Rom Player: MAME
Synopsis: I can remember two things from my youth in 1987: debating whether Gene Simmons' tongue was actually surgically replaced with that of a cow's during recess, and being so addicted to the arcade classic "Wonderboy" that at the tender age of 10, I made a deal with my mother in which I agreed to cut off my beloved mullet in exchange for $5 in quarters which I used to play this game. I arrived at the fruit shop by my house that housed this hidden gem at 6am (before anybody else was there so I wouldn't have to wait in line to play - it was rather popular), and lasted until around noon until my quarters ran out. I recall my eyes hurting significantly when the sunlight from outside struck them, and after they adjusted pathetically searching the sidewalks of the neighborhood for pennies to exchange for one more quarter.
The story of Wonderboy on the Sega Master went something like this: you are a boy named Tom-Tom and a prince or something who must rescue Tonya (or Tanya?) from an evil jungle king. I'm assuming the arcade game's story was the same, but like all games from that day, the story meant shit. Some asshole took your woman and you'll go through a whole mess of bullshit to get her back!
You begin the game with nothing but a pile of leaves covering up your naughty bits, and a lovely blonde ponytail. Cracking open large eggs revealed the game's only weapon, the axe, and the game's only mode of defense/transportation, the skateboard. The axe was a perfect example of videogame logic at the time; pick up one and you have an unlimited supply to throw at the snails, snakes, bees, and annoying frogs that will do everything short of nothing to stop you from rescuing your love. The skateboard was a double-edged sword; it provided protection (normally, touch anything besides the ground and stationary rocks in this game and you die, but when you hit the deck, you get a chance to bang into something) and speed, but at a cost - control. Use the skateboard on a level you are familiar with and it's great. In a strange area however, unless you're going slow, you wouldn't know what to expect and would most likely end up in a bottomless pit. Eggs also revealed fairies, which provided temporary invincibility, mushrooms, which converted fruit into snacks such as burgers and sundaes, which were worth more points and vitality... and then there was the dreaded 'spotted egg'. This Pandora’s Box contained the grim reaper who, characteristically, was one dirty son of a bitch. If you were careless or dumb enough to let him out of his egg, he would follow you around slowing you down significantly and only leave when your vitality (see below) was so low you were seconds from death. To be avoided at all costs!
Wonderboy had a unique time system in the form of a vitality meter. If you ran out of vitality, you lost a life. It gradually decreased over time, but could be replenished a bit by grabbing fruit and snacks, or completely by finding a jug of milk. Bumping into stones reduced it significantly, and being idle for too long was obviously not a good idea. Because the time meter at the top of the screen resembled an 'energy' or 'health' meter from other games, many a newbie found out the hard way by being shocked when they'd die immediately after colliding with one of the game's baddies. Spotted eggs, mentioned above,
If I recall correctly, the game consisted of 8 levels which each contained four areas, the final always being a 'spooky' forest with even 'spookier' music which ended with a castle and the jungle king with a different head. Throw a bunch of axes at his head and dodge his fireballs and the bastard's head would fall off revealing a new one. Then he'd float away and leave behind items that I'm assuming belonged to the lovely Tonya/Tanya such as a bracelet, a slipper, a perfume bottle, and a teddy bear. Another curiosity specific to the fourth area was the coyote. This anal assassin would dash at you from behind whenever you noticed a flower on the ground, and leap over you if the flower contained no yellow center. It took two axes to kill him, but be cool enough to kill him from behind and he'd leave a credit card (or cassette tape?) that gave you a nice amount of points and vitality to boot.
Wonderboy was a rather frustrating game, and I think if I played it today for the first time, I wouldn't give it more than five minutes. There were some moving platform stages that were just plain evil, and it was mostly a trial and error type experience. I never beat the game myself, but was told that when you reached the final level, you could no longer continue which is just sadistic considering it could take a few hours to reach it. Not for the faint of heart or those who gained their gaming skills on the PSX. Old skool to the core.
The graphics were good for the time, but nothing stands out. Very cartoony and cutesy, and some odd effects which are probably not politically correct enough to be seen in any game released in the last ten years or so outside Japan (jump in the fire to see what I mean). The music was extremely repetitive, but in the Mario sense; so damn lame you want to rip out your teeth and plug your ears with them, but so damn annoyingly catchy it will become tattooed on your mind if you spend any significant amount of time with the game. Sound effects were actually quite good for that era and fit the theme of the game quite well.
All in all I think Wonderboy is a great game. It would be impossible to provide an unbiased review for this classic because it was such a big part of my childhood. Any game that would provide such an ominous revelation for my compulsive and addictive behavior in the future has to be worth a shot at in MAME. You won't be disappointed. Or maybe you might, but I won't care.
Edit: Purposely omitted was any mention of Hudson's Adventure Island which is basically a rip-off of this classic. I know the developers had a deal and blah blah, but nevertheless, Wonderboy is much better.
Not really a cheat, but on every level there is a 'secret' spot where if you throw an axe, a letter or a baby Wonderboy (free life) will appear. The letters were the initials of the developer (SMC? SCA? I forget) and worth a nice amount of points.
Game Play: 8
Overall Rating: 8
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