April 11, 2007 - This game is a master of disguise. Released on multiple platforms, in multiple forms, with multiple different characters taking the leading role. On the Sega Master System, it was called Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap. In Brazil, it was recast with a South American cartoon character called Monica. In Japan, it became Adventure Island (but had nothing to do with Hudson's separate Adventure Island series). When it finally arrived on the TurboGrafx-16 here in the States, it changed its name one last time. Here, we know it as Dragon's Curse.
Dragon's Curse is a side-scrolling action RPG, and it begins at the end – you start off as a super-powered warrior questing into a dragon's castle after a long and tiring journey. It's a final battle, and your character is so souped up that it's almost impossible to fail in felling the beast. But in the dragon's death, it casts a spell on you, transforming you from a mighty human warrior into a low-grade lizard beast.
The intro sequence doesn't make a lot of sense with the Dragon's Curse rebranding, because it's really just the final few minutes of Wonder Boy II played over again to set up this sequel's story. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night did the same thing.
And this is no Castlevania, but it plays like one in a few ways. The first is its interconnected, go-anywhere world. Cursed into the body of a lizard-man, you awaken to start the real adventure in a central town. The village serves as a hub as you quest out to explore the land, searching for a way to break the curse and return yourself to human form. And, after tracking down another dragon boss and defeating him, you are freed of the lizard body – but rather than becoming human again, you get thrown into a third physique.
Dragon's Curse ends up "cursing" you again and again, as you find and acquire new beast forms throughout the journey. But each one has its own abilities, and each must be used to make progress in ways the others can't. The Lizard-Man body breathes fire, giving it extended attack range. The Piranha-Man form swims freely and easily through underwater areas. The Mouse-Man is diminutive in size, but can crawl walls better than old Grant DaNasty in Castlevania III.
So what appears to be a straightforward and simple Metroidvania adventure at its onset is revealed to have several layers of unexpected depth, as you juggle between beast modes to fully explore the game world, find power-ups and extra items, acquire gold to do some shopping for better equipment and more. This ends up being a game of good old-fashioned fun – not a must-have classic, but a perfectly fine and recommendable diversion.
The Wonder Boy series has a strong fan following that still exists today. Dragon's Curse doesn't have the Wonder Boy branding, but it is almost the exact same game as the Master System hit Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap. Since the Virtual Console doesn't yet support the SMS, this is as close as fans are going to get for now – and seeing as this version is graphically and audibly updated, it's not such a difficult compromise.