There's retro, and then there's retro done right. The new, hand drawn look of Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is a full-on charm offensive that manages to pay homage to the original series without relying completely on pixel nostalgia to do the work. Wonder Boy's animal incarnations (brought on by a curse), Lion-Man, Mouse-Man and Hawk-Man all get an extra level of personality and the new Wonder Girl option is fiercer and cuter than a bucket full of angry badgers.
The man behind the look is Ben Fiquet, art director at development studio Lizardcube. He has a background in traditional animation and his first game was Soul Bubbles for the Nintendo 3DS, then he took a break to work on comic books. He returned to games for Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap.
What was your first reaction when you were asked to work on this project?
I used to have a Sega Master system as a boy and I played a lot of Wonder Boy 2, then friend introduced me to Wonder Boy 3. I didn't play that many games because as a family we didn't have a lot of money to buy games and I was in the countryside in France. Back then you couldn't stumble on games in the supermarket. But I really loved Wonder Boy and it's part of my childhood.
When you started work was the first step in terms of updating the look?
First of all I didn't want to do 3D because I'm not good at 3D [laughs] and because I really love old games like Aladdin on Sega Genesis where the games are animated traditionally. I wanted to have something traditional, something beautiful but in a 2017 style. Nowadays, because you're not limited with palettes of color or constraints of the 1980's you can do almost anything.
I come from background of French comic books and manga and I also wanted to try to input what I saw as a kid. When you looked at the screen as a kid your imagination went wild and you didn't see pixels, you imagined the whole thing as a picture. I wanted to recreate what I saw at the time when I was little. I tried to be as faithful as I could.
I started out trying something with flat colors, something very heavy on lines, kind of manga-like and I ended up on a hand-drawn watercolor style. I felt it resembled me and my style but also respected what the game was, at least in my mind.
There's so much personality in the characters, were any of the different animals more of a challenge than others?
Some of them more than others. So with the lion the first character I designed was pretty much the final design that made it into the game. I had two or three different designs for the mouse, but with Lizard-Man I tried five or six designs. I even animated each of them.
It looks very different from the other retro games on the market.
I wanted to try and have something unique, I think from what you see now art is very limited in games. I wanted to make something that I would want to play, that I would love to see. Art styles can be kind of boring in games, there are so many you can use and yet you don't see that many. It was important to at least try to do something different.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap is out on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One on April 18. It'll also be out on PC later in the year.