Wonder isn't always that wonderful! Think of Wonderloaf, the blandest bread since sliced polystyrene. When you discover that Wonder Boy is yet another scrolling running, jumping and collecting game you may wonder whether you should part with your dough.
But, wonder of wonders, Wonder Boy isn't the blunder boy he might have been, because despite the hackneyed plot which has you rescuing yet another damsel in distress (called Tina!!!), this is one of those well balanced games that slowly seduces you, and every time you lose a life you'll feel you have to have just one more go.
To convert the original Sega arcade game to the Spectrum without the dreaded attribute clashes, Activision has chosen monochrome graphics, which are large and nicely animated with a smooth scroll, though there is a little flicker at times.
The main sprite is the Boy himself, of course, running from the left and collecting fruit and junk food as he goes to keep his strength up. It's a test of timing as obstacles, such as mounds of boulders and bonfires, roll in from the right but the game is carefully designed so that a leap will also often collect a banana or apple. This sort of neatness lets you build up a natural rhythm, at least on the first levels, so you don't have to break your stride.
Also scattered along the path are the amazing giant eggs. Breaking these open will reveal some sort of aid to Wonder's quest, such as the invaluable stone axe, which lets him fire at the giant frogs, snails and other nasties. There's also a skateboard, which speeds your hero's progress and even guardian fairies who provide temporary protection.
Eventually things get more difficult though. The continuous path is replaced by a number of platforms, though a little nerve and last-minute leaps will see you across these. But inevitably, Boy will collide with a wandering animal. This need not mean instant death - instead the objects collected will vanish until he's only got his life to lose.
Falling off the edge of a cliff doesn't give you a second chance though. Neither does running out of energy. But at least you're only sent back to the start of the current section, not the whole game.
Just when you think you've got Wonder Boy beaten it throws up some new surprise. You've learnt when to jump off the clouds that float up and down but when you'll suddenly find yourself on one that's gliding sideways, and if you don't stop running you'll slide over the edge. You'll also have to learn when to use the extended jump, achieved by pressing fire along with the relevant movement key.
Playing Wonder Boy is a process of learning what lies next and being prepared for it. That's why it's so seductive. As you die you realise your mistake and you're determined not to make the same slip next time, so back you go... But don't worry about exhausting the program too quickly because with seven territories of four lands, each of which consists of four areas, there's undoubtedly enough to keep you going for ages. 48K owners will have to load these individually, but 128ers can cram them all into the expanded memory.
At the end of each land - that's four areas remember - you'll get bonus points for the amount of energy that you have left, so don't waste your strength.
Wonder Boy is an uncomplicated game that's tricky to play, but easy to get into. It's got all the classic addictive features that make you pour your pennies into a coin-op's slot.
Joystick: Kempston, Sinclair
Reviewer: Jerry Muir
A fast and smooth playing running and jumping game with enough variation between levels to keep you hooked.