Wonder Boy: Asha In Monster World – a little too retro (pic: ININ)
The original creators of Mega Drive classic Monster World 4 return with a remake that aims to keep the Wonder Boy name alive.
There’s a genuine danger that soon there might end up being more Wonder Boy remakes than there ever were original games. We’ve had Wonder Boy Returns, Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap (a remake of Wonder Boy 3) and Monster Boy And The Cursed Kingdom (technically a new game but also heavily inspired by Wonder Boy 3). And now there’s this, a remake of Monster World 4 – the final entry in the original series from back in 1994 on the Mega Drive.
Add in the upcoming remake of Alex Kidd In Miracle World and it’s clear gaming is currently running a surfeit of disarmingly difficult 2D platformers that are more than initially meets the eye. The Wonder Boy series started off as a very basic arcade platformer, but the subsequent console sequels got increasingly complex until they created their own niche that wasn’t quite Metroidvania but was still far more involved than just a straight action game.
The bizarrely complicated legal issues behind the series (the rights are spread across at least three different companies, including Sega and Hudson) means that there were actually two different games called Wonder Boy 3 and by the 90s the Monster Land sub-brand was being used instead, which is why although this is a remake of Monster World 4, and even includes a copy of the Mega Drive original with the physical edition, it’s only now that it’s able to use the Wonder Boy branding.
What makes Monster World 4 notable is not only was it the last entry in the original series, but it was never released outside of Japan until 2012, so most people have never played it – although it was included on the Mega Drive Mini.
We have a feeling WayForward must have seen it back in the day though, because the main character looks very similar to Shantae and even ends up getting control of a genie to help her. Although her most useful companion, in her attempt to save four Elemental Spirits, is a little blue critter called a Pepelogoo.
Although no one’s really complaining about more Wonder Boy what really makes Asha In Monster World interesting is that many of the original staff from the Mega Drive original have worked on it.
That and the fact that, despite using 3D graphics instead of 2D sprites, it actually looks really nice, with an art style reminiscent of the original but which is able to use the flexibility of 3D visuals for some new, modern flourishes. It’s nowhere near as bland as moves from 2D to 3D usually turn out but, on the Switch at least, the frame rate is frustratingly poor, giving an unpleasantly syrupy feel to some of the action.
The gameplay is largely unchanged from the original, which means the combat is very simplistic – although there are a few twists such as being able to jump on your sword like a cross between Zelda 2 and the walking stick in DuckTales. You’ve also got a shield you can duck behind but while it would’ve been relatively sophisticated for a Mega Drive game it really doesn’t feel that way now.
Wonder Boy: Asha In Monster World – Pepelogoo really is very useful (pic: ININ)
The action is serviceable, but the real draw of the game is the exploration and puzzle-solving. The aforementioned Pepelogoo takes a little while to show up but begins to add a suite of new abilities, including a double jump and the ability to glide. It also gains additional elemental powers as you progress, being able to blow out fires and melt ice, or act as a Frisbee to activate switches.
The game still doesn’t really count as a Metroidvania but it certainly edges in that direction, with some increasingly complex level layouts and a hub area where you can talk to characters and visit a shop to upgrade your equipment. For 1994 it’s impressive stuff but playing it today it obviously seems less so, especially as most people will have no nostalgia for the game – which might have helped forgive some of the rougher edges.
There’s another serious problem that stems from this being such a direct remake of the original though and that’s the fact that it only lasts a few hours if you know what you’re doing. It’s very difficult, in a typically unfair retro kind of a way, but unlike the original you can save at any time and make use of instant-revival potions that are triggered, Zelda-like, when you die. So even if you’re not very good at the game you can still drag yourself to the end without ever really learning the systems properly.
Asha In Monster World is by no means a complete failure but Monster Boy And The Cursed Kingdom took a much better approach, by taking inspiration from the older games but not being bound to them. Monster World 4 was clearly ahead of its time, but that time was over 25 years ago and simply remaking it with new graphics and a minimal of tweaks is not enough, not even for some of the best games of the era.
Wonder Boy: Asha In Monster World review summary
In Short: The least accomplished of the recent spate of Wonder Boy games but it still retains a certain charm and offers plenty of reasons for the franchise to continue.
Pros: Some surprisingly complex level design for such an old game and Pepelogoo’s abilities are interestingly varied. 3D visuals work surprisingly well at mimicking the style of the original.
Cons: Simplistic and frequently unfair combat. High difficulty awkwardly compensated for by new save system. Too short and too expensive. Poor performance on the Switch.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, and PC
Release Date: 28th May 2021 (29/6 on PC)
Age Rating: 7
For more stories like this, check our Gaming page.