Since I was a big fan of the original Wonder Boy: Dragon’s Trap on the Game Gear, the announcement of the remake in 2016 instantly got me interested. After it was released in 2017, I bought it pretty much as soon as it got on Steam (June 8th).
I started playing the game directly on Steam release day. After beating the first 4 bosses, I paused playing for a few months. If I remember correctly, I had some trouble with the Daimyo Dragon stage (where you play in the lion form), so I put the game away and got distracted for some time before remembering to pick it up again. Once I did, I put in a few more hours, got to the final boss… and got a dose of the game’s annoying physics. Two days later I grinded some better equipment, had another go at the boss and was luckier, managed to beat the Vampire Dragon and thus, the game. Since I’m not a completionist, I put the game away at that point and didn’t bother with the new “Unknown” areas that the remake offers (these only gain you charm stones that you need to buy a specific sword).
Remake done right
Overall I have to say, this remake is extremely close to a straight up “update” without changing the game, but there are a few notable tweaks still. Instead of a Thunder Sword, you get a Thunder Ring that you can equip/unequip to break stones without switching swords. Instead of (like in the Master System version) collecting charm stones to unlock purchases in stores, you only need enough money to buy stuff (with the exception of one sword, as mentioned in the previous paragraph). The graphics and music received a complete overhaul, the game straight up looks like a cartoon now. Very stylish and crisp. The backgrounds especially are a big upgrade to before (and they look beautiful). The original was very basic in that regard, due to hardware limitations. The new OST sounds quite nice as well, though I have seen varying opinions there.
In any case, preferring one version or the other is actually not a problem with this remake as you have the ability to switch the graphics and/or the music on the fly between the old and new versions. Combine that with the fact that the levels and physics have been transferred pretty much 1:1 from the original, you can get an pretty much 100% authentic feel when you switch both options to the “old” setting. If I would pick up the game again to casually play it, I would probably mostly play with the new graphics, but switch between the soundtracks more often.
As a faithful remake, this is how it should be done. Of course, this does leave any negatives the original might have had as well. In this case the biggest one is the physics and collision behavior of the game. This is noticeable especially in the boss fights and was one of two causes for me failing the final boss the first time (the other being me not having grinded for better equipment). The bosses have relatively small hurtboxes / you have a pretty short reach in several of your forms (in this case the falcon one). This means you are prone to colliding with the boss while trying to attack him. This leaves you “stuck” to the boss as he moves in your direction, pushing you back, usually to the corner of the screen. Thankfully you don’t take additional damage during this, but it also leaves to helpless and without any leeway to maybe hit the boss once while you are in a short “invincibility phase” after being hit. Even back on the Game Gear, this was my absolute least favorite design element of the game.