Developer: Game Atelier
Publisher: FDG Entertainment
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Category: Action, Adventure, Platformer & Role-Playing
Release Date: December 4, 2018 (EU & NA)
Monster in name, but Wonder-full in nature!
A lot can happen in five years. You could start and finish college, meet the love of your life, get married and even welcome your first child into this year, or you can develop a video game masterpiece and that is precisely what Game Atelier and FDG Entertainment have done with Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom.
Originally planned to be a sequel to Game Atelier’s Flying Hamster, this soon went out the window once FDG Entertainment got on board. With their involvement, influenced by Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, the game was reworked to be a successor to the Wonder Boy series and be titled Monster Boy and the Wizard of Booze.
Only, because booze is often associated with alcoholic beverages, the title was reworked to Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom and that wouldn’t be the last change the game would endure.
It would also go from being developed with motion-based sprite animation, only to then have the developers announce last year (2017,) that they had switched to sprites that were hand-drawn and honestly, like the other changes that came before it, it was a change that worked wonders.
The most impressive thing about Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom’s development, is the fact like with DotEmu’s and Lizardcube’s 2017 remake of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, it also saw involvement from Ryuichi Nishizawa. The very same Ryuichi Nishizawa who is actually the creator behind the Wonder Boy series (aka Monster World.)
Except, Nishizawa wasn’t the only Wonder Boy veteran to work on Monster Boy, since composers who have previously worked on Wonder Boy games were on hand to help out on this one and helped to rearrange a few memorable tunes, as well as composing a few new pieces.
Still, that’s enough about Monster Boy’s development and development team, because it is time to talk about the game and I am going to talk your ear off so much, you’re going to need to use duct tape and super glue to stick it back on.
First and foremost, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a beast. It’s a shame its physical release is North America only, but Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is big. If you’re expecting it to be a platformer/adventure game that you can breeze through in 10 hours or less, then you’re in for a shock and a good one at that.
Depending on how you play and how much you want to complete Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, the game can clock in between 22 and 35 hours to fully complete it and at least 16-20 hours to beat it.
So yeah, it’s definitely a monster and that’s not the only place Monster Boy excels out. If you played Shantae: Half-Genie Hero and thought the graphics it possessed were gorgeous, Monster Boy’s visual hand-drawn workings are a full-on Super Saiyan by comparison. (We’re talking full on HD graphics and 1080p/60 fps when in TV mode and 720p/60 fps when in handheld mode.)
Each background is just as alive as the foreground and more often or not, you will find yourself stopping in your tracks, just to take in the sights and I’m not kidding. There is so much variety in this game thanks to locations such as a sandy beach, underwater locales, a volcano, a swap, a jungle, a crystal cave and more that you will more than likely spend between 1-2 hours just looking at everything.
In fact, should you stand still long enough, you’ll also get to see some cute character animations that are bound to bring a smile or two to your face and to compliment the radiating beauty all throughout, there’s a killer soundtrack that accompanies it exquisitely.
What Motoi Sakuraba, Michiru Yamane, Yuzo Koshiro, Keiki Kobayashi, Takeshi Yanagawa, and Haruka Shimotsuki, have brought to the table is simply marvellous but where Monster Boy truly shines, is in the gameplay.
Before we dive into gameplay though, here’s a quick run-through of the story that drives Monster Boy and the Cursed kingdom. Taking centre stage as the protagonist, is a blue-haired lad named Jin. One day, Jin was out fishing, only to then have his uncle Nabu whiz by on a flying barrel, wielding a wand and wreaking havoc all over the Monster World Kingdom.
The havoc in question is turning every human who calls the Monster World kingdom home, into animals and it is Jin who must embark on a quest to save his countryman and discover the mystery behind what caused his uncle to bring about this disaster in the first place. Now onto the gameplay.
Being influenced by Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, across Jin’s adventure in a side-scrolling and interconnected open-world, Jin will go to be able to acquire a total of 6 transformations that are a lot of fun to use. For example, the snake form is great for getting through tight spaces and discovering new areas, the lion form can dash and leap through blocks and the dragon form can have you flying all over the place, breathing fire as you go.
One of the best, but underrated characters though, is Jin’ pig form. It might not be much to look at, but provided you find the secret rooms, you can uncover truffles that will allow him to shoot fireballs, cast lightning, and even throw bombs, boomerangs and mini tornadoes.
Those items can come in handy a lot, especially on very specific treasure chests that need to be struck by a certain object, a finite amount of times, just so that you can claim the Life Heart from it and get another heart. Just remember that in order to use them, you will need to press the X button, with R and L requiring you to hold them, to bring up a small sub-menu that consists of the truffle powers you’ve acquired.
However, X is not limited to just pig form Jin. Provided you have a transformation’s associated talismans, X is used to use their ability, be it the lion’s dash, spit venom as the snake, spit fire, or even stick out your tongue whilst in the form of a frog. Not only can the later use the tongue so you can swing around like Spiderman, but you can even lick up bombs and spit them back.
As for other controls, B is good for jumping and flapping wings, Y is for attacking and A is good for interacting with NPCs and the like. Should you hold on to ZR or ZL though, that will cause another menu to pop up, which shows you the transformations you are capable of using at the given time. By all means, you are welcome to have a favourite one, but at the end of the day, if you wish to make it to the final confrontation, you will need to use all of them.
In fact, it is rather commendable how Game Atelier have been able to make sure each transformation gets their turn, and piece of equipment. From Ice Boots that can freeze lava so you can walk across it, to a garb that gives you immunity from poison, everything that you can buy from a shop/earn during your travels, will get used at some point and you’ll be glad to do so. (Things like items and equipment can accessed via the pause menu and changed at any time.)
Just don’t go expecting getting the golden armour and equipment so soon, since the best gear in the game does come at a price and that price is each piece of equipment that makes up a set (tunic, weapon, shield, boots and bracelet,) is fractured into pieces and those pieces are in chests scattered all across the land.
Once assembled, they’ll make the final battle a cakewalk, but good luck finding them all, because in addition to a great visual style, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom has some stellar level and dungeon design. On top of a couple of Zelda references and references to other games, you would think Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom was a Zelda game.
From very clever puzzles that can have you scratching your head for quite a while, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is an intricate game that refuses to hand-hold. There are instances of tips here and there, but a lot of the time, you’re on your own and before I knew it, the haunted mansion themed dungeon had quickly become my version of the Water Temple from Ocarina of Time.
So, yeah, good luck finding all the chests that contain pieces of golden equipment, Life Hearts and all the rest of the collectable items because more often or not, you will need to figure out how to reach them.
If it suddenly feels like I am trying to put you off, I’m not, but you need to realise that Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom isn’t just any other game. It takes inspiration from the past and present, but it is a game for gamers. Casual gamers can get into it, but it is the die-hard fangirls and fanboys who will get a real kick out of it because it will challenge you. It will test you and even when it frustrates you, you will simply love it all the more.
Even the implementation of HD Rumble is tastefully done. There’s one particular moment where there is a safe that you need to crack and it is the vibration of the controller in which will tell you if you’re closing in on the combination or not.
Back to the equipment and treasures you can find however, there are even gems you can acquire that can be used to empower your inventory and give them even additional useful effects. There is even a discoverable item (Rainbow Drop) that you can get early on in the game, which can be traded to a certain NPC (Loot Master,) who in exchange, will place a mark on your map (press – to view,) where a new treasure can be discovered.
Even when not currently questing for treasure, but looking for indication as to where to go next, it always pays to pay attention to the map, as it will show off all the places you’ve been before, which includes the nearest save spot, the nearest healing save spot, closet shop, nurse, equipment shop, blacksmith, inn and warp portal is.
Quite frankly, the map is your best friend and will always do it’s best to help you, which also includes telling you just how much of the map you have explored and keeps track of how many Life Hearts, Truffles, music chests, chests and Golden weapon parts you’ve collected, whilst showing where each piece and item came from. (Talk about nifty!)
As regards to issues, although there were a few bugs when I started playing Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, the game has since upgraded to Version 1.0.2, which FDG Entertainment has said fixes more than 300 bugs and I have yet to have a single performance issue since updating.
So because there are no existing issues to go over, as I feel the game’s complex puzzles and difficulty is well and truly justified, there is something else I want to say instead and it is this… Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is not perfect but it is a truly awe-inspiring game. It has ghosts that look just like Super Mario Odyssey’s Cappy (FDG Entertainment says it wasn’t intentional,) it has character animations that are worth watching and it literally oozes brilliance at every turn, even in the anime-like title-screen cut-scene!
Quite frankly, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a game that will keep you on your toes. The boss battles follow the Zelda formula, you never know what’s coming next and if it wasn’t for Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom would be my “Nintendo Switch Game of the Year for 2018” and it is on that bombshell, it’s time to bring on the conclusion.
Patience is a virtue and as the long wait for Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom has been absolutely worth it. It’s not just a successor to the Wonder Boy series, but it’s the successor we wished it would be. The gameplay is brilliant, the puzzles are engaging and the art style is the cherry on top.
Quite frankly, whether you’re a fan of the Wonder Boy games or not, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a game that you need to own. It will enthral you, give you one of the best gaming experiences you’ve ever had and if the 1989 release of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap was Wonder Boy’s version of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, then that makes Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom this year’s A Link Between Worlds because it really is that good!
THE VERDICT: 9/10
*Review Key Provided by FDG Entertainment
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This post was written by Solid Jack