A classic that most of us get to experience for the first time
Developer: G CHOICE, Monkey Craft
Publisher: G CHOICE / STUDIOARTDINK
Release date: 29 Jun, 2021
The wonder boy series has been around for a long time, getting its first release in the arcades back in 1986, where it was a pretty successful game, enough so to spawn several sequels. Anyone who’s ever played Hudson’s Adventure Island have played a Wonder Boy game, as that series spun off from a port of Wonder Boy which had to change its name due to SEGA owning the rights to the Wonder Boy franchise.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is a remake of the 6th Wonder Boy game, though at release it was simply known as Monster World IV (the naming conventions for the series are more than a bit confusing), which was released for the Sega Mega Drive (Mega Drive being what most of the world, including Japan, calls Sega’s 16 bit console) in 1994 in Japan, but sadly never got an international release. Monster World 4 looked like it would be the last Wonder Boy game until Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom was released in 2018, though over the years several parts of the Wonder Boy series has seen re-releases in different compilations, and the series got its first remake back in 2016 with the release of Wonder Boy Returns. This review is written by someone who’s never played a game bearing the name Wonder Boy before, and has no nostalgia for the series, though a bit of nostalgia for 8 and 16-bit platformers.
Story & Setting
Stories and 16-bit platformers don’t usually go hand in hand. There might be a few nods to there being a story, but it’s usually just to give you an excuse for why you need to traverse the land and fight some enemies.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World stays true to its roots, and while there is a story, it never really takes center stage. You’re playing as Asha, a young girl who just earned the title of “warrior” and who now need to go out and save the world. The elemental spirits have been captured by some nefarious people, and without the spirits the world is at risk. So you’re traveling to a few themed regions, killing enemies and saving those spirits. There’s a hub world of sort, a small city, where you can talk to the people and learn a bit more about what’s going on, but the story never get very deep. That’s fine for a 2D platformer though, and putting am emphasis on storytelling would probably have hurt the game overall. The writing is pretty entertaining though.
The setting is a cartoonish take on the middle east, with architecture and clothes drawing pretty clear influences from the same sources as Iznogoud and versions of Aladdin (think medieval Iran and Iraq), with pretty liberal us of fantasy elements. The setting is never really fleshed, and serves more as a backdrop. You could quite easily move the game to medieval Europe, Japan or even South America and it would not have made any real difference to the game or its story.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is a bright and cheerful game with cartoonish graphics that might not be technically impressive, but it’s charming and has its own personality. The art style is consistent through the game and looks pretty good. Both characters and enemies are well animated and easy to read. There’s not a great deal of enemy variety though, with several enemies just being re-colours of past ones, maybe with a small additional effect, and while mid level bosses are usually pretty fun looking, the end-level bosses felt a bit lacking. There’s a degree of consistency to the end-level bosses and they look the way they do for a reason, but that does not stop them from being some of the least interesting designs in the game.
Environments can be somewhat of a mixed bag. The hub city looks charming and has a lot of neat little details, but there are a lot of nigh identical corridors in the actual dungeons that feel somewhat uninspired in their design. The different dungeons all have their own unique looking bland repeating corridors at least.
The music is upbeat and fun, fitting the tone of the game. There’s a fare few different tracks and they all sound good and suit the tone of the game. Same with the sound effects, they might not be the best we’ve ever heard in a platformer, but they do the job well and help give proper feedback to your actions.
As for the voice acting, it’s always hard to judge how good it is when they’re in a language you don’t speak. All the voices are in Japanese, and most of the major characters are voiced (though there’s not a whole lot of major characters in the game). Minor characters are just given some sound, that might be words, or they might just be nonsense, but they’re at least not matching the text and several characters can use the same sound to indicate that they’re speaking.
Asha in Monster World is a 2D platformer with semi-linear levels. You’re playing as Asha, a young girl who needs to save the land, armed with a sword & shield. The game is split up into a series of dungeons, with a hub-world connecting everything.
Controlling Asha feels good. She’s quick and nimble, and not too floaty. Her attacks are short ranged, as she’s just armed with a sword, but unlike many other melee focused 2D platformers it’s easy to judge the distance of the attacks, and the game gives you enough room that it’s often pretty easy to avoid taking return damage. You’ve also got a shield which can be used to block attacks and projectiles, something that becomes more important in the later parts of the game.
You won’t be traveling alone. Quite early in the game you’ll run into a cute blue creature called Pepelogoo, who has the ability to fly by flapping its ears. This creature will be your main tool for solving puzzles, as you can use it to jump further, interact with the environment in different ways and double jump. Pepelogoo somehow seems to always have just the right powers for when you need it, as it can block steam vents, swim while you hold on to it, turn into an ice block , melt ice and so on.
The level design is the games weakest point, and it’s here where you can tell that you’re actually playing a pretty old game, just one that’s got a fresh coat of paint. There’s a few too many long corridors that are just empty apart from a few enemies that you need to traverse and this makes backtracking more tedious than it should be. There’s also a few instances where items are hidden just outside of where you can see them.
Each of the games worlds is themed differently, there’s an ice level, a fire level and so on, but they’re all pretty linear, even if they give the illusion of not being so. The levels look maze like, but there’s really only one way forward, and if you go off the main route you’ll at best find some money or a few health drops at the end of a short corridor. Health drops is the main thing that encourages exploring those dead ends, as every 10 that you collect permanently increases your health by one. If you miss any health drops you can return to the levels later, with the exception of the tutorial dungeon, which gets blocked off once you’ve beaten it.
Weapon and armour upgrades are done in the city. There are merchants that sell you new swords, shields and bracelets (the later increases your max health) and in order to stay on top with your upgrades you need to find as much money as you reasonably can, though the game is never so hard that it becomes impossible if you don’t always have the best equipment.
Speaking of the difficulty, there are two difficulty settings, easy and normal, the later being (according to the game) similar to the difficulty of the original game. Even on Normal the game is still pretty easy, and a platforming veteran should have no trouble getting through the game without ever seen a game over screen. The game is surprisingly forgiving with health pickups and that can make it hard to actually die, unless you’re trying to do so, particularly if you’ve been good at picking up health drops. One puzzle is made more difficult than it should have been by a mistranslation, mixing up left and right, but none of the games other puzzles are difficult in the least. Possibly with one exception. There’s a quiz at one point in the game that requires you to have memorized a few things about the game up until that point, like the colour of the egg that your blue little friend came in. If you’re breezing through the game over the course of 2-3 days then that one won’t be hard as everything will be fresh in your memory, but if you’re playing through the game over the course of 2-3 weeks then some of the finer details might be hard to remember.
As someone who’s never played a Wonder Boy game I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World. Playing older games with no nostalgia goggles can at times be hard, as there are often elements that have not aged very well, but if there were any in Monster World 4 then this remake were able to fix most of them. The only thing that makes this feel like it might be based on an older game is some of the level design, but the controls felt tight and both fighting enemies and navigating the world was fun, even if there were a few too many repeating corridors.
This is a game for those who either have a nostalgia itch to scratch or who enjoy playing platformers occasionally, but who are not great at them. Hardcore platforming fans will probably find it too easy though, and will be able to breeze through the game in just a couple of hours, but this would be a great game for anyone who’s looking to get into the genre.