The Game: Run left to right, jump over stuff, collect fruit, and ride a skateboard.
Wonder Boy was one of Sega's attempts to create a mascott-type platformer in the years before Sonic hit the scene. This particular game however may be more familiar to American audiences as Hudson's Adventure Island. The reason being that the game was developed by Westone, who retained the rights to the actual game, while Sega got the rights to the sprites and characters. Thus Westone licensed the game out to Hudson soft for publication on other systems.
You are Wonder Boy, who is some kind of blonde haired pacific islander guy who wears a grass skirt. Just like in every other Sega game made in the 80's a big evil wizard-type person shows up and kidnaps your girl (who has green hair for some reason.) Thus you have to walk left to right and kill a bunch of cute stuff with stone tomahawks in order to get her back.
First thing you notice is you have a "vitality meter" that acts as a timer. As the seconds tick off your meter gets shorter, when it runs out you're finished. You need to keep the meter full by collecting various fruits and vegetables that appear as you go on your way. Occasionally you encounter large ostrich eggs that contain power ups, such as the stone tomahawks, skateboard, or fairy guardian (invincibility.) Using the Skateboard allows you to go faster and take an extra hit but you end up missing lots of fruit that way. There are also random bonus items (french fries, flowers, etc) as well as other items like sunglasses and such that when collected result in some strange redheaded girl grabbing you in the arms and teleporting you to some bizarre bonus round in the clouds where you collect hearts.
There is also a mushroom that I don't know what it does, and a weird little purple mouth-thing that will deplete your vitality bar faster and that you can't get rid of until it almost kills you.
The game is not hard per se, that is if you play it in a semi-cautious manner. If you play it the way the designers intended it to be played (that is quickly) then you end up eating it more often than not. All of the traps and pitfalls are set up in such a way as to nail someone who's running at full speed, such as a spike falling from the ceiling or an octopus leaping up in the middle of a long jump. This is pretty obvious in the rock-dropping birds, who will actually unload their rocky rock of doom in front of you if you merely stand still. Therein lies the challenge, if you take it slow you can usually survive, but you can't go too slow because that darn fruit meter is ticking away.
At the end of each of the 64 rounds (4 per world, ala SMB) you fight a boss. These boss fights are probably the simplest boss fights I've ever seen. Stand on the far left and just wait, he won't even run into you. Some of them throw fireballs that usually just go over your head. Hit the boss in the head a few times with the axe and he's finished. Could have used a little more variation here.
Wonder Boy started as an arcade game, and the quarter sucking, die every five seconds nature of the later levels is pretty apparent. But with these types of games all it comes down to is memorization. This particular version of the game is among the best of the home translations, definitely worth checking out.
Graphics: Clean and colorful, much better than what ended up as the NES version.
Sound: Happy island calypso-reggae type music accentuates the usual 8-bit sound repertoire.
Gameplay: Somewhat (intentionally) slippy controls make the well designed but sometimes cheap levels a bit frustrating at times. Easy boss fights are made up by a very long game (64 stages in all.) Lack of any kind of save or password feature means the whole thing must be completed in one setting and can get a bit repetitive towards the end.