Name: Wonderboy III: Monster Lair
Format: Mega Drive
Region Reviewed: PAL
Year of Release: 1991 (UK)
1988 saw the third and final release of the Wonder Boy series in the arcades by Sega, and would not see its way to the Mega Drive until 1991. Released only in Japan and Europe (Take that America).
In Monster Lair III you can play as green haired girl looking Leo or pinked haired even more girly Princess Purapril on a quest to find the legendary armour. A simple goal but to get there you have to transverse 9 levels of fast paced animal slaughter. Both characters are tied to player one and player two respectively so if you want to play as pretty and pink Princess Puraprill in single played you will need to press start on a controller connected to the played two slot.
Monster Lair 3 is a side scrolling arcade action platformer shooter. Your standard weapon a shot range shot that looks like a pea shooter (green for Leo, Pink for the Princess). There is no upgrading as you may have come to expect from other games in the series however, you can pick up new powerful weapons though they are only active for a short period of time.
You really have to act quick and constantly change up your strategy when you collect new weapons for example, collecting the drill shoots a long straight line of death ahead dealing heavy damage to targets in front only, whereas the fireball will produce a large ball of hell fire to circle around you killing pretty much any enemy stupid enough to go near you.
A fairly unique aspect is the stamina meter which is very similar to the original Wonder Boy game. The stamina bar at the top of the screen is constantly reducing and if it gets to zero you die. To maintain it you need to collect food which is plentiful throughout the level.
Certain items give more stamina than others, even collecting new weapons will give you a single bar. Stamina also reduces if you trip on a rock or get hit by the beach ball looking projectiles. The higher the difficulty you set the game to the quicker stamina is reduced. If you hit an enemy directly or fall off the level you die instantly. This mechanic tied in with the stamina bar adds to the fast paced arcade feel of the game.
In the Mega Drive version there are only 9 levels (14 in the Turbo Grafix version), each level consists of two parts, the first where you are on foot and acts more like a platformer, the second where you fly on a little pink dragon and it acts more like a horizontal shooter, at the end of the second part there is a boss which get increasing difficult to kill as you usually have to kill it with your pea shooter weapon that does very small amounts of damage. What is helpful is the boss will turn several shades of different colours indicating how much damage you have done, this is something lots of games of this era did and it's fantastic.
Graphically the game has very cute colorful sprites, characters are actively blinking and holding their mouths open which comes across a bit odd, the characters almost look bored just standing still. Enemies are interesting and tailored well to the levels designs for example you’ll see giant snakes and crocodiles in the jungle and flying snowmen in the ice level. Bosses look large and very threatening on appearance.
Music is pretty good on the mega drive the platformer levels have there own unique tune to match the setting which is occasionally repeated. The side scrolling shooter levels have the same tune every time which does feel repetitive and old after level 3. What never gets old is the same boss music for every big bad encounter. It pumps you up and eager to win the day.
The early levels are pretty straight forward but further down they can become increasingly difficult with some platform sections feeling very unforgiving and even specific boss battle feeling like they go on forever (much how this review must feel by now). But it is rewarding to get a little further on each playthrough and like most arcade games with practice you can ace the game using little or even no lives.
Taken on it's own merits Monster Lair III is a very entertaining game with one or two players, however, it can feel repetitive on the sidescrolling levels and incredibly tough. If you like fast arcade games and let's be honest who doesn't this is worth a shot.
Verdict:- Everything about Wonderboy 3 feels good, it's one of those titles that sums up the 16-Bit era perfectly with challenging gameplay, colourful sprites and bosses that change colour as they are slain.
Whilst a few elements can feel samey and some of the music is repetitive it's something you will carry on playing in spite of it's faults and that's always a good thing.
It's by no means a classic but Wonderboy 3 is definitely worth a play.
Second Opinion:- When Transbot thinks of the name WonderBoy and the Number 3 he remembers the exceptional Sega Master System game. Although this is massively different to that game in look, tone and genre I personally feel that this is a bit of a letdown for the series as a whole.
Everything is nice enough and moves along at a good pace but nothing exceeds average for me. It never stands out from the crowd as a game that demands your attention. For me it's a bit of a missed opportunity in many ways. Ok, but never more.
Transbot Scores:- 6 out of 10