Friday, July 8, 2016

Dragon's Curse (TG16) Review

Written: July 4th-8th, 2016
Alternate Title: Adventure Island [|O|]
Year: 1990 | Developed by: Hudson Soft
Published by: NEC | Licensed by: Westone

Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit.
Wonder Boy flyer image from Wikipedia; happy 30th anniversary Wonder Boy (and Adventure Island)
In 1986 a newly formed company called Escape developed the arcade sidescrolling platformer Wonder Boy which was published by Sega.  While the developer owned the rights to the game Sega owned the rights to the names, characters, and bosses.  This is relevant because when it came to the Nintendo 8-bit conversion Escape teamed up with Hudson Soft when it came to the Famicom conversion in 1986 with altered designs and names Takahashi Meijin no Bōken Jima (named after Hudson Soft spokesperson Takahashi Meijin), which when converted to the West would be christened Adventure Island (where the main character would be named Master Higgins).
Image from Wikipedia
After Wonder Boy became a hit the company Escape changed their name to Westone (a hybrid of the translation of Escape founders Ryuichi Nishizawa's first letter of his name which translates to "West" and the first letter of Michishitso Ishizuka's name translating to "stone"), so they went on to create the 1987 arcade sequel (published by Sega) Wonder Boy in Monster Land which retained the platforming elements of the previous game but also incorporated RPG elements which drew plenty of praise.  It was a modest success and was ported (as well as cloned) to various consoles, including the 1987 PC Engine edition by Hudson Soft titled as Bikkuriman World to get over licensing issues.
Image from Wikipedia
In 1988 Westone created Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair which only remained in Japan (but only the arcade original), combining elements of platformers and shoot'em ups into one.  It got converted to the PC Engine CD by Hudson Soft in 1989 and when converted to the TurboGrafx CD format in America dropped the "Wonder Boy III" from its title as well as the Sega MegaDrive in Japan and Europe in 1990 and 1991.
Then in 1989 Westone created an extensively covered console-exclusive iteration in the series by the name of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap for the Sega Master System in America and Europe, which would see a Japanese release for the first time as Monster World II: The Dragon's Trap in 1992 when ported to the Game Gear.  Hudson Soft was given the approval by Westone to convert it to the PC Engine in 1990 on the condition that no reference to the Wonder Boy series be made where Japan got it as Adventure Island (not to be confused with the same game as the Western edition of Hudson Soft's Takahashi Meijin on the NES Adventure Island) and America received it for the TurboGrafx-16 courtesy of NEC as Dragon's Curse (yep, major difference); Europe would play this version in particular in 2007 on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console.
I figured that given the recent announcement that Lizardcube would be remaking this installment in the Wonder Boy franchise (which would end up being published by Dot Emu) for the Nintendo Wii U with series founder Ryuichi Nishizawa involved as consultant that I feel it would be appropriate to talk about this game.  So, how fares it?  <=)
If the beginning of this game feels like the ending of another then you'd be right because Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap takes place immediately after the events of Wonder Boy in Monster Land, or in Hudson Soft's case Dragon's Curse transpires after the events of Bikkuriman World.  The human Wonder Boy (or Tom-Tom) has ventured to slay the Mecha Dragon, but as he does so a mysterious blue flame emanates from what was left of the creature and renders the victor into a Lizard Man as a curse.
At this point Mecha Dragon's domain begins to self-destruct to which the hero flees from, but as an anthropomorphic lizard.  In order to revert back to human form you'll have to venture forth as you defeat other dragons until finally you must defeat the Vampire Dragon and claim the Salamander Cross, the very thing you need to lift this curse.

Firing shots at a sentient anemone
When you start the game in human form it's pretty straightforward (for the most part) with all eight hearts, but once you escape from the castle in lizard form your health capacity is reduced all the way to one heart.  From this point onward it becomes a nonlinear adventure for you as you can only travel to places to which you currently have the capacity to, places you could not reach before you could get to later on.  With the I button you can jump and with the II button you can use your sword (or in the case of Lizard Man breathe long-ranged fire projectiles); both functions also have the Turbo setting in that you can do these things rapidly and consecutively.  You can only move left and right in your journey, but you can only crouch down as a human or a lizard.  Before reaching the Vampire Dragon if you face the other dragons and defeat them
you'll be cursed to different forms as well.  You could either be a Lizard Man, a Mouse Man, a Piranha Man, a Tiger Man, or a Hawk Man.
May or may not cause epileptic seizures to those with sensitive eyes
And if you wanted to change form in order to get someplace new or because you have no choice simply find this room and stand on the platform as you can change to your heart's desire, each requiring a single jump to enable the transformation, in the order that you got these curses.

NO, Krino Xandra, you'll dro--- wait a minute,
you're not Krino Xandra, WHO ARE YOU???  {=O
The other four forms are crucial in order to access certain areas and whatnot (once you obtain them, that is); as Mouse Man you can walk on checkered platforms and stick to either the sides or upside down (because mice can do that, apparently), as Piranha Man you can swim and explore underwater, as Tiger Man you can swing your sword from the top to the bottom (whilst all other forms except Lizard Man lunge the sword in a forward strike), and finally as Hawk Man you can fly up in the air.

"Look, man, Yooka-Laylee's already been delayed
to 2017 due to your bat-killing spree, must you persist?"
This adventure game reprises the RPG elements of Wonder Boy in Monster Land/Bikkuriman World where gold is earned by either defeating monsters or when stumbling upon a chest, for gold is the only way you can purchase medicine and equipment in shops.  With the Run button you can access your menu and equip your weapon, armor, and shield as well as select a subweapon (should you have at least one of a fireball, tornado, arrow, boomerang, or thunder in stow) with the I button so that way you can use it in-game by holding down and I.
Which I suppose is a polar opposite of how subweapons are normally used in games that involve their utilization where you hold down the up button and press a button in order to use them.

Well, that Amazing World of Gumball character
clearly hates me  =|
Upon the defeat of enemies not only will they leave behind random values of gold, but sometimes they'll drop you a small heart (which replenishes a small amount of HP), a big heart that refills your entire health no matter how low (sweet!), any one of the five subweapons (can only have up to ninety-nine of all of them, if you can manage), and on the rarest of occasions a vial of medicine (can only have up to three), or even rarer than that, a vital piece of equipment.  Every now and then you'll gather some stones which will augment your charisma points by one (because... charisma affects potency?  I guess?).  Any time you enter the church in the hometown you'll be given a password which involves one of four save files.  o_O  Was this a thing, PC Engine/TurboGrafx gamers?  I mean, really: doesn't a save file kind of negate the point of a password?  You don't need a save file to input your password (manually or automatically)!  You think password-driven games like The Lost Vikings and ActRaiser 2 would've benefited from the inclusion of save files in order to input them?  You either save or use a password, you cannot have it both ways; seems kind of a waste if you ask me.  -_-
Though I love how the merchants and password provider are chain-smoking pigs in this game that was aimed for ages young and old.  XD  Gotta love stuff developers could get away with at the time... though I'm baffled as to how nowadays even a mere amount of smoking in movies apparently result in an R rating (MPAA, making sense since never).

*pokey boop*
When playing Dragon's Curse you'll notice that there are two black borders in the top and bottom, resulting in a letterboxed format (at least that's how it was presented on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console from what I experienced anyway), especially when stretched when played on widescreen TVs.  But since making a concerted effort to take these screenshots in their respected aspect ratios since the start of the year when I changed the setting on my widescreen TV from Wide to Normal for this game it went from letterboxing to something the equivalent of windowboxing (where black borders aren't just above and below the viewing field but on both the left and right side as well), and people like windowboxing, right?  ...well, as long as the original aspect ratio is not pan-and-scanned... TV network executives/airlines!!  >=(

Journeying through the forest
Dragon's Curse is a very colorful game, and on several occasions there's a good considerable sense of detail in certain places.  While the town is a welcome place despite the oddly fluoride-colored sky, it gets better afterward with the rightmost areas being abundantly green with blue water down below for example.  The underwater colors are good (especially in one moment where it glows brightly, and when looking at a sunken ship its round windows are reflective), the desert area has a good Egyptian motif going for it, and the forest displays a good sense of depth with all the foliage above and around you despite the black background.  =)  The interior areas look good as well, namely inside the various dungeons (one set in a cavern and another set inside a sunken ship) and the small rooms with chests and boss domains (where the walls are patterned in a neatly bricked manner).

Good thing you can breathe underwater
indefinitely here
I like the usage of the colors of red, green, and blue implemented here; in particular when it comes to the enemies whose roster comprise of snakes, crabs, anglerfish, anemones, octopi, bats, spiked balls who look like they could be Gordo of Kirby fame's cousins twice removed, skeletons (some of which have top hats), ninjas, and even samurai among others.  The dragon bosses have good designs, such as the zombified skeleton dragon and the pirate-themed dragon, and Vampire Dragon's design is cool (I wish I could say the same for the battle itself).  Which leads to the main character and his various forms; while animation-wise it is pretty choppy (excepting Tiger Man's sword swipe which has got more than one frame) the designs are likable plus there's a goofy lighthearted charm about them; the bubbles emanating from them underwater is a very nice touch also.  =)  I'm also grateful that Hudson Soft did not go the lazy route and flip the left and right sprites as the swords and shields actually stay in their proper place.  =D  Not sure what it says when an '80s/'90s game that has both swords and shields such as this make an effort to modify the left and right sprites while games like Neutopia take the lazy route and make the left sprites the same as the right ones.  =<
Piranha Man's design somewhat brings to mind Krino Xandra's from Xandra no Daibōken: Valkyrie to no Deai,... or so I had thought before actually replaying this game.  I hadn't played Dragon's Curse since May 2010 and all I remembered was Piranha Man's green body in this regard; I had forgotten the other details.  Not sure why I compared the two in my mind, although Krino's body is also green and has got amphibian features... maybe that's why.  o~o

"Looky looky, I got a hooky!"  >=D
The music for the Wonder Boy series was composed by Shinichi Sakamoto from Wonder Boy in Monster Land when he took over for Ryuichi Nishizawa (which Nishizawa found to be a relief given the infinite two-second loops of the original Wonder Boy soundtrack) until the 1991 MegaDrive/Genesis entry Wonder Boy in Monster World, which also got an official edition by Hudson Soft on the PC Engine Duo/TurboDuo in 1993-1994 in the form of The Dynastic Hero (whatever that title means); and as simple as the soundtrack is (and as brief as the songs in question are) it is very pleasant and likable to listen to.  =)  My favorite song in the game is the one that takes place during the rightmost segment of Dragon's Curse, but that's mainly because of how uplifting and joyfully bouncy it sounds (even if it tends to become infectiously happy, but I don't mind it here).

Without the Dragon Armor you shan't survive
the scorching hot lava
Other songs that are good include the playfully sinister music that takes place during the dungeons, the desert/lava music, and the music that plays when you enter inside secret rooms.  The sound effects are of the decent variety, whether it be the heart-refilling sounds, the splashing sounds for when you jump into or out of water/lava, and the sounds for when you use your sword against your enemies.  At least there's no constant beeping playing anytime you're severely low on health as was the case with The Legend of Zelda and Neutopia (whoever thought that was a good sound choice to alert you of your low health was misguided, to put it kindly; I'm still hung up over that).

Ninjas, of course!!!
As is normally the case when it comes to adventure games it starts off hard on account that your health is low and are equipped with the weakest equipment, but throughout the game the more hearts you add to your health capacity and the more powerful the equipment you buy the difficulty gradually becomes reduced.  There is a good sense of depth when it comes to the gameplay, and depending on the form you undertake you may have to change equipment (i.e. Hawk Man gets more defense with the Heavenly Shield while Tiger Man opts for the Master Shield) should you be required to; keeps you on your toes which I'm okay with.  =)  There are three kinds of all enemies you fight in the game, with red being the weakest and blue being the strongest.

Sometimes when you stumble upon chests you'll either find a piece of equipment, an extra heart's worth of health capacity, a key to unlock a door, medicine vials, and a string of items that will be granted to you (gold, stones, or any one of five subweapons); and some enemies will have a tendency to drop stuff that comes to your benefit, who will respawn when you enter the next segment and then reenter the previous segment you just came from.  This can help on account of the money farming you may end up doing which actually isn't bad for the most part but becomes a real exercise near the end of the game on account of the most powerful weapons' high costs.  Sometimes when you enter a shop you'll notice a spot with a "?" on it on account that it's not yet available to buy, but at least you can see how much it'll cost by the time it does arrive.  =)

Coriolis effect-shaped path
Like in the Ancient Ys Vanished diptych and Xak: The Art of Visual Stage you cannot access your inventory during boss fights, but the least you can do like Xak is pause the event.  If you do plan on using a subweapon during a boss fight you'd better select it before you enter that room otherwise you won't get a chance (namely the Vampire Dragon final boss) and will have to take the path all over to said boss in the event that you fail.  It would also help if you had at least one if not all your medicine vials on you should you expect a little struggle during said fight (or throughout the game for that matter) for the moment your health is empty a medicine vial will be used; the catch is that it might not necessarily refill it all for if it doesn't do that then it'll replenish one heart or four for it's all random.  Should you lose all your health and have no medicine vials at your stead it's game over with an unlimited set of continues, and when you choose to continue you'll get a chance to earn a medicine vial in roulette fashion should the icon end up on top of a red heart; you won't have your current gold reduced by half but your subweapon count will go down to zero as you return to the town with one full heart (figures).

Most of the dragon bosses are very manageable for they've got rather simple patterns, and in the upper left corner you can see how much health they've got left which I appreciate.  =)  What I don't appreciate is the precariousness of the Vampire Dragon boss in the end of the game, because if it touches you then you lose a bunch of health and at this point you'd better hope that you both have all three medicine vials and that your health will be refilled fully (if not mostly) if your health turned up empty.  Not only that but you also better have a handy supply of boomerangs on your side and catch them for they provide a long distance attack as opposed to your sword (which would cause more damage); the problem with the Vampire Dragon is that he is all over the place which makes the battle feel like a battle of attrition.  Maybe it would've been better if this battle relied more on skill than luck.  It's also not helped by the invincibility time and the forceful knockbacks during these points which leave you in a vulnerable spot unless you're careful.

Here comes the hurt
Many years ago I played both Wonder Boy and Wonder Boy in Monster Land on one of my cousins' MAME CD; and my earliest recollection upon playing the former was how much it played and felt like Adventure Island (and when I found out that Wonder Boy came first I was floored, for I had played the Hudson Soft edition beforehand), while the latter I found to be interesting but didn't get too far on it because this was before I learned to play RPGs (and games with RPG elements) properly.  I never played Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair but since I own a RetroGen adaptor I have been contemplating importing the MegaDrive port of that installment.  During the first half of 2007 I downloaded Dragon's Curse on the Nintendo Wii Virtual Console after looking up good things about it, never having played the original Sega Master System version Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap, and I had played it but to a point.

A-maze-ing layout
The farthest I remember getting in it back in 2007 was after I had gotten the Mouse Man curse and had a difficult time that made me shy away from it.  The reason I had a difficult time was because I did not update my equipment--a grave mistake--and giving Breath of Fire a solid try during 2008's Hurricane Ike (the lesser GBA conversion before I rectified that six and a half years later by downloading the SNES original on the Nintendo Wii U Virtual Console on April 2015) got me to habitually equip my character(s) not just in RPGs but also in sidescrollers with RPG elements such as this one and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night to name a couple.  On May 2010 I had decided to give Dragon's Curse another go and this time I would play it right and managed to beat it after several tries of being defeated by the Vampire Dragon, and I was pleased.  =)  When I checked my Backloggery's memory card I was surprised it had been that long since I last played it.

Sentient sunflowers and firespewing clouds,
oh no!
Dragon's Curse is a nice fun game to play once in awhile, with simple yet intuitive gameplay and a likable lighthearted charm going for it.  =)  And despite its sense of nonlinearity it's very easy to follow and know where exactly you have to head to next.  Also the ability to change your equipment depending on the form you choose to be in augments a sense of depth which is rather welcome, and except until the very end the money farming is not so bad.  While I wish the Vampire Dragon boss wasn't such a longwinded and precarious pain in the ass, the other boss battles weren't so bad in the long run.

Somewhere in this room is a secret switch opening
a secret door
What's sad to me however is that it's a very short game on account of how small it is.  =(  While it might seem big because of the places you cannot get to at first, the moment you have access to these places the smaller the world really is; I couldn't believe it six years ago because of how much fun I had with it.  That doesn't make Dragon's Curse bad by any means, but a little length wouldn't have hurt.  When you really get down to it though, today's game sort of paved the way to games like Wayforward's Shantae and Shantae: Risky's Revenge in that they're also sidescrolling adventure games made in a nonlinear structure which involved changing into different forms in order to access certain places you could not earlier on.  Yeah.

Anglerfish above you
Ever since the news about Lizardcube's remake Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap I felt like I had to replay Dragon's Curse, and I can proudly say that I'm more than ready to play said remake when it comes out on the Nintendo Wii U; I hope it improves upon the original like WayForward's DuckTales: Remastered did for Capcom's original DuckTales (and I love DuckTales: Remastered).  =)  I enjoyed this game a lot despite some shortcomings that I decided that I wanted to try Wonder Boy in Monster World (besides, my physical Genesis collection is small anyway); and while it's on the expensive side I hope I someday get to experience the 1994 MegaDrive bookend of the Wonder Boy series Monster World IV (the only installment to not receive a Hudson Soft edition).

It all ends in this elegant castle
If you like nonlinear sidescrolling adventure games like Popful Mail, Shantae, and Ys III: Wanderers from Ys I think you'll really enjoy Dragon's Curse.  If you don't like the idea of forceful knockbacks or money farming (especially since hospitals and medicine will go up in price the more powerful you get) you might not enjoy it as much.  If you like your games long you might have better luck trying something else (not like sidescrolling adventure games have much length anyway), but if you can forgive its sheer brevity and small size and are searching for a good dosage of innovative fun (despite some admittedly slippery controls) it's not a bad experience.  If you have the appropriate format then I say check it out.  =)

My Personal Score: 7.5/10
<( ^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^ )>
Thank you for reading my review, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.  Hope you have a great Summer, take care!  =)

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