Charm, chivalry, and cuteness is what 'Wonder Boy Returns" is all about. This Sega classic about an island native, and his hurt love interest is redone and retold by CFK in a way that carries with it the retro goodness of the original games while adding in improved HD cartoon-like graphics to boost it's attractiveness. Though challenging, and simplistic at the same time 'Wonder Boy Returns', and it's accompanying two main modes of play will no doubt have your eyes glued to the screen as you attempt to perfect playthroughs, and obtain the highest score possible. It is, at heart a vividly portrayed high scoring experience in which you'll have to collect food items in order to ward of the new boy's insane calorie burning metabolism all while tossing your tomahawk at enemies that appear in your way along the way. Obstacles are plentiful, and the pitfalls of usual 2D platforming are included to make your stage by stage trek to save your beloved Tina all the more perilous. The main threat of all though being the devilish fiend who has stolen Tina from you in the midst of a heated lover's quarrel.
Wonder Boy Returns opens up boldly with a comical collection of comic style art panels displaying the story that will motivate you, and push you forward to save the game's damsel in distress. This plot, though short lived shows the new boy initially lazing about in the arms of two other girls that aren't his main love interest, Tina. Tina intervenes giving the new boy what for, and ultimately pins him down with a large rock stomping off in a fit of rage. To her dismay this prevents the new boy from coming to her rescue when a devilish deviant swoops down, and flies her off far, far away. In his own newfound rage, and sadness the new boy follows in pursuit of the devilish fiend through 10 environmentally themed stages divided by 4 sub-stages each. With the aid of a tomahawk throwing weapon, food items, and power-ups of the most unusual sort the new boy must fight and feed his way to the final boss in order to save Tina, and right the wrongs he has set into motion.
Gameplay in 'Wonder Boy Returns' comes in the form of two slightly different main modes of play. One mode being that of 'Start', and the other 'Challenge'. The 'Start' mode features three different difficulty options including that of Easy, Normal, and Hell. The main differences between the three difficulties being the amount of enemies you encounter, and the number of lives with which you have to play through the entirety of all 10 stages. In the 'Easy' mode in particular you'll find immediate access to all stages, and sub-stages with a healthy supply of 10 lives. In the other difficulties there are progressively less lives, and even more enemies to deal with. Not only that, but you must unlock the stages in order in this main mode of play.
As far as the protagonist goes you'll initially only be able to play through the adventure as the "New Boy", but through continued progression, and the collection of Tina dolls (120 in total) you will unlock a retro version of the new boy as well as Tina herself. With Tina being a sort of role reversal for those who think it's the boy who should be rescued, and not a damsel in distress. When it comes to a playthrough, whatever the difficulty setting, and whomever the protagonist may be the main goals are always to move forward while minding your food health bar (which is constantly depleting), and avoiding any hazards before you. In each of the stage's sub-stages (1-1) you will run into 4 checkpoints numerically acknowledged through signs before an end "Goal" sign, or "Boss" battle comes into focus. The boss battles, in particular happen at the fourth sub-stages which also include the 4 checkpoints plus a "Boss" sign. When it comes to stage progression the areas between said checkpoints are filled with standard platforming perils, enemy threats, three hidden Tina dolls, and the food items that will refill your depleting health bar until you make it to the end.You begin by cracking open an egg containing your tomahawk, and fight and feed your way forward to the end. Supposing you die in a sub-stage you'll start over at the most recently passed checkpoint with another tomahawk egg laid before you for cracking.
The insta-kill threats you'll face along the way include various environmental hazards like pitfalls, fires, falling spikes, and even animal-like creatures. Snails, bats, seagulls, octopi, and things of those sort. The environmental hazards, as they were can only be avoided by jumping, or by doing a combo run and jump that is a lot like the Super Mario Bros. (Hold 'B') speed jump. When it comes to the running jump the advantage thereof is that it allows you to not only dodge certain environmental hazards, but also helps you to collect the higher items that appear just before you get near them.On the flipside attacking enemies sometimes take more than one landed hit, and tossing out tomahawks (or boomerangs in Tina's case) while advancing will sometimes give you a much needed advantage in those instances. Just note that to deal with the enemies you must land the appropriate amount of hits to make them disappear off screen.
In the previously mentioned 'Challenge' mode. You'll find that it lives up to it's name. The challenge presents itself in a straightforward, from the beginning to the end, playthrough of all 10 stages including the boss battles at the end of each fourth sub-stage. The catch is you only have 3 lives to complete it. By completing it I mean collecting all 120 Tina dolls, surviving all stages, and defeating all bosses. There are no retries as with the 'Story' mode, and you can't simply go back to the map navigation menu to select which sub-stage you'd like to continue on. It's an either you do it, or you don't kind of deal. Something that streamers with a knack for taking on challenging games might find stream worthy.
The presentation ...
Though upgraded in HD with a new cartoon-like appearance 'Wonder Boy Returns' still carries with it the retro gaming greatness of the original/s. I believe it enhances the experience, makes it more visually appealing, and overall more fun to play though. Even the soundtrack takes on a sort of retro appeal that is simple, yet good. The fact that the music changes on occasion instead of remaining the same in every stage definitely makes the experience not as annoying as it would have been otherwise. It's a simple yet effective presentation that does this game experience wonders!
The verdict ...
The reason I reached out to the PR about reviewing this game was that it reminded me of something I'd enjoyed as a gamer back in the NES days. That game being 'Adventure Island'. While I've never played a Wonder Boy game it does carry an uncanny resemblance to said game series. The main difference being the graphic style, and protagonists. Regardless of similarities, or the lack thereof this game succeeded in impressing me in all the right ways. The visual, and audio presentation were admirable enough, and the gameplay fun. The only flaw I ran into is what I call a "Suicide Glitch'. This glitch happened in Easy mode in the main mode of play after my third death. Upon respawn at the fourth checkpoint the character began running into a fire over, and over again. My controller would not respond. I had to hold in the "P" button on the controller until it turned off to regain control of my console functions. It was a first for me, and definitely something that needs to be looked into even if the fault is with my controller. If it can be fixed, or supposing the glitch is controller related I'd recommend this game in a heartbeat. It is truly worth buying, and owning in my personal opinion.