Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection is a compilation title that seeks to bring a series of classic games, the Wonder Boy series, onto modern platforms. If you’re not familiar with the series itself, you’re seriously missing out. They started out as a series of relatively simple arcade platformers, but as time went by, they developed into a wide variety of gameplay mechanics, including some RPG elements that turn them from a simple adventure into an epic hero’s journey. Even so, all of the games in the series feature the same vitality/timer mechanics, the same young boy hero (except that one time he was a girl), and of course, plenty of monsters for you to defeat as you make your way through the story. The question is, does this series hold up in the modern era, or is it something that modern audiences are just going to find “old hat”? Let’s take a look and find out.
Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection – A Definitive Experience
First of all, it’s important to state that this is the definitive modern version of the Wonder Boy series, and I do mean the entire series. This collection, not to be confused with the similarly-named Wonder Boy Collection, includes every game in the series, from the original Wonder Boy up to Wonder Boy IV. Not only that, but unlike the aforementioned competing compilation, it also includes multiple versions of each game. Do you prefer to play the Master System version of Wonder Boy in Monster Land? You totally can. You can also play the arcade version if you want the best experience and don’t have any MS nostalgia. You can also play any of the four different versions of Wonder Boy III because the people who released this game really knew how hardcore late-80s arcade platform fans are.
So, if you’re already familiar with the series, then you can stop reading right now. Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection is the best way to play these games on modern platforms, and you can play any version of the game that you can think of (unless you only played the C64 version of Wonder Boy 1, but there’s no pleasing some people.) All that remains is to look back at the series and see if these games still hold up today and whether or not a modern gamer with no love for the series will get a kick out of playing them. The short answer is: yes, very much so. The long answer is:
Does the Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection Hold Up?
Trying to examine each game individually would probably be insane, but mostly, it would just be pointless. While each game is distinct and brings its own features or quirks to the central gameplay, the question of whether or not the series as a whole is worth playing for an unaffiliated modern gamer is better looked at holistically. The series does have many gameplay similarities, and the key factor is that the fast-paced arcade gameplay that the main series is known for still very much holds up. Your main character controls incredibly well and is incredibly responsive. On top of that, the period of pixel art during which these titles were produced is classic, and to this day, it looks better than most early 3D offerings that were more technologically advanced.
There’s also been a very smart inclusion of some new features, though I dare say the so-called “git gud” set will be upset about them. You can rewind time while playing if you struggle to get through any sections of the game, a relatively standard feature of most re-releases these days. It’s a welcome addition, and I would hasten to remind players of these old games that arcade systems were tough because they were bleeding you like a child-based milking machine, not because the developers really wanted to challenge you so you’d grow up into a big-balls tough-boi. The console versions followed that rule, for the most part, because when everyone is running in the same direction, you tend to just get swept up in the rush. Also, let people play games however the hell they want. The only reason you should care is if you’re not actually enjoying the challenge and want to make everyone else as miserable as you are.
Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection – Extra Features
Okay, rant over. Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection also features some other additions, such as being able to freely explore the map to find hidden spots, as well as things like CRT overlays and graphical filters. The overlays and shaders are some of the most customizable that I’ve come across, with the ability to choose your overlay style, how opaque it is, and the curvature and overblown gamma of a virtual CRT screen. Of course, the graphics do sort of look best without these overlays, but they’re a very nice addition for anyone who’s used to playing on a CRT and wants to wear their nostalgia goggles while they play. The map feature is also really neat since, in the later games, the levels can be quite sprawling. It’s helpful to have the maps for every level of the game available to be looked through whenever you need to.
There are also some other added features that you can access outside of the games themselves. There’s a pretty extensive gallery to check out that features concept art for all of the games, as well as several high-quality manual and cover scans for the various ports and versions. If you’ve ever been searching for high-quality versions of some of the more obscure pieces of artwork, covers, or manuals, this is a great way to get them, and it’s also just really interesting to be able to see the Japanese versions in great detail. They’ve even gone to the trouble of including the arcade flyer for the original Japanese release of the first Wonder Boy arcade cabinet. Magical.
Overall, The Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection is by far the best way to play these games on modern hardware. Not only do you get a huge selection of different versions of each game, but you also get access to bonus artwork, rewind features, and one of the most interesting CRT overlay systems that we’ve seen. The only real ‘gripe,’ if you can even call it that, is that there’s no inclusion of a music player or soundtrack library. Still, that aside, these games hold up shockingly well, and the rewind and map features are both great ways of making them more enjoyable for people who didn’t grow up in the era of wallet-draining frustration and so did not learn to enjoy flagellating themselves. If you’re a fan or just like the look of this series, you need to get this game.
Developers: Bliss Brain, Westone Bit Entertainment, Lizardcube, SEGA Enterprises Limited
Publisher: Bliss Brain
Platforms: PlayStation 4/5, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 26th January 2023