Yuzo Koshiro, have all composed and rearranged tracks for the game’s score. I couldn’t have asked for a better team of composers myself.

Another thing that really impressed me was how beautiful Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom looks. Yes, I had already seen the game’s visuals at E3, but now that I had the chance of playing through more levels, all of them featuring varied backgrounds as well as more beautifully crafted NPCs and enemies. While this is a really cliché thing to say, I can’t think of a better way to describe Monster Boy‘s visuals: it feels like you are playing a cartoon. Between this game’s visuals and the fantastic graphics featured on last year’s remake of Wonder Boy III, I think I actually prefer Monster Boy‘s by a very slight margin.

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Another kraken in a 2018 game.

So I guess that when it comes to its artistic department, Monster Boy knocks it out of the park. But games are also comprised of gameplay, right? Thankfully enough, Monster Boy is still very fun to play.

For those who don’t know, the Wonder Boy games (and as a result, Monster Boy) can basically be described as the OG metroidvania titles. You explore a somewhat large 2D open world, looking for keys, hidden items, and defeating bosses in order to gain new magic powers and transformations for your main character. Some of the forms you can acquire include a pig that can literally locate hidden secrets scattered throughout the map with its powerful sense of smell and a frog that can use its tongue as a grappling hook in order to reach previously inaccessible platforms. You can combine those forms with spells and weapons like thunderbolts and boomerangs as well.

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A subtle nod to past Wonder Boy protagonists. Gotta love this tribute!

The level design is great and so is the game’s progression. Thanks to its simple yet kind-hearted plot and an often fair difficulty curve, Monster Boy rarely feels like a burden. I did say “often fair” as the beginning of the game can be a bit harsh on newcomers since your character starts off with a really small health bar and can sustain very little damage. The collision detection can sometimes feel a bit off-putting, especially when you’re in unarmed pig form. The pig attacks with its fists and their range is pathetic.

Those are minor issues in what’s an overall excellent package. Monster Boy surpassed my already high expectations thanks to its great visuals, fantastic soundtrack, and entertaining proto-metroidvania gameplay. You don’t need to be a fan of the franchise in order to enjoy this game. It oozes charm and its gameplay is accessible enough that anyone with a tiny bit of experience in side-scrolling platformers and a bit of patience (you’ll die easily in the beginning) can definitely enjoy it. In the final weeks of 2018, Monster Boy showed up as an eleventh hour addition to the pantheon of the best indies of the year and one of my favorite games I played this year as well.

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This is a friendly reminder: kids, don’t drink and bewitch.

By the way, did you really think I was forgetting about Monster Boy‘s fantastic intro cutscene? Nope! I just think it’s better for everyone to watch it, as words and comments alone can’t describe how good that intro is.

 

Graphics: 9.5

Beautiful hand-drawn graphics with an anime vibe, featuring a great usage of colors and fantastic animations. It really does feel like you are playing a cartoon.

Gameplay: 8.5

A simple and mostly responsive control scheme borrowed from older Wonder Boy titles. I have some gripes regarding collision detection, as well as the convoluted equipment menus.

Sound: 10

A combination of classic Wonder Boy tunes, as well as a few new ones, all composed and/or arranged by an all-star team of Japanese game composers.

Fun Factor: 9.0

Thanks to its charming production values, excellent level design and a few somewhat challenging sections, Monster Boy rarely gets boring.

Final Verdict: 9.0

Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is available now on PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.
A copy of Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom was provided by the publisher.

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