Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is the long awaited spiritual successor to the Wonder Boy series that released on the Sega Master System and Mega Drive in the late 80s and early 90s. The last new game in the series was Monster World IV on April 1, 1994 and was only released in Japan. So despite Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, a remake of the original that released on all current-gen consoles in 2017, fans have been craving a new entry – and now that wait is finally over. This game has been five years in the making, but has Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom been worth the wait, or does it lean too heavily on nostalgia?
Monster Boy’s story is fairly simple: your uncle has gone mad and has stolen a magic wand that turns everyone into monsters, including you! So naturally, it is up to you to stop him. Your task is to collect the five orbs and restore them in order to bring peace to the Village of Lupia and neighboring areas.
Once the groundwork of the plot has been laid down, you don’t hear about it for a while. Once you collect an orb and return to the village, the Mysticat simply points you in the direction of the next one. The plot may seem hollow and lackluster to gamers who love a good story, however it quickly gains more momentum in the latter portion of the game, with some surprising (and not so surprising) twists. During the sections where the plot takes a step back, the story tells itself organically through quirky NPCs talking about their own problems that all seem to conveniently fall in line with your own goals.
There are some hilarious in-game moments that has spot-on comedic timing. No spoilers, but there will be a few tense moments where the game will make you chuckle, maintaining that light-hearted tone that Monster Boy is primarily going for.
Monster Boy’s gameplay is silky smooth, but still very reminiscent of the classic games on the Sega Master System. The game runs at a perfect 60FPS and we never noticed a single hiccup. Game Atelier has managed to maintain the old-school combat whilst implementing some modern tweaks, keeping it comfortable for today’s gamer.
Each monster that you can turn into has their own unique abilities which really mixes up the gameplay. For example when playing as the pig, you have a heightened sense of smell which allows you to uncover secret doors and hidden areas, and the snake can crawl into tight spaces and climb moss-covered walls. The puzzle platforming sections can get really challenging, occasionally forcing you to stop and really consider what your next move should be.
Swapping between monsters and spells is very intuitive. The menu allows you to choose which monster and spell you would like to use by having your options laid out like a turn-wheel, letting you instantly select one with the left analogue stick. This UI design choice is perfect for transforming between monsters in order to solve puzzles. In later portions of the game, you will find yourself swapping between monsters a lot. This could have been a real hassle (and potentially a deal-breaker), but Game Atelier implemented this system perfectly. This is where Monster Boy truly shines! The game’s puzzles are very imaginative, and what could have been a cumbersome process was made seamless and intuitive.
The puzzles can be very challenging, but never unfair. You may occasionally find yourself wandering around an area wondering where the answer might be, but the pace and progression of the game helps you to always know whether you’re on the right track. Sometimes the puzzles may seem obscure, and you may pull a few hairs out from time-to-time, but each monsters’ abilities are utilized so well that you’ll always need to consider every option that you have at your disposal.
The HD Rumble on the Nintendo Switch version feels incredible, with each monster having their very own unique feedback. You may not notice it at times, but take it away and there would definitely be something missing. It merely just adds to the ambiance, which is ultimately the whole point of the feature. A standout part of the implementation has to be when your health is low, you can feel the heartbeat pulsing through the controller.
There is certainly a distinct difficulty spike at around the halfway mark. This will certainly come as a shock, especially to new and more inexperienced players, and may lead to a few of rage quits. At around this point, Monster Boy also tends to steer heavily into the puzzle aspect of the game, with many moments that will leave you pulling your scratching your head. However as previously stated, these puzzles aren’t impossible. It all makes sense if you really stop to think or thoroughly check your surroundings.
World / Level Design
Monster Boy has streamlined a lot of what made the classic games frustrating. Dying isn’t that punishing anymore and when you full down a pit, there is usually an easy way to make your way back up – just as long as you go through the hard yards to get there in the first place. There are also portals for you to teleport, which makes exploring and 100%ing the game so much more convenient – and late in the game, you obtain a staff that allows you to teleport to a portal from almost anywhere!
The map is definitely bigger than we had initially expected and it is designed in a way that is easily understandable for quick use. There is also a legend that allows you to see how much of a collectible you have found, which makes 100%ing the game a much more achievable goal. There are many secrets to uncover, but the game rarely wishes to take you far from the main quest for too long. These secrets are clever and Monster Boy rewards you for your efforts when you go off the beaten path.
One of the frustrating things about old games is that they hadn’t figured out how to effectively use checkpoints. However, this is not a problem in Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom as the checkpoints are spaced out so that it isn’t mind-numbingly frustrating when you die, yet it still maintains an appropriate level of difficulty. This makes the game more accessible to a wider audience, potentially starting a new wave of fans for the series’ future.
Graphics / Art Direction
Monster Boy. Is. Beautiful! The vibrant colors, the adorable cartoony art style, it all blends immaculately well together. The colorful art direction really makes this title appealing to gamers of all ages.
The character designs are incredibly detailed, bringing forth so much wonderful personality. This can be said for everything from the different monsters, to NPCs, villains and bosses; each design is very imaginative whilst not straying too far from what classic fans are familiar with. Some enemies are also drawn with such whimsical charm that you may feel a little guilty for killing them… well, I did until they hurt me instead.
The opening cutscene is gorgeous and of such high quality that we would love to see a fully animated adaptation of the series. Many gamers choose to skip past the opening cutscene in order to dive straight into the action but this one instantly pulls you in, so you may have to hold off for a minute or two. There is also a cutscene after you defeat the final boss that is equally immaculate. It just makes us want to see more. You can tell that Monster Boy was a passion project for Game Atelier and the five years has certainly paid off in spades.
In the Village of Lupia, it’s clear that a lot of attention to detail went in to making it feel so alive. There is so much happening in the foreground and background, with incredible layering effects to make everything truly stand out. You could easily get lost when soaking in the atmosphere, taking a moment to acknowledge the child mouse talking to the giraffe merchant or wonder what the fox is doing standing on top of the clock tower with his cape flapping in the wind… seriously, why isn’t he the protagonist!? Look how cool he is!
The game is fluid, with in-game animations coming across as lively as ever. We here at Switchaboo love a good idle animation and if you do too, then Monster Boy will not disappoint. The pig getting confused about which eye his eye-patch should be on is my personal favourite, but watching the frog trying to catch the fly is a close second.
Music / Sound Design
The soundtrack for Monster Boy is generally upbeat and lively. There aren’t too many tracks that come across as dark and ominous, adding to that jolly aesthetic that Monster Boy has going for it. It absolutely adds a sense of lightheartedness to the adventure, which is the vibe that we’re sure Game Atelier were going for based off of the art style.
Fans of the series may recognize a few remastered tracks from the classic series. Monster Boy tries not to steer too hard into the nostalgia but when it does, it executes it with class. It also might just be me, but the music certainly gives off a very Sega Genesis/Mega Drive vibe at times (and I’m not referring to the remastered tracks). Especially in levels such as The Lost Temples, I could have sworn I was playing a modern and deliberately slow Sonic game.
Finer details are also added that make the world come to life just that little bit more. When defeating an enemy, they’ll often make a little squeak, providing an oddly satisfying charm to it. While this certainly isn’t something that is essential to the experience, including subtle details like that just adds the bow on top of the ribbon that’s wrapped around the gift that is this game.
Final Score: 98%
To get straight to the point, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a masterpiece. The art style and aesthetics have a wide appeal, yet it has varying levels of difficulty that wouldn’t disappoint seasoned gamers. With the game being five years in the making, Game Atelier and FDG Entertainment have released an entry in the series that will truly last the test of time.
Will you be picking up Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom? Let us know in the Comments section below.
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