Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap is a platform adventure with RPG elements and it is considered to be one of the best games on the Master System. It was developed by Westone and published by Sega in 1989.
The game begins with you playing as Wonder Boy, on his way to confront the dragon in Monster Land. During a prologue boss battle the dragon curses the titular hero and turns him into a fire-breathing lizard, and the rest of the game is spent trying to figure out a way to turn back into human form. However, as the game progresses Wonder Boy goes through a number of transformations as he battles against “The Dragon’s Trap” – the curse that keeps turning him into different forms.
The format of the game is basically a platform game, although it does feature RPG elements, such as accessing an inventory to set your sword, shield and armour, plus selecting a secondary weapon that can be arrows, fireballs, boomerangs, tornado, and thunder (the secondary weapon is activated by pressing down and jump at the same time). By defeating enemies with your sword (or other offensive weapon, if the form you’re in doesn’t allow use of a sword) they will drop either money, secondary weapon ammo, or charm stones, and the idea is to collect these to help improve your defensive and offensive capabilities by buying things at shops.
As you explore the levels you’ll notice areas that you cannot access, and these become available as you change into different forms. To change form you have to beat the boss of a particular level, which you’ll eventually find hidden behind a door somewhere. The boss battles are actually excellent and one of the reasons why this game is so good. After defeating a boss a blue flame touches Wonder Boy and turns him into something else, usually making other areas of the game accessible, so there’s quite a bit of back-tracking to areas you’ve already been to, but which have now opened up other routes with your new abilities. The second transformation, for example, turns you into “Mouse-Man” a pint-sized boy with a sword and shield, but one that is capable of walking on any blocks that have a chequerboard pattern on them. He can even walk upside down, which makes for fun exploration.
There are five forms in total, including: Lizard-Man, who can breathe fire; the aforementioned Mouse-Man; Piranha-Man, who can swim effectively; Lion-Man, who is strong and has a wide sword swing arc (which can hit enemies above and below); Hawk-Man, who can fly to places the other forms cannot reach, and Hu-Man, which is Wonder Boy‘s original human form. Initially you can’t change form manually, but this changes when you reach a special room about a third of the way into the game. Once you reach this room you can stand on a platform and choose which form you want to change into.
The kind of weapons and armour you choose to equip are also important. Dragon Mail, for example, might not be as protective as other armour, but it allows you to walk through lava without getting damaged. When you find and equip the Thunder Sabre, this allows you hit and break certain blocks to allow access to otherwise unreachable areas. There’s even a magical sword that allows you to create blocks along certain walls, so that you can make your own platforms. It’s important to experiment with different items to see if they are helpful beyond the obvious.
Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap is packed full of secrets, including five hidden boss dragons that can only be accessed by having 99 charm stones and also by knowing where the doors are to open them. The game also has beautiful, colourful, varied graphics; interesting level designs; superb game mechanics, and wonderful, memorable music. It’s challenging, with a well-designed difficulty curve, and is still great fun to play to this day. In my opinion Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap is the best game on the Master System – it’s a retro-gaming masterpiece.