Regardless of one might think about the state of the modern games industry, there’s one perk inherent in contemporary gaming that’s hard to deny: everything gets localized! Well, pretty much everything you’d want to play anyway, unless you’re a hardcore light novel fan. The point is that we don’t end up with awkward situations like completely missing out on three Final Fantasy games by the time 7 came out.
Likewise, Monster World IV, one of the more elusive Wonder Boy games, is now available on modern platforms as Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World. Wonder Boy’s had something of a revival in recent years thanks to the high-quality stylings of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap and Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, so it’s fitting that we’ve got this lost gem filling out the collection.
The world is in a state, as it so often is! It’s up to our heroine Asha to save it with the help of a mysterious monster. On their quest to clean things up, they’ll battle some evil wizards, save some magical spirits, collect loads of loot and learn a little about the power of friendship. Well, mostly the first three.
We’re not going for a huge amount of gameplay depth here – this is a hack-and-slash platformer through and through. As such, Asha can slice up baddies, charge up to slice them up a bit harder, perform Zelda II-style upstabs and downstabs in the air and block enemy attacks with a shield. Along with this, you’ve got a floating Pokemonish pal in Pepelogoo who offers a few more options, such as a double jump.
You’ll go around each level purging the xeno menace with your sword, hopping about, looting treasure chests and solving some light puzzles here and there on the way. While your available list of actions isn’t significantly smaller than what we saw in The Dragon’s Trap a few years ago, it’s worth keeping in mind that the multiple forms from that game aren’t available here. That’s not to say that the level design is boring or anything, but the reduced number of options does take its toll on the gameplay over time.
Boss fights tend to be the highlight of each area, offering a little bit more challenge in a game that today’s modern, Monster-fueled players are going to eat for breakfast. Since you’re able to collect money and upgrades (including very readily available max health boosts) as you go, Asha becomes powerful enough to deal with most situations with ease, making this one of those games where the most difficult bits tend to be at the beginning. Dark Souls this ain’t. It’s more of a relaxing hop-and-bop adventure, one you can feel comfortable handing to the kiddos should they need something to dive into on the Switch.
A big part of what we’re going for here is a combination of modern and retro aesthetics, and Asha in Monster World pulls it off with aplomb. The cel-shaded graphics do a lot to make Asha feel fresh, with our heroine and her foes both looking positively adorable. There’s also something to be said for the backgrounds, a key element in a side-scrolling game, which look like they’ve had the requisite amount of TLC put in so you aren’t snoozing your way from left to right.
The only complaint I almost had was regarding the dialogue, which is a little stilted and goofy…until I went back and discovered that Monster World IV received a translation on the Virtual Console back in the day and it was pretty much the same, so I guess that’s accuracy more than anything.
If I had to pinpoint an actual quibble, it’d be the lack of a retro-style toggle of the sort you see in The Dragon’s Trap. That’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s definitely a bummer, and if you want to play the actual retro Monster World IV you’d better hope you can find a physical copy of Asha. Said boxes are, mercifully, still available on Amazon as of this writing, but it’s a little bothersome that it’s possible to miss out on such a significant bonus.
Whether you pick it up physically or play on a digital platform, though, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is a fantastic retro adventure that’s well worth your time. With this release, it’s now possible to play the entire Wonder Boy series in some convenient form or another – technically this was possible since 2012 or so when the translated game launched on Virtual Console, but digging that up today might be a struggle. Having a more accessible remake of Monster World IV is a good thing and this is a worthy follow-up to The Dragon’s Trap and The Cursed Kingdom.