Wonder Boy Returns Remix

2019 is truly the year of the pointless remake. First I had ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove, which did so little to improve the twenty-eight-year-old original that I wonder why they even bothered. And now I’m playing Wonder Boy Returns Remix, which does so little to improve the thirty-three-year-old original that I wonder why they even bothered. I don’t get it. Why would anyone remake a game from the 80s or even the 90s with the same exact levels? Why would fans of the original choose this version over the old one? Presumably, those fans would scoff at modern graphics. And the graphics of Wonder Boy Returns are not that great, to be honest. The style, animation, and even font used for the points when you kill enemies look like they belong to a free browser game designed to advertise car insurance.

I’m certain that Wonder Boy/Adventure Island was good back in the 1980s. The tropical theme is fun. You get to skateboard, and skateboards were big in the 1980s. And it was sort of like Super Mario Bros but not Super Mario Bros, and it was on Sega platforms where there was no Mario, but it was also on the NES where there was a Mario game but you were waiting for another Mario game and anything Mario-like will do. Give me a break, everyone. I’m trying really hard to get myself in the mindset where this game was ever good. Because my play session with it in 2019 was the drizzling shits. It’s so boring. And no matter what else I say after this paragraph, remember that there’s nothing worse a game can do than bore.

The timer is a hold-over from Wonder Boy’s life as an arcade game. It’s there to prevent you from sitting still, drains relatively quickly, and can only be replenished by fruit that spawn out of nowhere. Like the lives system, it no longer services the game.

If you played the 1986 Wonder Boy in arcades, the 1987 Wonder Boy for Sega Master System the 1988 Adventure Island for the NES, the 1990 Revenge of Drancon for Game Gear, and probably twenty thousand more remakes, you’ve played Wonder Boy Returns Remix. I should also probably note that you can play as Wonder Boy’s girlfriend. The girl is reserved exclusively for “practice mode.” Practice in this sense means you can’t take damage from anything (except falling in a pit, which costs you a life), never get off your Vespa, and basically get a free ride to the end of each stage. Because girls suck and they need their hands held. It’s slightly cringey. But what’s really weird is, it’s called “practice” and yet, if you’re really struggling to get past a level on normal, you can’t just jump straight to that level to “practice.” You have to do a full play through with the girl to get all the levels. Her unlocked levels are kept totally separate. Well hell, that’s not practice then. If I’m stuck on level 5 – 2 with the boy and want to “practice it” with the girl, I have to beat every between level 1 – 1 and level 5 – 1 with her. And given that you can’t just run as the girl and you apparently MUST use the Vespa (which is functionally the same as the skateboard), it’s ESPECIALLY not practice. There’s no bosses, so it’s REALLY REALLY REALLY not practice. It’s just patronizingly easy mode, starring a girl, because girls are helpless.

And yes, I’ve been abusing save states in the same way Kevin Spacey has abused age of consent laws while playing classic Castlevania games for the last week, but hey, I beat Cuphead, so suck my asshole.

(Also, I’ve been made aware that if you beat the game on hard mode, you find the girl chilling out. It would seem the whole kidnapping was staged and she was actually trying to trick Wonder Boy into rescuing her so that he could make babies with her. If my eyes rolled any more, I’d be able to cosplay as the Undertaker. I’m not offended or anything. It’s almost adorable in the same way being trapped in the a conversation with a senior citizen who casually states that he believes a woman’s place is in the home is. Now everyone, before freaking out, remember, it was a different time. May, 2019. Yea, the original basically has no ending at all.)

To the game’s credit, the only person I know named Tanya is sort of worthless. She locked her keys in her car, had a locksmith come to jimmy it open, got in the car, started the engine, remembered she left her purse or something on the sidewalk, got out of the car to get it, resulting in her locking herself out of her car AGAIN, this time with the engine on. Tanya, I’d worry that you’d see this and get mad me, but I seriously doubt you can even read.

Now, in the interest of fairness, I fired up my MAME cabinet to give the original Wonder Boy a shot between the last paragraph and this sentence. I can attest that the controls are nominally fixed over the original. The biggest change seems to be in the skateboard. I was nailing some pretty hair-raising jumps with it. In the arcade version, the physics feel totally different and I was shorting the same jumps. So some effort was made. And Returns Remix also adds a charge shot, which can kill multiple enemies and also clear out rocks you trip over and other otherwise indestructible objects. Purists are crying foul, and it probably nerfed a lot of the challenge, but I used it, and I liked it. Given that I didn’t like a lot about the game, I’ll take whatever net-positive I can get.

There’s one more good addition, and it’s the best idea the new version offers by far: each stage is totally self-contained. There’s now a level select screen, and you start every stage with 5 lives. Honestly, it might as well of done away with the lives altogether. If you wish, you can play “one coin” mode. There’s no level select, and you have ten lives to beat all 32 stages. I stuck to normal mode, and honestly, the level select idea and implementation single-handedly kept me from going into full-blown scathing IGC mode. It’s a genuinely great improvement. If there’s Wonder Boy fans who never beat it, you can beat this one. It has the same levels from your childhood.

It probably could have used online leaderboards too. Otherwise scores are kind of pointless in 2019.

So what’s the problem? IT HAS THE SAME LEVELS AS YOUR CHILDHOOD! Wonder Boy came out three years before I was born. Games have come a long way over the past three decades. Wonder Boy runs out of ways to keep things fresh after just a small handful of levels, leaving worlds 2 through 7 and their twenty-eight stages a repetitive slog. Fighting the same enemies and clearing the same platforms, only rearranged in different orders. There’s a boss fight at the end of each world, but really they’re all the same and only the head changes. They all attack in the same way and only the speed they shuffle back and forth at changes. They remind me of the fights with Bowser in Super Mario 1, but hell, even those would do things like have him start spitting hammers or put blocks in your way to add to the challenge.

What Wonder Boy Returns Remix needed to do was, well, REMIX things. Add new challenges based on modern gameplay conventions. I’ve reviewed one other game with the word “remix” in the title: NES Remix. It stars some games even older than Wonder Boy. But it felt fresh and modern because it took the existing games, some of which were genuinely terrible games even in the mid 80s, and went full-on wackiness with them. Wonder Boy Returns Remix feels so safe and utterly devoted to faithful recreation that, while you do sorta have to tip your hat to how close it comes to feeling like the original, you also have to shake your head at what it accomplishes? Because I can track down Wonder Boy 1986 right now. Anyone can. I don’t think a level select is worth a remake. I don’t think starting each stage with five lives is worth a remake. The formula works. It’s beloved. I had so many people on Twitter saying “OMG ADVENTURE ISLAND!” even though this is Wonder Boy, but Wonder Boy is Adventure Island. My point is, people want more of it. But do they want more of the same?

I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be an axe or a hammer he’s throwing, so I’ll use both horrible puns. Pun #1: Hammer. “This boss must have been drinking last night, because now he’s hammered.” Pun #2: Axe. “Don’t feel sorry for this boss, he was axing for it.”

Hell, I even think the graphics of the original are better. They hold up pretty good for a 1986 game. The irony is the remade graphics of the new one feel more tired than the 1986 graphics. So who is this made for? I let my 12 year old nephew play it. He thought it was fine at first, but got bored after fifteen minutes. Scoff if you will, old school gamers, but he pretty much saw everything the game has to offer in those fifteen minutes. And that’s really the story of Wonder Boy to me. It seems like it’ll be decent, but it just runs out of steam too quickly. And Wonder Boy doesn’t even have all the hidden goodies that Adventure Island apparently has to keep it fresh. Just the same handful of enemies, set pieces, and jumps in different arrangements. Maybe that’s what a lot of old school games were, but maybe those games that held up are just.. I dunno.. better? Maybe Wonder Boy was limited all along. Maybe that’s why the series had to evolve as radically as it did. Can you believe that IGC Seal of Approval winner Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap was a direct sequel to this? If they were any different, there would be a horrible sitcom made about them being roommates.

Wonder Boy Returns Remix was developed CFK
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$14.99 said “yes, this counts as an indie. It’s review #599 in fact” in the making of this review.

Thanks Garrett for the research! Kick him some bucks, everyone.

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