With Nintendo’s success with their mascot Mario, many companies followed suit trying to find that one creature that would separate them from the rest of the pact. Sega went through many before settling on the blue blur of Sonic the Hedgehog. Some of these include: Alex Kidd, Vectorman, Ristar, Greendog. Many of them were in some great games but for whatever reason, their character didn’t take off. One of those mascots was known simply as Wonderboy.
Wonderboy has an interesting history as well. The first in the series was a side scrolling platformer featuring our protagonist: a blond haired boy, green shorts, bare foot, and no shirt. Armed with a stone axe, he took on the likes of the jungle collecting fruit to repair his ever diminishing life bar before time wore out. Along the way, you can crack an egg to find a stake board giving you the speed that typically causes more harm than it’s worth. For those Nintendo fans who may not know Wonderboy by name, can definitely relate to a similar title known as Adventure Island for the NES. A game that was only made possible by odd copyrights and a company that was determined to make more money.
As a side note, Wonderboy was one of the first arcade games I had ever played. It was in a karate dojo. My older brother was taking classes and I was there to hang out with my dad. There was a switch on the cabinet that went between Wonderboy and Shinobi. It was pretty beat up.
Like most games in a series, Wonderboy evolved. A sub genre was born out of translation from one language to another. In Japan, the games are known as Monster World. The naming got super confusing with the last in the series known as Wonderboy V: Monster World III. The game itself evolved from a fast paced, skateboarding fruit collector to a dungeon crawling, dragon slaying, action adventure game. Not something you really see nowadays: a series taking a completely different turn into a new genre. But those times for taking AAA games into risky areas are long gone.
As the game matured, they took a new look on a common gaming troupe at the time: the pitfall. Platformers long before Monster World taught us one thing: pitfalls equal sudden death. Super Mario Bros, Mega Man, Prince of Persia, Castlevania. All of these taught a very strict rule: you fall in the hole, you lose a life. I’m sure there’s a fun rhyme there I’m just not thinking of. Because of this, as a gamer, we were naturally frightened of pitfalls. You wouldn’t dare jump in one willingly.
Enter Wonderboy III: Dragon’s Trap. A game that was an action adventure platformer designed around the idea of exploration. Its level design consists of pitfalls scattered throughout the world. Only difference is, these pitfalls went somewhere. Somewhere that, if you hadn’t taken the plunge and jumped in, would have never discovered. Most of these falls landed you into a body of water unearthing a whole new world to explore, treasure to collect, and enemies to conquer. All from a pitfall.
Now there’s a right way to do this and a wrong way. A simple change of adding something at the end of a pitfall is interesting enough to allow your mind to explore that space. Take for instance Frog Fractions. The true nature of that game wouldn’t even exist if you didn’t take a plunge into the deadly water. The wrong way to do it is to go overboard with the idea so far that it seems like a cheap gimmick. Something like Default Dan where the main game mechanics include coins that kill you in one hit, spikes that bounce you up, and jumping up to the top of screen makes you appear at the bottom. All of these things together, albeit funny, is too much to build an entire game around.
Going against the social norms isn’t always a great idea but it definitely gets the creative moving. Nintendo has a similar trick where they take a very simple concept and then explore to the very nth degree (no pun intended) as to what you can really do with this simple concept. If you don’t believe me, play Luigi’s Mansion for the Nintendo Gamecube. It really is just a game about using a vacuum cleaner but they push it to its limits.
Don’t let yourself be pigeon holed into the same, tired game mechanics like everyone else. Remember to have fun, experiment, and always try new things. Prototyping new gameplay ideas is the best way to see if something really has legs to stick. You might even come up with a brand new take on an old idea. How great would that be?
P.S. Wonderboy Dragon’s Trap is actually getting a super sweet remake by developer Lizardcube and publisher DotEmu. They have refined the gameplay mechanics and created an all new art style but you can still switch it back to 8 bit at a touch of a button. The best part? Lizardcube has reengineered the original password system that Dragon’s Trap used back in 1989. So much, in fact, that the password that you used in 1989 to save your progress will work on this 2017 remake. That’s a password system that works over console generations. Talk about innovation.