Welcome Back to Monster World!
The Wonder Boy franchise has been getting some much-appreciated love after over twenty years without any new releases. First, there was the remake of Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon’s Trap which was then followed by the spiritual successor to the franchise – Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom. Now, we have in our hands a remake to the 1994 release and final game of the original Wonder Boy line – Wonder Boy: Monster World IV, which is now titled “Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World.” While my favorite remains Wonder Boy 3, many other fans of the series have heralded this game as being the best that the franchise has had to offer. But how does it measure up to modern-day platformer standards, and does the remake do justice for the original release?
Asha in Monster World stars the titular “Asha” – a young girl hailing from the land of Estafan that dreams of someday becoming a warrior. This dream inspires her to undertake the trial of the Tower of Silence and, afterward, journey to the city of Rapadagna to receive the Queen’s blessing. In what could go down as the most ill-advised introductory job, the Queen immediately tasks Asha with journeying out into the land, rescuing the four Elemental Spirits from evil forces, and saving the kingdom. Joined fairly quickly by a mystical blue creature called a “Pepelegoo,” the two work together to resolve this crisis and bring peace back to the land.
While initial screenshots and descriptions could lead a person to believe that this game classifies as a “Metroidvania,” I believe that it would be more accurate to describe it simply as an adventure platformer. Gameplay progression follows a fairly straight-forward loop of visiting Rapadagna, which could be perceived as the game’s hub, performing many tasks to upgrade Asha and Pepe, locating the key item to travel to the next region, teleporting to the said region, and completing its challenges – consisting of an intro side-scrolling stage, dungeon, and boss, and then repeating until the game’s conclusion. And that’s not to say that this is a bad experience because it is the bits that fall within that boiled-down loop description that makes this game great.
At the game’s onset, Asha is capable of a solid roster of simple but effective combat maneuvers through the use of her sword. She can strike outward as well as utilize an airborne upward and downward thrust. After a certain number of successful attacks, Asha can perform a “Magical Hit” that serves as a guaranteed critical strike. And, lastly, she carries a chance at completely nullifying an attack upon impact. Both of these things, the power of the attacks and both the frequency of and attack type nullification, are influenced by whatever sword and shield are purchased for use from the various shops located in Rapadagna. Bracelets can also be purchased and equipped in order to increase the number of base heart containers Asha has at one time.
Best Friends Come in Blue
However, once Pepe joins her, her moveset expands a bit more. By default, she can whistle for him to perform either a double jump or an air glide. But Pepe also opens up a wealth of puzzle-solving and exploration abilities depending on the dungeon being explored. For example, he can be thrown to activate switches or frozen in ice to be used as a stepping platform. Aside from the double jump and glide, these actions are tailored to suit the individual dungeon puzzles and make for a fun way to get around. Between stages, Pepe will advance in growth which will change how he can be utilized so, even though the developer added the ability to go back to previously completed stages, players won’t always be able to accomplish all of the stage goals on a revisit if Pepe’s stage of growth has exceeded the actions needed there. There IS a way to circumvent this in the game, but it constitutes an in-game secret that I shan’t spoil in this review.
And why would someone want to revisit a previously completed area? Well, aside from the joy of having another spirited romp through a level, there are always a few collectibles – there are treasure chests that can be opened for expendable goods such as life-restoring elixirs or gold coins. But, perhaps even more desirable, are life drops. Life drops are a collectible that rewards the player with an extra heart container for every ten collected. These can be acquired from killing certain enemies, from treasure chests, or even just floating in the air. There are a total of 200 hidden throughout the game, with the heart container benefits ceasing at 150. The game teases that there is a secret for collecting all 200 life drops but, alas, I only managed to acquire 176, so I am not in the know for what that secret is.
A Monster World Like Arabian Days
Graphically, the game is a treat to the eyes. The enemies, Asha, and Pepelegoo are lively and well-animated. Defeating enemies tends to result in a literal geyser of coins spraying upwards and making a satisfying *plink* sound as they hit the ground. It is a spectacle that one never manages to grow tired of. The environments are a treat to the eyes as well. This may be a journey to save the kingdom but, visually, it feels more like a fun-filled exotic journey. The locales that are visited are fairly traditional environments, but there is one cool stage that sort of bucks that trend and proved to be my absolute favorite of the bunch. The music is also a joy to listen to. Almost every track in the game uses a particular element of the main theme, but they all still manage to sound distinct enough and melodic to keep blaring throughout the entirety of your quest.
I personally came away from this game very pleased – about as pleased as I was when I first experienced the original on an import PS2 all those years ago. However, if there were some “negatives” that I felt inclined to mention for anyone that may be impacted by them, then it would be as such. The game is extremely easy to complete. The developers added an “Easy” difficulty which states that it allows the player to avoid chasing coins from defeated enemies, but, for me, that is one of the best aspects of the game! I’m not sure what else Easy mode does for the challenge itself, but Normal mode keeps my cash-grabbing antics intact and still kept the difficulty manageable. Secondly, the game manages to run fairly short. Even with the aforementioned 176 drops and all areas completed, I was able to complete the game in less than eight hours. It was a very satisfying eight hours, mind you, but I am aware that there are folks out there that desire more from a dollar-to-hour ratio.
As Much Fun As You Could Wish For
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World does a wonderful job of rekindling my love of the Monster World franchise and reminding me exactly why I fell in love with it in the first place. While the remaster doesn’t bring any new ideas to the table, it does put a wonderfully charming new coat of paint onto a game that deserves to be seen and enjoyed by a new audience. Old fans of this game should be pleased with the treatment it received, while newcomers can expect a classically crafted platformer adventure that’s short in duration but massive in charm. And I’m going to add in here that if you play this game and enjoy it, I beseech you to check out the other games in the Monster World line and Monster Boy in the Cursed Kingdom. You’ll thank me, and yourself, for having done so!
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch, Playstation 4 (Reviewed), XBox One; Publisher: STUDIOARTDINK (Digital) ININ Games (Retail, which exclusively includes the original Monster World IV); Developer: Artdink; Players: 1; Released: May 28, 2021; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $34.99
Full disclosure: The publisher provided a review code.