I’m a bit late coming into Monster Boy And The Cursed Kingdom (which released on July 25th) thanks to how utterly slammed I was at the end of last month, and the review key coming through on launch day meant that I’d be late covering it regardless, making it easy to set aside until I’d covered the several other games ahead of it first. Regardless, this is an incredibly good game that blends its old-school sensibilities into modern gameplay conventions without either being jarring. The Wonder Boy/Monster World series isn’t one that I have significant experience with, to be perfectly honest; SEGA didn’t play a part in my childhood gaming memories until the Genesis/Mega Drive, so I had never had an introduction to Master System games like Wonder Boy in Monster Land, while the Genesis’ similar-sounding Wonder Boy in Monster World wasn’t available for rental where I lived for whatever reason. I’ve since played a little of both it and Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair on the PC via SEGA’s official emulation, but certainly not enough to pick up on subtle callbacks and such. That lack of experience makes it possible to judge Monster Boy And The Cursed Kingdom entirely on its own merits, however, and what’s here is incredibly colorful, charming, and challenging (but only when you’re not prepared).
You play as a young boy who, like many people throughout the world, is magically transformed into an animal during his uncle’s antics. Additional forms become available as you play through the game and obtain magical orbs, and each form has its owns pros and cons; your pig form can sniff out hidden objects and use magic, but only certain other forms are able to equip the weapons and armor that allow you to do such things as double-jump and inflict poison with your attacks. Your snake form can spit poison to activate switches and crawl walls, your frog form can use his tongue to swing around on any conveniently placed rings, and I haven’t even unlocked all of the forms yet. Figuring out which form you need to solve a puzzle is a puzzle in itself, and I’m really enjoying how much depth there is in all of this. For example, you can switch to the frog form if you’re about to drown and have your oxygen replenished. It makes sense, but few games would allow it.
Monster Boy And The Cursed Kingdom is a metroidvania in the sense that you can backtrack once you obtain a new power and use it to open a new way forward, but it’s also an old-school game at heart. You can lose your health quickly if you’re not paying attention. At one point, I was swimming underwater with the frog form and a mine came out of nowhere and exploded on me, taking out the majority of my life bar because I hadn’t noticed it fast enough. There are also some incredibly precise jumps in the early-ish game, especially if you want to find secrets that increase the number of consumable magic spells your pig form can carry at one time. All problems have reasonable solutions, though: if you’re having trouble with explosives, you can purchase equipment that reduces explosion damage, while tricky jumps can be largely trivialized by double-jump shoes. This speaks to the care that went into every aspect of this game; I’ve been playing the PC version with both a Playstation 4 and Xbox 360 controller, and the former rumbles and turns the sensor light red whenever my health is critically low. Everything about Monster Boy And The Cursed Kingdom signifies quality, with my only real complaint at the moment being the music, which is often cheery and upbeat to a fault.
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