The history surrounding the Monster Boy (also known as Wonder Boy, Monster World, and even Adventure Island, among others) is kind of crazy and convoluted with ports and sequels spanning everything from the Sega Master System to the NES to the TurboGrafx-16 and the Genesis. Heck, even on the Nintendo Switch there was a game released last year called Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, so you’d be forgiven for not knowing exactly what this latest Switch game is all about. That’s what we’re here to do – explain precisely why you should sit up and take notice of Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom. This one’s pretty special!
Let’s get this out of the way right away: Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a completely new game, not a remake or a remaster. If you’ve played other games in the series you’ll be right at home with how the game plays. You begin the game with your crazy uncle dipping into some magical powers he has no business messing around with. He manages to muck things up real good by changing townsfolk into animals. You become cursed early in the game and take on the form of a pig with an eye patch (or as my little nieces like to call him, Pirate Pig). This isn’t the only animal incarnation you’ll control throughout your grand adventure. For the sake of staying relatively free of spoilers, I won’t divulge all of your transformations, but the trailers and screens (and featured art) will most likely show them off anyway. Suffice to say that each incarnation you take on has unique skills and powers. The pig can stop and sniff around the environment, revealing clues and secrets that lurk about. He also gains various abilities, such as fireballs, boomerangs, and wind cyclones that can deal extra damage to enemies as well as solve various puzzles.
Each animal will have new gameplay mechanics to learn and master and as you gain more of them you’ll be able to switch between them on the fly to gain access to new areas of the game. So, yes, what we have here is yet another Metroidvania on the Switch! I know it seems like we’ve reviewed dozens of them this year alone, but don’t let that deter you from checking this one out. Not all are created equal, and the quality of level design and ingenuity in the puzzles and plethora of secrets to find is second to none in this game. As you gain new powers you’ll need to revisit some of your old stomping grounds. Some games can seem like a slog to go back through the same levels over and over again, but not here. That’s because the game has very convenient warp portals to whisk you back to the land you want to visit. There’s a handy map available at the press of a button and it’s super easy to navigate the rooms and corridors.
If you’ve never played a game in this series, the best way to describe it is a 2D side-scrolling adventure game in the style of something like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link or Ys III (for you old-school gamers out there). You’ll explore a variety of environments, killing enemies, collecting coins, and finding health upgrades. There are shops nestled about the levels where you can purchase new weapons and armor as well as consumable items to refill your health or protect you from poison. Much like these older titles, Monster Boy is rather difficult and unforgiving in what it asks of the player. Be prepared for precision jumps, tricky enemy placement, and a few challenging bosses.
One of my absolute least favorite things in games are timed puzzles and unfortunately they play a part here. There are sections of the game where you’ll have to press a button and then race your way across difficult terrain before the time runs out and the door slams shut. Some of these are deviously hard and require a lot of skill. If these were optional I wouldn’t have had any issue with them, but many of them are required to proceed and honestly a few of them threw up some major roadblocks for me. That’s not to say they’re impossible, but they can be frustrating, especially if you manage to die during a run and the checkpoint is a ways back and you have to complete the room prior to the one where the timed puzzle is. I prefer games like Celeste where if you die you respawn pretty much right in the same room and can go at it again instantly. I don’t appreciate having to work my way back to the puzzle, which is the case in several areas here. They’re not game breaking, but when everything else is done so well, these areas stick out like a sore thumb.
Enough negative talk, let’s talk about how gorgeous this game is, shall we? The first thing you’ll no doubt notice are the astonishingly detailed graphics present throughout the entire game. The colorful backgrounds, detailed character models, and obscene amounts of parallax scrolling are glorious to look at. A ton of work went into creating a living, breathing cartoon world and it has paid off big time. There are little artistic touches everywhere you look and the animation is smooth as can be. I love the idle animations for your main character, which of course changes depending on your current form. The pig is especially cute because if you stand around he moves his eye patch from one side to the other, and then realizes what he’s done and moves it back. Other details, like if you try to sniff an area while underwater are hilariously thought out. This game looks fantastic on the TV and on the handheld and I never came across any hitches or technical problems.
I’m also quite fond of the soundtrack as its highly varied, very upbeat and memorable. Not having a huge history with the franchise, I can still appreciate all of the melodies included with this sequel. I believe there might be a throwback track or two, which should delight those who grew up playing the other games. There’s even a vocal track with singing to go along with the opening animation and it reminds me of something from the ‘80s. It’s a bit cheesy, but I love it all the same!
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom delivers a fun and exciting adventure game to Switch owners. Yes, the game can be a bit difficult at times and some of the secrets are a bit obtuse (but not impossible) to find. However, that’s offset by impeccable controls, glorious graphics, a rocking soundtrack, charming characters, and genius level design. A few of the bosses really stand out as well for their clever patterns and unique ways to defeat them. The variety of moves and powers afforded to the player by transforming into various creatures keeps the game fresh and exciting from beginning to end. A few spikes in difficulty and timed puzzles really got on my nerves, but they may or may not bother you in the end. Had these been ironed out the game would be near perfect for me. Still, there’s a ton to like here, with a quest that’s likely to last at least 15 hours, so I highly recommend giving it a shot!
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom Review
Final Thoughts: EXCELLENT
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is one of the best Metroidvania games yet for the Nintendo Switch. The graphics are amazing, the music is memorable, the controls are impeccable, and the ability to change into different monsters makes for fresh and exciting gameplay. Difficulty spikes and timed puzzles can be frustrating at times, but they’re a slight blemish on an otherwise fantastic game!