Move over Square-Enix, we have a new king of polymorphic content.
To explain the history behind the Wonder Boy/Monster Boy/Adventure Island franchise would take about an hour and forty minutes of podcast, but suffice it to say the series is known for action platforming in exotic environments. Monster Boy’s twist on the series is that it features a main character who can transform (or gets turned into) various types of animals and mystical creatures. The newest game in the series comes out on Switch next month, and it looks to continue the system’s streak of strong retro-inspired platforming games.
The demo we played had three levels and took over a half hour to complete all three of them. One level was likely the first level of the final game, and featured a fight with an octopus who took up a super-majority of the screen. It also set up the game’s plot, as the Monster Boy attempts to stop his drunken uncle from using magic to generally make a mess of things. Following the octopus fight, dear old uncle turned the main character into a pig and dropped him into a sewer which we sniffed our way through. The second selectable level was an ice world in which the main character, now a snake, uses his venom to light up items to create paths through the level. The final level turned our hero into a frog and involves dodging and firing bombs back at enemies while doing some tricky platforming. There’s also a dragon transformation at some point along the way, though we didn’t get a chance to play with it.
Developers Game Atelier have gone out of their way to both modernize the game and respect its history. They are working with series creator Ryuichi Nishizawa, and there are tracks composed by industry veterans including the beloved Yuzo Koshiro. At the same time, this new Monster Boy title has striking graphics, and will make full use of the Switch’s controls to handle the various transformations and magical spells. Some of the later parts of the third level in the demo were a bit frustrating as the bombs took quite a bit off the health bar, but it may have been due to jumping in without the opportunity to get additional life or other techniques from shops and hidden areas.
The most important way Monster Boy has been modernized is the lack of time pressure. Much like the 2010 WiiWare release, Wonder Boy in Monster World, the pernicious time/energy limits and need to gather items of its predecessors are gone. There’s time for exploration and the ability to plan strategies for getting that out-of-the-way item, rather than trying to sprint for the end of the level. Some of the puzzles will need this extra time, as during the demo there was one item that took 5-6 minutes to figure out how to get it.
Switch owners aren’t lacking for quality throwback games right now, but after Shovel Knight and Blaster Master Zero it looks like Monster Boy will continue the trend. Just watch out for the drunken uncle with the magic wand.