Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World Review – a Monster Revisited

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.

RATING: 7.5/10

Ultracore PlayStation 4 review: history restored

It’s funny when we see a project rise back up from the dead, even when it seems like it would’ve never seen the light of day. Gearbox resurrected Duke Nukem Forever, for better or for worse; and Nintendo even brought back its long-lost StarFox 2, initially as a selling point for its SNES Classic before releasing it for Nintendo Switch Online’s service.

And now we have Ultracore, a game that was initially developed for the Sega Genesis back in the ’90s by Digital Illusions, a company that would later go on to become DICE. Yes, the Star Wars: Battlefront II and Battlefield developer DICE. For some reason or another, this game never saw the light of day, probably due to its original publisher backing out.

But now, thanks to ININ Games, it lives again. And while some people may argue that its limitations are a bit on the frustrating side, there’s something about playing this, finally, and seeing how fun it actually is. If retro gaming is your thing, this is a must-have.

Simple Yet Effective

Story really doesn’t matter too much in Ultracore. But then again, the same could be said for a lot of Sega Genesis fare back in the 90s. You’re a super-soldier making their way through a series of corridors, blasting any robotic threats that you come across while uncovering security cards to get into new areas. You’ll pick up additional items and new weapons along the way, and also discover hidden paths, a neat addition to many games from this era.

Shoot, shoot, shoot, repeat.

What’s great about Ultracore is that, while it still remains firmly in the old-school, the developer added some modern options, like the ability to use twin-stick aiming when it comes to obliterating enemies. This is especially helpful in comparison to general aiming, which involves you swiveling the analog stick around while you shoot foes. That said, it’s still a well playing game all around, and pretty exciting for the five-something stages that it lasts. 

Alas, it’s a one and done deal, as there are no save points in the game, nor any sort of passwords. So you either beat it in one shot or start all over again a bit later.

The Run and Gun Mantra

Along with the classic shooting gameplay we’ve come to expect from games like these, Ultracore also highly benefits from a solid 16-bit style presentation. The graphics aren’t exactly a runaway success compared to other retro releases these days, but they are solid, with good animations and level design. The enemies could be a bit more varied, but the bosses make up for it with a large, foreboding design. The game operates nicely and doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to its gritty, grainy appearance.

Likewise, the music is a treat. Listening to it, there are some fun beats here, even if they manage to go on repeat every now and then. The sound effects are meaty as well, especially with the bangs and explosions that pop up. No complaints here.

Oh, there’s platforming, too!

There’s even an alternate mixed soundtrack as well, and it fits the bill just as well as the original tunes. Definitely give it a listen if you can.

A Short But Sweet Return To Form

So, no, Ultracore isn’t the longest game out there, as you’re likely to plow through it within a matter of hours. And the lack of additional options may feel like a letdown to some. But considering the history of this title, we’re lucky that ININ Games was able to preserve it in such a rightful manner. It’s a lot of fun to play; its presentation can’t be beat; and the modern control touches and alternate soundtracks deliver more than necessary. If only all long-lost projects could be given this kind of treatment.

RATING: 8/10

A short but definitely sweet ode to one of DICE’s long lost secrets.

Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade PlayStation 4 review: quintessential fish shooting

So, a few days ago, we reviewed the Home compilation of Darius Cozmic Collection. And while it has excellent emulation and a few cool features (not to mention the sheer joy of shooting evil metallic fish), it does come up short with its heavy price tag and lack of variety.

Now, we come across the Arcade version of Darius Cozmic Collection, offering seven different versions of three different games, all favorites from the saga – including the timeless Darius Gaiden. And it’s got a few more options to choose from, along with, whew, a slightly lower price tag. But is it worth dipping into for just under $50? Well, that depends on your fandom. But if you love all things Darius, it’s worth a look.

What’s In the Package?

Here’s the full list of games that you can check out in the Arcade compilation:

  • Darius (Arcade, original version)
  • Darius (Arcade, new version)
  • Darius (Arcade, extra version)
  • Darius II (Arcade, Dual Screen version)
  • SAGAIA (Arcade, ver.1)
  • SAGAIA (Arcade, ver.2)
  • Darius Gaiden (Arcade)

Once again, it’s three games total, with Sagaia acting as a modified version of Darius II. But fans may notice the subtle little changes between the games, and feel the urge to take them on just to see what they have to offer. On top of that, they can play around with options, trying their luck with a Training Mode or going all out for a top-scoring run in an effort to save the universe.

Wait, what kind of fish is this? Screw it, shoot it.

I will admit, the team at M2 – which handles many of Sega’s retro titles among others – did a commendable job bringing these arcade hits to the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Darius Gaiden in particular is dreamy, looking just like its arcade counterpart. We do wish that G-Darius came along for the ride as well, but Taito has already confirmed that for the next collection.

And though Darius and Darius II are on the wide side – they originally debuted in arcades with a dual monitor system – they look perfect. What’s more, they hunker back to the origins of the series, so you can see where it all began.

M2 also loaded the screen with various pieces of information, along with some slick looking wallpaper. So it’s handled pretty well, despite the fact that you have to get close to the TV to see what’s going on with a couple of these games.

It’s Fun To Shoot Robo-Fish

In spite of the small arrangement of titles – couldn’t Arcade and Console just been released together as a $60 bundle? – M2 and Taito bring the heat when it comes to gameplay. All of the Darius games are a lot of fun to play, especially as you collect power-ups or drop those sweet looking bombs on unsuspecting bosses in Darius Gaiden. What’s more, a friend can come along for the ride in two player, doubling the firepower.

Wait, did you say something?

There are more options included here than in the home collection, and this is more of an obvious choice given the smaller price tag of $44.99. But I can’t help but think that Taito could’ve done the aforementioned thing, or at least made them $19.99 apiece. This might be a little hard for people to swallow, though the die-hard players are on board.

A Great Collection Regardless of Price

Taito once again jacked up the price of a Darius collection through the roof, and that’s likely to turn a lot of people off. But those who don’t mind will find a lot to appreciate in this Arcade collection, especially if you want to see where the whole thing began. Plus, considering Darius Gaiden goes for a pretty penny on Sega Saturn anyway, you can get a perfect version here for a fraction of the price.

It just depends on how badly you want to shoot robo-fish. But we know some of you have that fetish, so dig in.

RATING: 8/10

A better-suited collection than the Home version, Darius Cozmic Collection Arcade will suit shmup fans.

Darius Cozmic Collection Console PlayStation 4 review: got me a Marlin!

For those that may have missed out on the games the first time around when they hit the import scene, ININ Games have finally made the Darius Cozmic Collection titles available for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 this week. But let’s clear up some confusion when it comes to the two different games available.

The first bundle includes arcade favorites, including a number of variations of the original Darius, its follow-ups Darius II and Sagaia; and the fantastic Darius Gaiden. We’ll be reviewing that one soon enough.

Then there’s Darius Cozmic Collection Console, which focuses on games specifically made for consoles like the Mega Drive/Genesis and Super Famicom/SNES. These include games like Darius IISagaia for Genesis and Master System; and a couple of PC Engine titles. But the real question is should you get both; or would one be enough to satiate your fish-shooting needs?

Yes, You’re Taking On Robot Fish

Taito built Darius from the ground up with a pretty common theme – taking on evil robotic fish. Throughout each scenario, you’ll shoot away at enemies, collecting power-ups and taking on bosses that range across various types of robotic aquatic life. It’s a bit silly, sure; but “shmup” fans have been eating this series up for decades. (Not the fish themselves, of course – imagine the upset stomach.)

While Darius Cozmic Collection Console lacks the bonus features of what Arcade has to offer, there is some neat stuff here. For instance, the boss chart lets you take a good look at what enemies lie ahead; and there are display options that let you turn on some great old-school options, like scanlines. But M2, the guys behind Sega’s awesome Switch arcade ports and other retro releases, could’ve easily loaded this with so much more. As it stands, however, fans will find enough here to suffice, especially when it comes to getting right into the shooting action.

What To Play First?

Darius Cozmic Collection Console includes the following games:

  • Darius II (Mega Drive, JP version)
  • Sagaia (Genesis, US version)
  • Sagaia (Master System, EU version)
  • Darius Twin (Super Famicom, JP version)
  • Darius Twin (Super NES, US version)
  • Darius Force (Super Famicom, JP version)
  • Super Nova (Super NES, US version)
  • Darius Alpha (PC Engine, JP version)
  • Darius Plus (PC Engine, JP version)

Sadly, there’s no sign of the G-Darius hit from the PlayStation era, which would’ve been a perfect topper here. But the other games offer lots of good fun, even if the general controls remain the same.

Out of the water and into the frying pan.

Besides, some of these games are quite rare, like the PC Engine releases and the Master System version of Sagaia, which only came out in Europe beforehand. M2 has done a great job porting over these games, warts and all, so they run just like their classic counterparts. Again, there’s not too much in the way of variety, but you’ll find hours’ worth of shooting fun nevertheless. And that goes double if you don’t really care for fish.

That’s one pissed off seahorse.

The visuals for each game look nice (even the Master System version is kind of cool to watch); and the sound is spot on too, even if most of the themes are the same. Some more exploration – or maybe even a music player – would’ve gone a long way. But when it comes to the games themselves, they’re honored good enough.

Only One Thing Holds the Fish Back

The only thing holding Darius Cozmic Collection Console from being a must-have is its price. Currently, it sells for $59.99 on Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. That’s a lot higher than most retro collections, though you do get some good value from the very rare games, which obviously would’ve set you back a lot higher. But this would’ve been a good instance for the two Darius games to be sold together as a package for a deal price, like the aforementioned $60. The other collection goes for $44.99; so having to fork over $105 for both may be too much for some. Purists and “shmup” fans, however, probably won’t mind so much. (We know who you are, people that paid $500+ for a sealed copy of Radiant Silvergun on Sega Saturn.)

Reel It In, “Shmup” Fans

Even with its high price and lacking extras, there’s something neat about Darius Cozmic Collection Console. It pays loving tribute to the series of old with its perfectly rendered home releases and various options. Plus, they’re good fun to play – even the Master System port of Sagaia has surprising value.

So if you don’t mind forking over a few extra dollars, these metal fish should fit quite smoothly in your collection. We’ll see how the other volume of this series fares soon enough.

RATING: 7.5/10

A bit pricey, but Darius Cozmic Collection Console offers suitable value for die-hard series fans.