After the excellent remake of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap in 2017, expectations were high for Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World, a remake of Monster World IV. Out now for the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch – here’s what we thought.
Asha in Monster World wasn’t developed by the team that did The Dragon’s Trap, and also has a different publisher. Artdink was the development studio behind the latest conversion, and they’re also self-publishing the game on Nintendo and Sony’s digital storefronts. If you prefer physical then there’s a disc release by ININ Games for you as well as a limited collector’s edition. The physical ININ releases also come with a digital version of the original 1994 version of Monster World IV that currently can’t be bought digitally, so that’s a lovely bonus for fans that are nostalgic for the original or want to see how different the new version looks.
I’m guessing that many gamers never even played Monster World IV, as it’s a bit of a cult classic that was released late in the Genesis/Mega Drive’s lifecycle. Older gamers will definitely be familiar with the Wonder Boy name though, as it was a bit of a system seller for the SEGA Master System back in the day, and I believe it even came bundled with the console for a while. Monster World IV ended the saga in 1994, until it was revived 24 years later with Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom.
Funnily enough, Asha in Monster World, feels a bit like a spin-off title because it doesn’t star Wonder Boy, but Asha, a female character who feels like she could have served as a source of inspiration for the Shantae series. Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World doesn’t go the 2D platformer route though, but instead has attractive cel-shaded 3D visuals that add depth and a cartoon-like quality to the game.
Another big update comes in the shape of the enhanced soundtrack and animated cutscenes. No longer tied to its 16 bit origins, there’s a much richer quality to the audiovisual presentation, which also carries over to better animations for the in-game characters. Most notable among these are Asha herself and her pet animal – a Pepelogoo who also acts as your partner in this platforming adventure where you look for four Elemental Spirits.
Your Pepelogoo can protect you, act as a temporary platform, help against fire and lift you up for double jumps and gentle glides. Some of these abilities even act as tools for puzzles you encounter, and to complement the ‘light on narrative’ plot in the game there are also some light-hearted RPG elements that let you level up.
The gameplay itself is distinctly ‘retro’ though, almost to a fault. While I really enjoyed a return to a simpler time with easy to grasp combat, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World also takes us back to a time where games weren’t exactly generous with auto-saves and it takes a shift in mindset to pause out of the game to go into the menu and manually save the game. In the original game (included with each physical copy) you can save the game without heading back to the menu, but only at select points in the game and not at any time you wish. Also not ideal, but the current solution definitely feels like a compromise.
Fans of the Wonder Boy franchise will enjoy Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World, even though it doesn’t do anything drastically different and can be too ‘retro’ for its own good in places. The audiovisual presentation and solid controls make this a solid yet largely unremarkable action platform, unless you’re part of the nostalgic crowd.