Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair is a departure from both the previous games, but like Monster Land, blends two seemingly disparate genres: the platformer and the shooter. The basic set up is similar to the first Wonder Boy, in that you can only take a single hit, there’s a timer at the top of the screen, and there’s plenty of fruit to collect in order to refill it. However, the screen auto-scrolls all of the time, similar to certain stages in Super Mario Bros. 3.
The main characters have swords, but use them to fire projectiles. Weapon power-ups are common, including shurikens that rotate around your character, lasers, spread bullets and explosive rockets. The invincibility fairies and stamina-sapping reapers from the first Wonder Boy are also back. The second part of each level, where you fight the boss, also grants you a flying dragon, making the game feel more like a traditional shooter. Many of the enemy’s projectiles in these segments are beach balls, which drain stamina rather than killing you outright.
This is the only Wonder Boy game that offers two-player simultaneous gameplay. The first player controls the green-haired warrior Leo, and the second controls the pink haired princess Purapril. Despite the change in genre, there are plenty of references to the previous two titles to maintain some consistency between them.
The first level is a tropical stage, similar to the ones found in the other games, and the tenth stage looks like the towns in Monster Land, complete with the walking mushrooms. The later stages also veer into sci-fi territory, with the last area taking place in outer space as you fight against UFOs. The final enemy appears to be the hero from Monster Land, but is actually revealed to be an alien entity that stole the Legendary equipment from those games and used its power for evil.
While conceptually Monster Lair is unlike anything else out there, it’s also really just a slightly above average game. At 14 stages it’s too long, and the levels don’t vary much outside of changing scenery. At least the game looks pretty, especially the ridiculous boss fights, like the giant mushroom/slot machine mutation.
Monster Lair was initially released in the arcades for the Sega System 16 board. There were two home versions of the game. The PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 release is almost an exact port of the arcade game, with the usual CD soundtrack tossed in. The graphics are basically identical, although the parallax scrolling was removed. This is the only time that the Wonder Boy name was attached to a game that wasn’t on a Sega platform. The port to the TurboGrafx-16 was also the only version of this game released on a console in North America, although the Wonder Boy name was dropped and the game simply titled Monster Lair.
Sega also ported it to the Mega Drive for Japan and Europe. Although the background graphics look comparable, most of the sprites had to be redrawn, and all of them look pretty dorky in comparison. It’s also missing two levels. The home ports only offer limited continues. Both are available on the Wii Virtual Console, while the Mega Drive version has been featured on various PC compilations.