Typical, really; you wait decades for a Wonder Boy revival, and three turn up at the same time. Aggelos is the second in a trio of games from different studios heavily inspired by (or just plain remaking) entries from the Master System/Mega Drive cult hits Wonder Boy and Monster World. While Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap was a pure remake, and the upcoming Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom looks to build on the later games in the series, Aggelos is shooting for charming old-school aesthetics paired with modern Metroidvania level design. It's also out today.
I got to play a bit of Aggelos in one of the big indie rooms at Rezzed earlier this year, and found the whole thing oddly comforting to play. It is almost old-school to a fault. Almost. As with Shovel Knight before it, the game bypasses many of the real restrictions of late 8-bit/early 16-bit game design with its perfectly smooth scrolling, widescreen playfield and deliciously chunky monster and boss sprites. While the game opens with some easy mazes and enemies, complexity builds up quickly as you collect a range of fun Metroid'y powers that greatly expand your movement options.
If there is one complaint I had to level at the game from what I played at Rezzed, it's the soundtrack. It's not bad, by any means, but it doesn't stand out from the music of its era. You carefully listen to the music from the likes of Shovel Knight and you'll hear complex compositions and synth instrumentation that wouldn't be possible on any real 8-bit audio chip, despite maintaining the aesthetic. Aggelos just sounds authentically retro, which, while nostalgic, doesn't quite make for toe-tapping fun.
That aside, there is something to be said for the old Wonder Boy format of exploration, shopping, upgrading and fighting. A lot of it hinges on how cute the monsters are, or so I reckon. While a handful of creature types have distinctly angry eyes (usually the bosses), most of the less deadly opponents look adorably blank. Vacant cartoon stares on display as they meander around. Even when you're being attacked and your health is running low, it makes the world feel just that little bit softer.
Aggelos is out now on Steam for £11.39/$12, minus a 20% launch discount.