The first real Wonderboy sequel in a quarter century is up there with the best metroidvanias, despite some small quirks, and really plays like the version of Wonderboy 3 that lives in our rose-tinted memory.
It positions itself as a proper reimagining of Wonderboy 3: The Dragon's Trap, presenting a good modernized version of the same gameplay elements, only far more accessible. Unlike the 2017 makeover of the same game by specialists DotEmu, which was weighed down by the fact of being an audiovisually refreshed 1:1 port of the 1989 Master System game, with all the connected issues tied to ancient game design, Monster Boy is a brand new game and knows what to keep and what to change.
What it keeps are the multiple animal forms, now visually remixed and greatly expanded: while the lion remains, with the added ability to dash in all directions, the ceiling-walking mouseman is now a venom-spitting snake that can cling to mossy surfaces and squeeze through narrow gaps; the pirana man is now a frog, whose tongue can be used to swing like a rope, interact with valves and switches and, hilariously, become confused if trying to use it on a toad; the flying birdman is now a fire-spewing dragon which also includes the dragon form from WB3, freeing up one slot for the pig, able to use magic and tools, as well as sniffing out invisible secrets.
What the game chooses to change are the many annoyances that made WB3 a bit of a mess to play: gone is the frustrating grind for random coin and health drops, gone are the endless treks back to the shapeshifting room (replaced with a glorious on-the-fly system which massively increases the depth of the level design), gone is the confusing world layout, now conveniently managed via an easily readable map with fast travel points. About 2/3 through you will also unlock the ability to warp from almost anywhere, which greatly facilitates the copious amount of backtracking.
Combat is fairly simple as per series tradition, though there is a surprising amount of depth to it thanks to the requirement to swap forms, especially during boss fights. Sometimes this ends up feeling finicky, especially when you are required to switch to snake form in midair to stick to a mossy wall, which might require a few tries too many before succeeding. Not all bosses are created equal either, with some being much more inspired than others.
The developers wisely decided to retain the look and feel of the absolutely gorgeous 2017 game, and they succeed for the most part, though something is lost in translation here: there is something about the hand-painted look of that game that these sprites and backgrounds can't quite replicate, beautifully drawn and animated though they are.
Similarly the soundtrack, which is also based beat by beat on the outstanding remixes from the 2017 game, comes off as a bit less inspired, sometimes even a bit tone deaf, like in the case of the boss fight theme, which is anything but threatening. It does feature a great electric organ theme for the haunted mansion that could easy pass for something out of Michiru Yamane's Castlevania music portfolio.
At 20+ hours of play time it's also a huge game, definitely a step up in content from the rest of the series. There are dozens of secrets to find and plenty of equipment to choose from, with set bonuses and all..
There is a lot here, this is far from a bare minimum effort sequel, in fact it's a clear labour of passion that goes above and beyond the call of duty for such a project. Refer to the 2021 Monster World 4 remake for an example of how wrong this could have gone, and, luckily for us, didn't.