The last four years have been amazing ones for Switch owners who yearn to play classic 16-bit games revamped with modern day visuals and gameplay mechanics. From remasters to remakes to brand new sequels in beloved series, like Blaster Master Zero and Streets of Rage 4, there’s no shortage of throwback games to scratch that nostalgic itch.
One series that I missed out on back in the ‘80s and ‘90s was Wonder Boy on the Sega systems. I’ve tried to rectify those sins by playing all of the versions that have hit Switch, and there have been more than a couple! The latest is called Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World and it’s a remake of Monster World IV, a game that originally launched back in 1994 on the Sega Mega Drive (the Japanese version of the Genesis) and didn’t make it out over here until many years later on the Wii Virtual Console. So it’s great that it’s now available to a much larger audience with a complete visual overhaul to boot.
It’s not often you get some of the main staff of the original game to come back for a remake, but in this case the director and creator of the series is on board as is the character designer, sound composer, and creative guy. Fans of the original will no doubt be pleased to hear this, but as a newcomer to the game I wasn’t blown away by the game as it felt very generic and simply lacked the fun of exploration that I found in the last two games to make it to the Switch: Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap and Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom. So, just a fair warning that this one’s quite a bit different and more linear with somewhat forgettable stage design, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
First, I want to set the story up. You play as Asha, a woman warrior who must vanquish the land from evil. You start off traveling to a nearby town, which soon serves as your hub world. Right off the bat the game reminded me a bit of games like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and Ys III, with its side-scrolling level design and slight RPG game mechanics. You’ll have your weapons shop where you can purchase better swords and shields and plenty of townsfolk that offer up little to no helpful advice. The way the game plays out is that you’ll enter a portal to a level that will contain a boss. Once you traverse the entire stage and beat the boss you’ll warp back to the town. Slight things will change and you’ll probably want to chat up the locals again to see the new dialog and locate the next stone key that will unlock the next action stage. It’s pretty basic gameplay flow that’s easy to understand, but doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
Most of the game takes place on a singular 2D plane where you can go left and right, and on occasion up and down. You’ll run and jump and hack and slash and you have a shield to block incoming projectile attacks. You’ll want to purchase the right elemental shield and equip it depending on the level you’re currently on. It’s very straight-forward and there’s really no strategy or experimentation needed. I was immediately drawn to the town and the castle inside the town because there are junction points that allow you to move in and out of the screen. It’s here that you’ll find secret treasure chests and other goodies and it really brought me back to Kirby Triple Deluxe on the 3DS with its multiple planes of paths, or even some areas in some of the Donkey Kong Country games. Had they implemented this style of level design in the action stages I think there could have been some really interesting stages to explore, but for the most part there’s not much to them. A few of them might confuse you for a minute or two until you figure out the path, but it’s all so rudimentary that I never had any issues whatsoever.
The combat and platforming are pretty basic too. I miss the abilities to transform into different monsters from the previous two games I played in the series. Here you do get a cute little critter that tags along with you, called a Pepelogoo. He’ll be able to assist you in the levels by giving you a double jump as well as some other uses that unlock as the creature grows bigger.
Where the game really shines is in the graphics department and the animations. The characters look really nice, especially Asha who wiggles her behind as she opens up chests. The environments are very bright and colorful and the enemies look good too. The problem is that the backgrounds in the levels seem to repeat over and over again while you’re battling your way through the stages. It almost reminded me of the old Scooby-Doo cartoons with the repeating scenery. In fact, although the graphics are nice to look at and seem rather detailed, I couldn’t help but think the game felt empty. There weren’t that many enemies on the screen at any one time and the game kept throwing the same ones at me screen after screen. It made for boring gameplay, but at least the animations and graphics in general looked great! I did notice some slowdown in some of the screens, oddly enough the save screen seems to have some hitching going on in the framerate. This might be a Switch only thing, but it’s definitely noticeable at times.
The music for the most part is pretty good. The tunes fit well with the stages and have a sort of Arabian Nights motif going on. The voice acting is in Japanese, but there are subtitles.
The digital version of the game does not come with the original Genesis version packed in, you’ll have to spring for the physical version if that interests you. When all is said and done I still had a good time playing through Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World, but it’s very much a product of its time. It feels like a ‘90s action/platformer and that might not be a good thing for those looking for something more. Fans of the original will no doubt be delighted to see this one doesn’t deviate much from the core gameplay and level design principles found in the 16-bit iteration, but for a newcomer like me I hoped for something more.
The digital version of Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World can be purchased from the Nintendo and Sony stores and is published by STUDIOARTDINK.
The boxed retail version of Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World comes exclusively with the original Monster World IV published by ININ Games.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World Review
- Graphics - 8.5/108.5/10
- Sound - 7/107/10
- Gameplay - 5/105/10
- Lasting Appeal - 5/105/10
Final Thoughts: WORTH CONSIDERING
Fans of the original game on the Mega Drive/Genesis will no doubt appreciate all of the hard work that went into updating Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World for the modern era. Despite its wonderful animations and enchanting soundtrack, the gameplay and level design leave a bit to be desired. The game isn’t overly long and for $34.99 it’s hard to recommend this one to anyone that doesn’t already know what they’re getting into.