Review: “Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection” (Nintendo Switch, PS4)

Today we’re all celebrating the Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection,* a new retro compilation of all of SEGA’s Wonder Boy and Monster World games from the 80s and 90s released to mark the 35th anniversary of the series. Weird number, but who’s complaining?

If you’re thinking that this review seems awfully familiar, there’s a very good reason, as ININ Games published a Wonder Boy Collection less than a year ago, only with fewer games. 

This new Anniversary Collection includes all of the games of that previous collection (Wonder BoyWonder Boy in Monster LandWonder Boy in Monster World, and Monster World IV), plus two additional titles Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap and Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair. Great, right? I mean, it’s great unless you bought the previous collection last year… right? (Raises hand)

Now with more dragons!

Ale? Mead? SEGA!

All said and done, there are the 6 titles included in the package, but there are also multiple versions of each game, too, including arcade originals, home console ports, and regional variations, too. That’s a total of 21 different versions, which isn’t too shabby. All of these originate from SEGA hardware, whether it be the original arcade boards, 8-bit and 16-bit consoles, and the handheld Game Gear. While this gives you a lot of options, it also means that this collection is missing the TurboGrafx/PC Engine ports of both Dragon’s Trap and Monster Lair. It’s also worth mentioning that this is strictly a retro collection, so the recent, remastered editions of these games (Dragon’s TrapMonster World IV and the original Wonder Boy) are also absent, almost certainly due to licensing issues. 

Back before green hair was a sign of human aposematism

Those most interested in this collection are likely already familiar with the Wonder Boy/Monster World series. We’ve already written up a review of the 2022 Wonder Boy Collection here, plus a deep dive on Monster World IV here. If you are a fan, you generally know what to expect, and you should be very happy with this new Anniversary Collection. The emulation for all of the games runs very smoothly, with even the occasional slowdown kept intact, for better or worse, replicating the experience of playing on the consoles of old. It would have been nice to have an option to run these games flawlessly without the “authentic” performance issues, but it’s a small gripe, as these games all ran pretty well to begin with, except when there is an explosion of coins from defeating a boss. I did once notice that the frame rate chugged in the Game Gear version of the original Wonder Boy, but only briefly.

In case it wasn’t clear who you’re fighting here…

Wonder Boy hunts for the draaagoooon…

In addition to replicating the games themselves, there are some other additions and “quality of life” tweaks that will make the games more approachable for some. You can change the aspect ratio of the screen and select from a variety of filters to adjust the visual experience to your liking. You can also choose to play with a colorful Wonder Boy-themed artwork adorning the border of your screen, or you can opt for a solid black border if your soul is dead inside and misery follows you wherever you go. 

There are also audio options as well, including the ability to choose between the original or FM-enhanced versions of the Master System soundtracks. As an early adopting Master System purist, I prefer the original tracks in most Master System games almost certainly out of nostalgia, but most probably prefer the tunes with the FM upgrade. There is even a revamped version of Wonder Boy in Monster World for the Master System that features slightly improved graphics to make it look “more 16-bit.” I didn’t even know that a port of Monster World existed for the 8-bit Master System, so that was a welcome bonus even for me as a seasoned Wonder Boy veteran.

I know I’m in the minority, but Wonder Boy in Monster World has always been my favorite in the series

Of course, all of the games offer controller configuration options, save states, and a rewind feature that has become so popular with recent retro releases. All of these certainly makes completing each game quite a bit easier, but the time limits vitality meters in two arcade games (Monster Land and the original Wonder Boy) can still be quite brutal, especially in Monster Land’s maze-like final stage castle. On the more RPG-like games, this makes farming for gold pretty easy, too. If you need even more help, the cheat codes for the Master System ports still work, too.

There’s a decent array of bonus content available from the main menu, too, including design artwork, arcade flyers, magazine advertisements, and scans of the box art and manuals, though oddly there was no scan of the original US manual for the first Wonder Boy game on Master System. It can’t be too hard to find. (Give me a day and I can send high-quality scans if you want to update it). I also have to call out all of the typos in these menus, as there were several. Nothing that makes it unreadable, but a bit more care and polish would have been appreciated with those finer details.

8-bit staple: boulders inexplicably rolling downhill at regular intervals

…He’s going to stab him in the faaaaace!

But what if you are a retro gamer who happened to not only play the Wonder Boy/Monster World series before, but also read this review to this point? Are the games even worth playing? Absolutely they are. Each and every title features vibrant graphics, catchy music, and well-designed gameplay, with the very first game being the only one that I would say gets a bit old by the time you complete all 40 stages. 

Despite being a compilation drawing on games from a single series, there is actually a decent array of different gameplay types included. Sure, three of the games are essentially 2D adventure/RPG games (Dragon’s TrapWonder Boy in Monster WorldMonster World IV), but you also get platforming (Wonder Boy), tough-as-nails arcade action (Monster Land), and even a fantasy shoot ’em up (Monster Lair), that blends elements of Contra and Parodius, including the ability to bring in a friend for two player coop. Keen!

Like any shooter worth its salt, the spread weapon dominates

Limited Vitality

All in all, you’re going to get a lot of great retro gaming for your $49.99. If you’re any kind of fan of the Wonder Boy/Monster World series, then the Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection is definitely a strong recommend. It’s great to see a franchise that was such a staple of my SEGA-focused upbringing getting some much deserved love after all these years. Still, I can’t help but wonder (urrrr!) if fans are being asked to drink from this same well a bit too much in the past few years, with multiple high-definition remakes and – of course – the other Wonder Boy Collection that was released less than a year ago (which was 20 bucks cheaper, to be fair). 

It would be very sporting on ININ’s part if they offer some kind of $25 DLC or Anniversary Edition upgrade for those early adopters who picked up that first collection. As that is unlikely to happen, waiting for a sale is probably the best bet for Wonder Boy purists who want to get their itchy thumbs on the additional games. 

*A digital version of Wonder Boy Anniversary Edition was provided to The Splintering for the purpose of this review. 

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One comment

  • Rusty Shackelford

    He’s gonna stab him in th…. Oh. Wait. You already said that! 😉 There was a limited pre-order for a physical version that I jumped on when it opened up. Looking forward to it when it arrives! Now that we have all these ports, how about another sequel! At least let the Monster Boy guys have another crack at it! Oh, and I’m also disappointed that there are no TG16 versions. Oh well. Still a sweet package! TOTALLY worth it in my opinion! I love Wonder Boy! 😡

    Liked by 1 person

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