Sega’s Wonder Boy/Monster World franchise has quite a rocky history. The original Wonder Boy released in 1986. From there it spawned many sequels, remakes, and notably the Adventure Island franchise. In 2016, the original was remade by CFK Co. in the form of Wonder Boy Returns. A year later, Wonder Boy III would see a remake by another developer. Lizardcube set new standards for how a remake should be handled, in 2017s Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. Continuing the trend of switching developers, the latest, a remake of Wonder Boy IV, fell into the lap of Artdink. This time around, however, original staff members from Westone Bit collaborated to create Wonder Boy Asha in Monster World. A full-fledged remake that stays true to the spirit of the original release.
Asha’s Journey Begins
The story begins with a young female warrior, Asha. Shortly after anointment, Asha journeys to save the four spirits, who returning Monster World fans will recognize as transformations in Dragon’s Trap. Asha is accompanied, throughout her travels, by a mysterious creature known as a Pepelogoo. Alongside her trusty blob companion, Asha sets off against dozens of bosses, spread across various landscapes. Her goal is to obtain the scattered medallions, which will release the four spirits from their confinement. The majority of the narrative is told through the various NPCs, via their dialog boxes. This remake does feature fully 3D rendered cutscenes. Many of these anime-esk cutscenes have full Japanese voice-over. There are no other voice options available. I can’t really comment on how well the voiceovers are performed, as my Japanese is abysmal. I can, however, comment on Asha’s overreactions.
A Rocky Start
Almost every action in the game results in some sort of grunt. In many instances, these noises are accompanied by little booty shake animations. While adding this in is true to the original, it definitely doesn’t help hide the game’s true age. This delay is due to the game’s mechanics being identical to the Master System original. This unfortunately creates a noticeable pacing issue within the game. As a result certain tasks, such as opening chests or entering different areas, feel sluggish. Instead of modernizing the game’s mechanics, the team opted to keep the booty shake animations as fanfare. The localization team also has some noticeable mistranslations in certain sections of dialog. This often included some spelling errors and missed context. A future update could easily fix the dialog issues.
Wonder Boy Asha in Monster World has a very stylized, albeit simplistic, art style. While the gameplay is mostly 2D, with the occasional 3D sections, the game itself uses 3D models on a 2D plane. Graphically, Asha in Monster World borrows inspiration from many familiar franchises, while retaining a familiar look to previous Monster World entries. The 3D visuals combined with its cel-shaded flair almost pay homage to generations of the past. Unfortunately, this also comes across as a bit generic. Some of the NPC characters look identical to those of different games. That said, the visual style still has a nostalgic feel. I can’t help but get late PS1/early PS2 vibes in both the graphics and audio departments. Much like the visuals, the music is upbeat and has a nostalgic charm to it.
A Little Lacking
The soundtrack and sound effects have received modernized renditions for a new generation of gamers. An additional option to toggle the original Sega Master System’s audio would have really been a nice feature. It not being included can’t help but feel like a downgrade, considering Dragon’s Trap allowed seamless switching of old-school music and graphics. While physical releases of Asha include a bonus port of the original Monster World IV, digital adopters, unfortunately, miss out. Minor gripe aside, each of the worlds feature very different sounding tracks, which are all paired appropriately with their level’s theme. From volcanic mountains to arctic tundras, each of the world’s landscapes offer up a diverse look and feel.
Mixing Up The Tried & True
Diversity is a recurring theme in Wonder Boy Asha in Monster World. The core game maintains the side-scrolling action-platforming roots the series is known for. This entry does however mixe things up, in the way in which Asha’s abilities are consistently changing. Initially, Asha is only paired with her trusty sword and shield but is later given access to a catalog of swords, shields, and bracelets; which offer Asha varying levels of elemental defense and health upgrades. Most of these upgrades can be purchased in Rapadagna, which essentially acts as the game’s hub world: whereas others are obtained by locating the various chests scattered around the world.
Still True To Its Roots
Unlike Dragon’s Trap, which saw players physically transform into different creatures, Asha in Monster World is a mostly straightforward action platformer. Asha’s move set allows her to run and jump throughout levels, attacking enemies with her trusty sword. Wonder Boy Asha in Monster World does improve upon previous entries, in that it allows for directional combat. Asha is able to thrust her sword in varying directions, adding an extra layer to the fray. She can also defend herself from oncoming attacks with her shield. That said, combat can at times still feel a bit sluggish and dated. This, along with the aforementioned pacing issues, are mainly due to the dated mechanics.
The Pepelogoo Is Key
As mentioned earlier, Asha’s joined by her loyal blue Pepelogoo, which proves to be an asset on her quest. The little monster is essential in reaching normally unobtainable items and locations. Holding her Pepelogoo allows Asha to glide across large gaps or double jump to higher terrains. Throwing it can activate switches, blow out flames, and locate out of reach items. It can even be thrown over small lava mounds, granting Asha upward travel. The many abilities of this mysterious blue creature are constantly evolving. Upon acquiring a Pepe Fruit, Asha’s Pepelogoo will transform both its physic and abilities, which affects how it can be used to further progress Asha. For example, mid-game the Pepelogoo will double in size. This greatly affects Asha’s movements, as his weight has also increased. This causes her to struggle wheel holding and trying to use her companion. She can still glide in the air, but it has totally different physics.
Each entry in the Monster World franchise iterates its action-platforming roots in different ways. In many ways, Wonder Boy Asha in Monster World felt like a fresh addition. The focused usage of Asha’s Pepelogoo was an interesting take on the Monster World formula. Unfortunately, the charm wore a bit thin. The dated mechanics, linearity, generic storyline, and pacing issues began to shine through. That said, none of these issues are anything game-breaking. This entry just feels like a decent step down from previous Monster World remakes. Wonder Boy Asha in Monster World is a fun action-platforming adventure, but very much feels like a game of the 90s with a splash of paint.
Wonder Boy Asha in Monster World is available now on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, with a Steam release launching later this month. More information on Wonder Boy Asha in Monster World and where to buy it physically can be found on ININ’s official Wonder Boy website. A digital copy of the game was provided for the purpose of review.