After obsessing over The Ninja, attempting to complete it and then doing just that, I found myself in a void, unsure what to play next on the Master System. I tried a few different games but nothing satisfied me the way that game did, nothing that I felt was worth devoting the same amount of effort. Wonder Boy finally got me out of that rut.
Like many of the Master System games I’ve played thus far, Wonder Boy originated as an arcade game. Developed by Escape and published by Sega in 1986, it was a vibrant and accessible platformer that compared favorably to Super Mario Bros., which released half a year earlier. Naturally, Sega ported it to their fledgling home console, where it appeared in 1987. Playing it for the first time all these years later, I found it to be a charming and enjoyable experience, despite uneven difficulty.
Playing as Tom-Tom, the blonde-haired wunderkind himself, I ran and jumped through roughly forty enemy-infested stages, intent on rescuing Tanya, his kidnapped girlfriend. As I’m want to do with this style of game, I held the run button and proceeded forward with a reckless abandon that resulted in many more deaths had I displayed a sense of caution. With unlimited continues and the ability to begin from any stage, my carelessness wasn’t an issue. In fact, those amenities were exactly what allowed me to reach the end.
Although my sloppy play was problematic, I wouldn’t say the game was overly difficult, but it wasn’t a cakewalk, either. Instead, it was a mishmash of unevenly paced stages where I’d breeze through one only to spend dozens of lives on the next. In the latter instances, enemy and obstacle placement was implemented deviously. Misjudging a jump and landing with too much momentum often meant sliding into a situation that left me with one less life. This forced me to slow down and tackle these stages one obstacle at a time. More accurately, I was required to adapt to Tom-Tom.
Regarding momentum, I often found myself with a lot of it. Each platform game has its own “feel” and this game was no different. Using the precision and responsiveness of Mario in Super Mario Bros. as a benchmark, controlling Tom-Tom felt a little imprecise, floaty, and too reliant on momentum; in other words, he played like Luigi. Although these character traits aren’t my preference when it comes to platformers, the stages and obstacles were designed with them in mind. Accordingly, the game feels “right,” and if a platformer can accomplish that, there’s little else that needs to be said.
I’m not walking away from Wonder Boy with the same level of admiration that I had for The Ninja, but it proved to be a solid follow-up. In short, I thought it was a well-designed platformer with an uneven difficulty. I encountered many occurrences of slowdown when the action ramped up although it wasn’t so egregious that I felt anything more than this statement was warranted. Likewise, the audio/visual qualities exuded a charm that wasn’t diminished in the translation to a less-capable platform, technically speaking. All-in-all, it was an enjoyable playthrough and a worthy platformer for any Master System collection.