Little Wonder

By Jared Petty

The Sega Master System lost, and it lost bad. It came to US shores late in 1986, just as Nintendo was really making its presence felt nationwide. It lacked two key advantages the NES enjoyed in the American market: the plucky, creative Arakawa-led domestic task force determined to make Nintendo a success in the United States, and Super Mario Bros. Though the Master System was in some ways the superior piece of hardware (especially graphically), it never recovered from a slow start and ran a very, very distant second to the NES for its brief window of availability on US shores. Master System fared better in Europe and Brazil, but here in the US, the best most folks had to say about it was that at least it wasn’t the Atari 7800.

Most of us knew a kid who had a Master System and a massively-overstated inferiority complex. The two went hand in hand… my experiences with Neighborhood Master System Kid mirror the stories I’ve heard from my boss Jeremy Parish and my buddy Greg Miller. I always felt bad for that guy because it wasn’t hard to see that, weird controllers and bad sound aside, the Master System had a lot to offer in its best games. That Double Dragon port was killer, and after seeing the ragged six-color outlines of Ultima III on Apple II, the animated, vibrant dungeons of Phantasy Star broke my brain.

The Console Wars ignited by SEGA’s Genesis launch were just igniting in America in 1989 when Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap landed on American shores to little notice. Master System was long since a dead concern in America, and one gets the impression that very few Americans indeed were aware of the entire series’ existence, much less a fork of the franchise’s third installment… it’s actually the second video game published by SEGA to be called Wonder Boy III. Wonder Boy naming and genealogy is a master's thesis-level topic far outside the purview of this blog, a cascading tumbleweed of Wonder Boy, Adventure Island, Monster World, Dynastic Hero, Bikkuriman, Saiyūki, Whomp Em’, and Monica games. It’s ALMOST as confusing as figuring out the ancestry of most Falcom games. But I digress.

Suffice it to say: Wonder Boy III The Dragon’s Trap came to the United States in 1989 and, mostly for market reasons, nobody much cared, though GamePro did bother to cover it rather warmly (thanks, Internet Archive).

Fortunately, our planet consists of three delightful groups of people who were determined to appreciate the Master System despite American ignorance: SEGA nerds, Europeans, and people from Brazil. These folks kept the Wonder Boy torch alive, enjoying and evangelizing for a unique adventure platformer that might otherwise have been lost to history.

Fast forward to modern times, where the Nintendo/SEGA console wars are but a dim memory, a time when wounds are healed. The good folks from Lizardcube in France (remember Europe?) thought that Wonder Boy III deserved another lease on life. And now we are all grateful.

The Dragon’s Trap manages to make a fairly complex design feel delightfully simple. You’re a little hero trying to take down some big mean dragons. You mostly accomplish this through platforming and swinging/hurling/shooting various weapons while exploring large, but not too expansive, 2D stages. The hook is that every dragon you overthrow transforms you into a new and different human/animal hybrid, refreshing your skillset. For a while you’re a fire-breathing lizard, then you’re a wall-crawling mouse, then an aquatic fish person… you get it. The stages take advantage of each skill set, introducing interesting environmental hazards and puzzles tailored to your abilities. The whole thing is just really solidly put together, and nothing overstays its welcome.

Wonder Boy III was always beautiful, but the remake is next-level gorgeous stuff, with a richer color palette than a Saturday morning cartoon and animation to back it up. Players can switch between the Master System visuals/sound and the modern hand-drawn vibe on the fly at the touch of a button, and the effect really is seamless and extraordinary.

Wonder Boy II is available on PS5 now through LRG, as well as PC, and you really should grab it and play it. It’s not a huge commitment of time, and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable game, a rock-solid gem in the Master System crown.

Limited Run Games:

is a subsidiary of “Freemode”, an operative group comprised of gaming and entertainment companies owned by Embracer. Limited Run Games is the industry leader in the production and distribution of premium physical video games. Limited Run seeks to celebrate the legacy of gaming through its award-winning collector’s editions. Founded in 2015, they have published over 1,000 physical games, exclusive merch, and collectables. Limited Run is the gold standard in bringing digital games to physical form and now re-releasing retro titles on modern platforms via their proprietary Carbon Engine. Visit for the latest offerings and to learn more about Carbon Engine development. Follow the brand on your social media platform of choice for all LRG-related updates:@limitedrungames.

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