The original Wonder Boy was initially released in the arcades, for the Sega System 2 board. As caveboy Tom-Tom (simply named Boy in Japanese), the goal is to rescue your green haired girlfriend Tanya (Tina in Japanese) from the evil lord Drancon. The gameplay is pretty obviously patterned after the ever popular Super Mario Bros. - you run forward, jump over bad guys, and leap across moving platforms. There are seven worlds, each containing four stages with various scenery, and each ending with a brief battle against Drancon.
The main difference is that Wonder Boy is even faster paced. There is a power bar at the top of the screen, but it's not a life bar. Rather, it acts as a timer, that counts down remarkably quickly. The only way to refill it is by grabbing the pieces of fruit that are sprinkled liberally throughout each stage. Taking a single hit will kill you, though most levels are also littered with stones. These don't technically hurt you if you trip over them, but will remove a few bars of the power meter, and can potentially send you into a bad guy or right into a pit. The most curious additions are the tiny pygmies, which may be slightly racist.
While you are normally defenseless against bad guys, you can crack open eggs to grant power-ups. Hatchets are your primary weapon, and are thrown at an arc, making it good at long range but difficult to use up close. You can also find skateboards, which will let you move faster and can absorb a single hit, though its forward momentum makes it hard to control. Fairies can also grant invincibility for a limited time. There are also spotted, rotten eggs that unleash a little grim reaper, which hangs around for a bit and drains your stamina more quickly. Many of these eggs are, of course, hidden in rather tricky spots. While the controls are slippery (keeping in line with Mario and pals), the constant checkpoints ensure the game doesn't get too frustrating. There are also wooden dolls located in each stage - if you manage to uncover all of them by the end, you unlock a hidden eighth and final world.
While Wonder Boy is a solid game, the level designs are never quite as clever as the Nintendo game it's so obviously patterned after. And while it's graphically quite attractive, with lush jungle scenery, spooky ice caverns and dank caverns, the levels are quite repetitive. There are only about eight environments, and many levels are simply more difficult variations of previous stages. The fourth stage of each area is practically identical, right up to the boss battles, where you fight the same fireball-tossing bad guy over and over, albeit with different faces. While it's obviously patterned after same thing in Super Mario Bros., at least the 32 stages in that game were all completely different, even if they were visually limited.
The first port of Wonder Boy was for the SG-1000, the predecessor to the Mark III/Master System, which was a card-based system similar in power to the Colecovision. These systems were not built with scrolling backgrounds in mind, so the action is incredibly choppy, and the graphics are extraordinarily simplistic by comparison. The levels have also been cut back, leaving only the barest of experiences.
The most well known version of Wonder Boy is the Sega Master System port, which is enhanced in a number of ways, the point where the Japanese release is known as "Super Wonder Boy". It's not quite as colorful, but still looks excellent, especially since the cluttered status bar has been removed, with only the vitality meter remaining at the top of the screen. The controls have been messed with slightly though - you can only do a high jump when you hold down the run button, which makes certain jumps more chaotic than they should be. On the positive side, Wonder Boy is a bit less slippery and easier to keep under control. There are two additional worlds, making for nine stages in the main game, as well as the tenth hidden stage for collecting all of the dolls. There are also a handful of brand new stages, including a desert, a waterfall, and an area that takes place in the clouds. Along with this is a brand new boss battle that actually changes up things a bit, as he throws lightning rather than fireballs. Unlike many Sega Master System games, it has unlimited continues, without the use of a code. This version was used as a basis for the Game Gear port, which was released in North America under the name "Revenge of Drancon", with no reference to Wonder Boy at all.
In Europe, Wonder Boy was ported to several home computer platforms, courtesy of Activision. On the lower end of the port is the ZX Spectrum version, which is stuck with green monochrome graphics, choppy scrolling and slow action, making it only slightly better than the SG-1000 release. The Amstrad CPC and Commodore 64 versions are visually almost identical, though the Commodore 64 version has a leg-up on speed. However, each of these stages only have four stages that repeat over and over, in the same order, getting slightly more difficult with each iteration. The first stage also takes place at night, and the fourth stage takes place during the day, swapping the themes of the stages in the other releases.
The NES port by Hudson, under the name "Takahashi-Meijin no Bouken Jima" in Japan and Adventure Island in America, is fairly faithful, though not nearly as graphically attractive. In North America and Europe, the character's name is changed to Master Higgins. The character names are inconsistent depending on what you read - in some versions the female captive is named Tina, and the antagonist is King Quiller, while some advertising copy claims that you are rescuing Princess Leilani from the evil Witch Doctor.
Since Adventure Island is based on the original arcade game, it's missing the stages added to the Master System and Game Gear releases. The dolls have been replaced with goofy looking pots, and while they give bonus points, they are no longer required to reach the eighth stage, which you will always play no matter how well you do. You technically have unlimited continues, but only if you manage to find the Hudson Bee mascot in the first stage. Bonus stages are now found by discovering invisible eggs, rather than finding secret luxury items. There's also a new weapon, the fireballs, which act much like the hatchets but can destroy rocks and other previously invincible obstacles. You can also no longer tell the difference between good eggs and bad eggs. The fairies are the same, but the devils are now evil flying eggplants, for some reason.
The MSX port by Hudson was based off the NES/FC Adventure Island. It's mostly the same, though while the FC/NES version has a totally new soundtrack, the MSX version uses the same music as the original arcade Wonder Boy. The title screen is also an altered version of the Wonder Boy title screen, with Tom-Tom being replaced by Takahashi-Meijin's awkward visage.
Like many games of the era, Adventure Island was also ported to cellphone. The renewed graphics are pleasant, though the bug-eyed Takahashi Meijin/Master Higgins looks quite silly.