Wonder Boy is the sort of series that achieved cult status before cult status even existed. The series really took off in its Sega Genesis days, with Monster World releases here and there in both the U.S. and Japan. But it’s only recently that it’s beginning to see true appreciation, particularly with the beautiful re-release of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, which continues to be a favorite amongst the indie community.
That probably inspired ININ Games to give Monster World IV a shot with its own remake, Wonder Boy: Asha In Monster World. It’s on a familiar course when it comes to one person against the world in a magical adventure, and it still has its cute moments thanks to revitalized 3D visuals. That said, it doesn’t quite keep up as well as Dragon’s Trap, mainly thanks to some interesting design choices. Still, if you haven’t played Monster World before – or you’re curious to see what the Wonder Boy goodness is about – then this isn’t a bad place to start.
Ironically enough, you play as Asha, who’s not so much a “wonder boy” but a warrior who sets things on her own terms. The world’s in trouble and it’s up to her to save it, attempting to free four spirits along the way. Of course various monsters stand in the way, but she’s got the power to turn the tide thanks to her powerful sword and other helpful abilities. Not to mention some cute creatures lending a hand here and there.
The game features some wondrous dungeons to dig through, along with fun side-scrolling segments with a heaping amount of action. The platforming is also well done, thanks to a double jump mechanic that makes it easier to get around. However, the 3D sections of some stages can be confusing. For instance, in a castle in the very beginning, you can walk from the foreground to the background to hunt for hidden goodies. Neat idea, except you can’t really do it freely, having to hunt down particular pathways to get back where you once were. It can be tedious, and we’ve seen it pop up a few times within the game. It’s not the end of the world, but design choices could’ve easily been simplified with a bit more freedom.
Also, the graphics aren’t quite on the same level as The Dragon’s Trap. Where that game featured wondrous hand-drawn animation, Asha In Monster World leans more towards 3D visuals akin to some of the PlayStation 2 platforming fare. Some people may prefer the older touch by the previous team, but the design isn’t that shabby here. It’s true to the nature of Monster World, and some of the environments are really well done. And, again, those dungeons will keep you plenty busy through the game’s five-hour plus run time.
It’s also worth noting that the soundtrack is excellent, nicely composed from Monster World’s original tunes and packing a punch where needed. You may be spellbound enough to hear a tune through to the end before you move on to a new area.
The gameplay is great, keeping you involved as you hack and slash through innovative boss battles and tracking down hidden areas. And the game has a neat save system where you can keep track of your progress at any time, in case you need a break or just feel like digging into The Dragon’s Trap for a bit. There is room for both games.
Just one complaint, though. ININ Games did include the original Monster World IV as a playable bonus. However, it’s only included with the retail version of the game. Those who buy it digitally won’t get a chance to play it. I’m a bit confused by this choice, as it should be open for everyone. After all, checking out the original material that this new game is based on is a wonderful history lesson, based on what I’ve played. Hopefully, ININ will give this some reconsideration and unlock the game for everyone in the future.
In spite of its weird design choices in some places and the lack of the original game being available for everyone, Asha In Monster World is still worth the revisit. The gameplay still holds up and really shows what Wonder Boy is all about (never mind that original arcade game, which would later inspire Adventure Island), the visuals aren’t bad, and the music is breathtakingly good. This is worth the investment, even if The Dragon’s Trap remains the superior Wonder Boy experience. Hey, there’s always room for more, especially when it comes to love for a series that took forever to get it in the first place.