Thanks to ININ Games/Bliss Brain for the review code
Title: Wonder Boy Collection
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 06/03/2022
Wonder Boy has been on a big return tour as of late! We got several remakes, a psuedo-sequel, and a great port of Monster World IV to come alongside the remake. Now ININ and the newly established Bliss Brain come together to bring several classic Wonder Boy games in one package! …On a system where two of the four already exist. So just how does this compilation hold up, especially with a more robust set on the way for later in the year?
Hey, it’s another Ratalaika Games compilation! Same usual drill… Kinda. More on that in a short bit. You have your display modes and impressive CRT filter returning from the other efforts, along with an art gallery containing pieces from the games included in this compilation. The games look and run as they should, and you can even increase the rewind speed more than you used to be able, and even toggle fast forward for the first time ever, making the slow parts of the Monster World games much easier to get into.
Yet this compilation also has quite a bit of odd presentation choices, not seen in prior Ratalaika joints. The biggest to me is that while there is a nice border around the game that portrays the four main heroes of the games here, it’s unable to be turned off at all. Trust me, I looked everywhere and in the usual options you just can’t. This is still decent enough in handheld mode where I find borders to be a benefit, but in docked mode it’s enough to drive me bonkers, especially since the standalone MWIV did not force a border on you at all. The next choice that completely blows my mind is that several pieces of the art gallery, and the key banner art for Wonder Boy and Wonder Boy in Monster Land use the Sega Master System version.
The Sega Master System version is not included here. It’s included in the upcoming Anniversary Edition, due for late 2022, along with pretty much every major non-hudson port of the games to ever exist. Fine to focus on the original articles here, but when the key art is for a version not included here, that just feels misleading, unintentional or not. So it’s very funky to see SMS Wonder Boy’s title on the select menu, only to click it and get the Arcade title screen. Definitely shows an unusual lack of polish that Ratalaika’s retro efforts aren’t typically known for.
The positive is that the game select menu includes a unique track I have not heard before, and it’s a rather nice one. There’s also new key art featuring the four main heroes of the games, which is appreciated. All in all, while it definitely is a mixed bag, there at least isn’t any visual glitches or audio problems I noticed, save for one weird moment when the collection booted up to this mess, that was quickly fixed upon rebooting the app.
This compilation packages four of the Wonder Boy games, which encompasses all but two of the mainline games in some form. Missing here are Monster’s Lair, a scorechasing favorite of mine, and Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, which got an HD remake that’s at least available, but is also the only Monster World game to be entirely absent here, making it feel like a weird gaping hole.
Most importantly, this is the first time one of the four games are available on Switch in any form, as the other 3 have some representation: Wonder Boy has a (bizzare) remake, Monster Land has a Sega Ages port, and Monster World IV has a remake and a standalone version of the original. This means Wonder Boy in Monster World is on Switch here for the very first time ever! Speaking of, let’s go into how these four play in this compilation, shall we?
Wonder Boy (Arcade)- The genesis of it all, and a game that plays nothing like the sequels. Here you take control of the Wonder Boy, who must set out on a quest to rescue his lover, riding skateboards and throwing axes, in a game formula that would later be used by Hudson in the Adventure Island series. If you played the original, demonically hard Adventure Island, then you played this, meaning that yes, it’s just as evil. Thankfully, rewind helps a lot if you really want to aim to beat the game, but I personally enjoy the scorechasing aspect of it, which also shines here since you can use save states to save your high scores locally. Nifty!
Also appreciated is that there are DIP Switch options here. This may sound like a “well, duh” moment, but remember Clockwork Aquario required you to unlock those DIP options, and also contained them in a weird, reset-prone game mode. Here they’re normal options, as they should be. In fact, not even the Astro City Mini offers the DIP options, leaving this port to be the first to include them since the ACA version from long, long ago.
However, there is a downside, and it’s pretty confusing. See, in the original game, you had two buttons, and the run button was the throw weapon button, ala Mario, and pulling off high jumps could be pretty frustrating. So as a QOL attempt, Ratalaika made running and attacking separate buttons, along with the high jump. While you can jump high the same way as before, you cannot combine the attack and run buttons, meaning if you want to play with the original two button setup, you’re out of luck, and it honestly just feels very weird to be using a run button for this game. I really really wish they would add an option to re-enable the classic control style, or at least rapid fire for the attack button so it would be easier to pull off. The alternating two-player mode in this game also does not work since the compilation will not detect a second controller, which is another irritating caveat that should be addressed.
Wonder Boy in Monster Land (Arcade)– Originally released in 1987, this didn’t come west until 2012, using a prototype board with English text. That version is the one included here, and it’s a pretty fun, if tough action platformer, with various bosses to take out, secrets to find, and a very strict timer. Just like with the original, rewind helps significantly, and this is a game I much rather would play to complete than for score, since it doesn’t really factor into much besides extending your life bar, which you need to have any chance of surviving the final maze.
Surprisingly, this game does allow for you to revert back to the classic control style! You have a basic jump and attack scheme, but there’s also now a button to use your magic items, rather than pressing down on the left stick, however you can just stick to doing it that way if you so wish. Why you can’t revert to the original style in Wonder Boy, I have no clue. Just like M2’s port, you can even assign a button to the joystick waggle, which manipulates the coin drops to be a much higher value, allowing for easier purchases!
However, with M2 being the competition for a prior release for the game, it’s a bit understandable that some stuff would be lacking here compared to their port, for you their Sega Ages version offers rapid fire, extra challenge modes, and online leaderboards, none of which are present here. Still, rewind and fast forward are options this version has over M2’s, and whichever one you prefer to play, you’ll have a fun, if a slightly frustrating time with this solid port.
Wonder Boy in Monster World (Genesis)- We go from Wonder Boy II to… Wonder Boy V? Yep, those two missing WB games are jumped over as you move into the sequel to The Dragon’s Trap. While it does reference that game, Wonder Boy in Monster World is still fun enough as a standalone experience that you can have a good enough time, as it’s practically a metroidvania, with multiple areas you need to travel between, new items and weapons you obtain to access newer areas and secrets, and hidden collectibles all over the world.
The controls here map perfectly, and the speed feature is tremendously helpful, as you can undo having to suffer from the stupid decision by Sega of America to make you lose progress upon death, a feature that wasn’t in the original Japanese version. Sadly, no regional variants are included here, even though this would be the only game that choice would benefit, but at least rewinding and save states mean you never have to worry about losing tons of work if you get too far away from an inn. This is the game that benefits the most from the QOL here, and it’s super fun to play this game without all the anxiety of death! No real complaints on how this one plays, and it’s even way better than the PS4 option available in the Sega Genesis compilation, which has some irritating input lag that hinders the experience there.
MONSTER WORLD IV (PS4)- Remember the standalone version I mentioned last year? Well, this is pretty much it but with stuff that was missing that I felt would help it, such as rewind and save states, plus the option to fast forward now! It even still has the dash mechanic mapped to a handy button. Not much new to say here, as this is a great game made even better with the easier saving mechanics and general quality of life.
The only downer is that the forced border is an aspect this game suffers from that the standalone does not, but otherwise it’s a great followup to WBV that plays like a dream here.
In conclusion, Wonder Boy Collection is a mixed bag. While it does include four great games with a decent amount of options, the fact some options are outright lacking, despite being available in prior compilations from Ratalaika is just completely mindboggling. The forced border for instance, still has no reason to exist when every prior Ratalaika reissue allowed you to disable it. The lack of two-player support for Wonder Boy is also silly, since it’s such a minor feature that there’s no reason for it to not be included when even the Sega Ages port does so for the latter. The addition of rewind and a new fast forward feature is very handy and makes the RPG games a lot more fun to play, but also makes me beg the question as to why this version of MWIV is lacking stuff the standalone edition had and vice versa.
That’s not even taking into account the weird, sloppy feeling of having the Master System title screens for WB1/2 in the game select menu, and even key art from those home versions… But no home versions here. The lack of regional variants, especially for Wonder Boy V is equally baffling. There’s also the weird tweak to the control setup of the original Wonder Boy that’s impossible to revert, despite Monster Land allowing you to revert to the original setup.
All in all, Wonder Boy Collection serves as a decent way to get into the series if you’ve never played these games before, but when two of the four games are previously represented here on switch, one in a far, far better format, and there’s just a general, unusual lack of polish for a Ratalaika collection, I can’t help but wonder what went wrong. Is it just deliberately holding back for the Anniversary Collection? Or is it a bad omen that said compilation will also include a border you can’t turn off, along with the weird issues I noted here?
You’ll still have a great time playing Wonder Boy V and Monster World IV if you haven’t already done so, and the original Monster Land is a decent time, but at the end of the day, Wonder Boy Collection just feels strangely disjointed.
I give Wonder Boy Collection a 6 out of 10.