The SEGA Master System (known as SEGA Mark III in Japan) remains an oft forgotten system in SEGA’s hardware history. For most laypersons, SEGA’s console history began with Mega Drive (Genesis), with most looking back and simply referring to it as “the SEGA”, much like how Nintendo Entertainment System (Famicom) is generally referred to as simply “Nintendo”.
Master System never quite built the worldwide acclaim given Nintendo’s hold on the market during the ‘80s – after all it was the NES which revived the video game industry after the infamous market crash. Master System wasn’t just another 8-bit alternative to NES though, it was in fact designed and engineered in a much different way, and it could do a lot of things differently (and in some ways better) than NES.
One of the most important Master System franchises was Wonder Boy/Monster World, a series which continues to enjoy relevance thanks to excellent HD remasters and remakes of the main games, as well as regular ports on nearly all systems – not to mention new canonical entries too. Given the ease with which modern gamers can get hold of the Wonder Boy/Monster World games, it is a bit of a wonder why Aggelos exists right now, a game which is not only based on the aforementioned series but even goes as far as to include an enemy sprite or two as homage. Still, even with Wonder Boy/Monster World games available with ease, the question is whether Aggelos offers enough to make it worth checking out.
Aggelos has a typical fantasy storyline of a hero prophesised to save the world from an emerging darkness, complete with elementals and dragons to boot. There’s nothing really remarkable about the tale, it’s kept deliberately simple to capture the charm of retro RPGs, with dialogue kept minimalist and on-point. The setting is diverse enough from an artistic standpoint, but again typical of the fantasy themes seen in RPGs and adventure games of yesteryear.
The music is interesting because the chiptunes are actually made to emulate the unique sound output of Master System’s sound hardware, as the music of Master System games had an entirely different feel and rhythm compared to what NES games were producing at the time. As minimalist as the music of Aggelos may be, it does sound like an authentic Master System game.
As a game, Aggelos, as advertised, is based strongly on the design and structure of Wonder Boy in Monster World which was released for Mega Drive back in 1991. Aggelos is a 2D action RPG platformer where it is an action platformer for the most part but with the added RPG benefits of experience points and upgradeable equipment/abilities. The actual 2D platforming functions quite well, and the level design is consistently strong as the overarching game world is held together by organically designed and interconnected platforming segments. These segments feature plenty of combat and interesting puzzles to solve. New abilities and items are also acquired over time, which add to the gameplay variety and open up the game world in interesting ways. One thing Aggelos actually does much better than some of the seminal Wonder Boy/Monster World games is provide excellent play mechanics and control, as character movements feels responsive and cooperative during hairy platforming situations and testing enemy encounters.
Aggelos captures the look and feel of Master System games, with strong pastel colours put to good use to give the pixel art a sense of vibrancy. While the graphics may be deliberately dated and minimalist for the most part, no punches are pulled in the boss designs as they sport substantially more graphical and artistic detail than other assets in the game, to the point where some of the detailed bosses actually look out of place in the game’s visual setting. This is a minor qualm, but it would have been great if the rest of the visual design of Aggelos had the same ambition as the impressive boss sprites. Speaking of, the boss battles are as old school and rewarding as they come, filling up the entire screen and providing a classic pattern-based combat experience.
Aggelos on Xbox One is the homage to Wonder Boy/Monster World it advertises itself to be and it isn’t shy about openly admitting it either. It can be a tough sell given the abundance of Wonder Boy/Monster World games available to the modern gamer right now; whether they are ports, remakes, collections, or new canonical entries. A retro homage is welcome when there is a shortage of its source material, but in the case of Aggelos its source of inspiration and influence is still very much alive and strong in the modern gaming landscape.
Despite the presence of so many other games, Aggelos still succeeds at providing a surprisingly polished and organically designed 2D platformer RPG with great play mechanics. Yes, it won’t attract a non-expert audience as it is clearly targeted towards Wonder Boy/World loyalists, but diehard fans who have played the existing catalogue extensively will get the fix they need from Aggelos.