How Metroidvania is it? High Fit. Monster Boy in the Cursed Kingdom is far less linear than earlier games in its franchise, with a much higher emphasis on going back to old areas to discover new things.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~15 hours
Review Info: This game was played on Steam
Buy Monster Boy in the Cursed Kingdom if you like…
- The Wonder Boy Series
- Puzzle Platforming
- A Variety of Characters to Play
- Gorgeous Animated Graphics
▼ Review continues below ▼
The Wonder Boy series is back with Monster Boy in the Cursed Kingdom, which is for all intents and purposes a true sequel rather than just a spiritual successor. While the series has never been about a cohesive story that you have to play the games in order to understand, numerous references to the previous games suggesting that it’s in the same universe are present. Much of the music and visual style is there as well, and it’s never looked or sounded better. If you’ve played the Dragon’s Trap remake, a lot of the music will sound very familiar, and if you’ve played any of the other Wonder Boy games you’ll enjoy other updated remixes as well. The cartoon presentation lavishes the background and foreground with beautiful eye candy, making Monster Boy the most visually welcoming game of the bunch, and thankfully the gameplay matches the same quality.
Previous Wonder Boy games relied heavily on linear hallways with lines of monsters you had to slog through, but as you’d expect from the premise, Monster Boy takes after The Dragon’s Trap with a puzzle platforming focus, and then magnifies it into a very engaging 15 hour game. Every time you get a new form you’re presented with numerous puzzles that require the form’s unique abilities, and then shortly thereafter you’re required to mix in your older forms. The gradual building on old mechanics and introducing new ones keeps everything fresh and interesting all the way until the final dungeon. It might seem like you spend a little too much time as a pig at the beginning, but the weakness of that form only highlights how much fun each subsequent form is, and by the end of the game you feel like an incredible power-house with an animal shape available to match any challenge.
It’s not just the animal forms that make Monster Boy’s challenges novel; you’re also given a plethora of armor and weapon options that introduce even more mechanics you can enjoy. You’ll be putting on different shoes and equipping different weapons just as much as you’ll be changing into different monsters. I think it’s best to go into the game relatively blind to what it has to offer, so I won’t list too many examples direct examples here, but it suffices me to say that it’s all very well done. The game design principle of teaching the player how things work before challenging them is closely adhered to, and while not every puzzle is at the top of the genre, you’ll always be able to look forward to something new around the corner.
The combat is less clunky than the series’ previous games (as one would hope 25 years later), but it’s still clunky enough that it retains that old school feel – which some might consider a weakness for the game. However, enemy and boss challenges are all designed with your character’s limitations in mind. Regular baddies are the typical obstacles you’d expect from a game like this, and you’re given plenty of weapon and spell options to deal with the ones just out of reach. The bosses are “Zelda-like” where they have some kind of puzzle to solve, letting you deal massive damage, rather than just being a case where you hit it with your sword until it dies. While finding new equipment is an emphasis in this game, the difference in scale isn’t huge, so most challenges can be faced with the bare-minimum load out and still be feasible. Players looking for a strong twitchy combat challenge won’t find it here, but anyone looking for a fun and engaging experience that’s just challenging enough won’t be disappointed.
While the core game is incredibly well-designed, it gets stifled just a little bit near the end of the game when you’re absolutely required to get some of the collectables hidden in the world. It’s somewhat similar to what Metroid Prime does with the Chozo Artifacts, except unlike Metroid Prime an astute player can find many of the hidden artifacts very early in the game (I actually had all of the required ones by the time it was told to me that I needed them.) The game overloads the player with the number of optional pickups available, however. The ultimate equipment for instance almost feels padded with everything that is required. There are 4 armor set pieces, with each of them requiring you to find 5 pieces to construct them. Then, you have to find upgrade materials to get the most out of them, leaving you with 25 hidden areas to discover to get fully equipped – and that’s if you happen to have all the gold you need to pay the blacksmith. If you don’t (aka you spent too much money on potions or refilling spells) you’re probably going to have to grind.
If you’re missing a lot of secrets you may have a relatively tedious experience if you feel like going to get them. The main reason for this is that the levels are all designed around the puzzle platforming, and while most of the puzzles are left solved when you enter old areas, you still have to snake your way around level architecture to move from point A to point B, which gets tiresome in repetition. Exacerbating this problem is the number of chests that give a paltry amount of gold – while gold is important, it’s too often not much more than you’d get by killing a few monsters. If you spent your limited resources on the in-game hint system to reveal the location of the treasure box, this can be disappointing and frustrating. Even more, some of the better secrets are hidden behind challenges that probably should have been left on the cutting room floor – which is really a shame since up to the final couple of hours of the game Monster Boy is a total A+ experience. It’s not enough to leave a horrible taste in my mouth, but it did sour what was an almost perfect experience up to that point.
“Almost Perfect” is still pretty dang good though, and Monster Boy in the Cursed Kingdom certainly deserves to be nearer to the top of anyone’s list of favorite Metroidvania games if the Wonder Boy series comes closer to your preferences. It’s large and robust, it’s family friendly, and most of all, it just has a lot of pure fun to offer.
While not as tight as the genre's other games, it's certainly the best that Wonder Boy has done, and the bosses are designed around the combat's weaknesses
Some fantasic challenges requiring you to run and jump with high precision, but not quite as expertly done as other genre examples
There are so many secrets to find - almost too many. Puzzle Platforming focus dampens the fun of returning to some old areas
Puzzle Platforming is used a lot to keep the flow interesting, with quality that ranges from comparing to the best in the genre to simple repetition of mechanics
The story does its job and is very charming, but it's mostly an excuse to beat up some baddies - usual video game fare
There are a few quirks here and there, but otherwise the presentation is absolutely phenomenal
There are a LOT of remixes of old Wonderboy songs, with some sounding almost exaclty like the ones from the Dragon's Trap remake, but that's not a bad thing at all
The different armor sets offer a little bit of potential variety on subsequent playthroughs, but the breadth of stuff to collect may dissuade some from repeating it
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